Cromartie High School Review
First a successful absurdist manga by creator Eiji Nonaka published in Kodansha’s Shonen Magazine, parodying 70s high school boys’ manga conventions, then an anime from Production IG (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) which ran for 26 quarter-hour episodes, the phenomenon that is Cromartie High School has finally arrived in the last medium some ever expected it to: the live-action movie. For those not familiar with either of the previous incarnations, the basic plot follows high school student Kamiyama, who finds himself in the most delinquent school in Tokyo despite being a fairly normal student. This very normality allows him to develop a leadership position amongst the thugs and morons that populate the school. He feels he can improve the school, and on that slim cliché plot thread are hung a series of sketches, in-jokes and parodies that recall Monty Python, The Fast Show, and the antics of Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker. Oddities are piled up, with (apparently) Freddy Mercury, a gorilla, and a robot (Mechazawa) all students, and run-ins with all sorts of tough types who eventually are defeated through the sheer laziness and weirdness of the students.
Director Yudai Yamaguchi and his writers (Itsuji Itao and Shôichirô Masumoto, who also star) here succeed admirably in preserving that zaniness of spirit required for a successful transition to the big screen. They clearly have a decent budget to play with, and the director has learnt a few lessons from his last manga adaptation (Battlefield Baseball), while those who have never seen one of his films might best understand his energy if they know he co-wrote Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus and Alive. This films roars across the screen, dragging everyone kicking and screaming into the aisles, assuming, of course, you allow it to. Certainly, every effort has been made to render the film more accessible to a western audience, although in the Q & A at the ICA the director indicated that he had not made it with anything other than the home-grown audience in mind. The excellent subtitles allowed barely a delay between the sizable Japanese audience laughing and everyone else laughing – as the film rocketed along, the laughter became near simultaneous – while a superb Exorcist parody in the second half of the film needed no translation at all. On the other hand, the director’s declaration (not the first time I have heard this in the last two years from a Japanese creator) that he cannot see why Westerners appreciate manga, anime and his films, is borne out by the silence the Spectreman parody was greeted with, or the incomprehension which met Kai Ato’s appearance (as himself) and subsequent performance, something the Japanese audience were very much at home with (he’s a well-known actor over there in both TV and film, with a length career dating back to Lady Snowblood). There’s also no understanding of the casting gag involved in Hiroyuki Watanabe playing Freddy (again, another well-known actor with a lengthy career behind him; he’s almost unrecognisable here from his roles in Ringu, Ultraman and Gamera: Revenge Of Iris). All in all, the loss of some cultural humour is balanced out by the excellent cinematic rendering of the gags, something that can be appreciated by everyone, and much credit must go to both the director and the editor for their impeccable timing, which, as we all know, is the essence of good comedy.
While already available in Japan on DVD with English subtitles, Cromartie High School is on limited release around the UK this month, courtesy of The Japan Foundation, and deserves to be seen theatrically. Please check their website for further details of screenings.