Cromartie High: The Movie (Japan, 2005)

I had no idea. Never read the manga. Never saw the anime. But coming in cold to Cromartie High: The Movie was absolutely no problem. In fact, being hit with all of Cromartie High‘s craziness with my guard totally down probably made it all the more enjoyable than had I been a Cromartie veteran.

The hallmarks of manga are hyperbole and non sequitur. Loopy exaggerations, unexpected reactions, and insanity coming out of left field are the stuff it’s built on. This translates perfectly to anime, but it’s a tougher sell in live action movies. It’s easy to draw someone’s head huge, or make fountains of water gush from a pair of eyes, but how do you convey that same sort of mania without resorting to computer graphics? Judging by Cromartie High: The Movie, which manages to do that extremely well, it’s with juxtaposition of tone. Specifically, sincerity paired against absurdity.

Takashi Kamiyama (Suga Takamasa) has enrolled in Cromartie High, the worst high school in Japan. His mission: to change the school for the better. His straight-laced persona is at wild odds with the rest of the students, who all look like 30-something yakuza. The movie plays this age discrepancy up by stating each character’s age along with his name, a joke that reaches its apex with Takenouchi (age 16), a man who must be pushing 40. The film runs through the usual bad-school scenarios, gleefully playing each for maximum laughs. Kamiyama is daily sent to the store to bring back food for the bosses, a scenario that is also portrayed in Toyoda Toshiaki’s brutal Blue Spring (2001). To save time, he opens a grocery store in the classroom. It’s a one-scene gag but it’s done with such perfect timing, it’s absolutely hilarious. Also hilarious are three of Kamiyama’s toughest classmates: “hard gay” Freddie, with tanned, shaved chest and leather trousers; Whoopi, a gorilla; and Mekazawa, a robot. No, seriously.

Eventually a plot forms out of the episodic jokes. Space gorillas (from the 1970s TV show Spectreman) land in a flying saucer, intent on taking over the school. They pass out mind control bobble antenna head-bands to all the students and force them to use Shaolin kung-fu against Kamiyama and his team, which includes veteran actor Ato Kai, inexplicably playing himself. The whole thing ends when an asteroid randomly smashes into the school, destroying it for the seventh time (the first six were detailed in the opening narration).

Thus ends 85 minutes of celluloid insanity, and countless reasons why Japanese film has so much more going for it than Hollywood.