Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Beyond Godzilla: School in the Crosshairs

Millions of Japanese students have suspected cram schools are evil, but it took a maverick like Nobuhiko Obayashi to conclusively prove it. In this case, the elite Eiko tutorial school is secretly coopting brainy but pliable students to become the brown-shorted advance team for the impending alien invasion. Fortunately, a teen idol with telekinetic powers will defend her high school and planet Earth in Obayashi’s School in the Crosshairs (trailer here), which screens during the Japan Society’s new film series, Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures & Fantasies in Japanese Cinema.

Yuka Mitamura is at the top of her class (no cram school for her), but she is still popular with the rest of the slackers. This definitely includes her ambiguously platonic guy pal, Koji Seki. Studying really isn’t his thing. He is the star of the school’s kendo team, but he still isn’t very good. However, a little help from Mitamura will make him a hero at an important meet.

Obviously, if the tightly wound new transfer student Michiru Takamizawa wants to win the hall monitor election as the first step towards global domination, she will have to go through Mitamura. In terms of psychic power, they are rather evenly matched, but Takamizawa has more back-up, including Kyogoku, the evil overlord from Venus, who has been trying to lure Mitamura to the dark side of the Force for several weeks.

It probably goes without saying when it comes to Obayashi making high school movies, but School in the Crosshairs is really and truly nuts. Like his mind-melting House, Crosshairs features Obayashi’s hand-crafted analog special effects, but this time around they are even more defiantly cheesy looking. On the other hand, the student morality patrols Takamizawa organizes and decks out fascist uniforms are maybe even creepier today than when Crosshairs was originally released in 1981, thanks to rise in campus speech codes and thought policing.

Yet, Crosshairs is really just amazingly sweet, thanks to the appealing almost but not quite ready to be boyfriend-girlfriend chemistry shared by Mitamura and Seki. Teen idol Hiroko Yakushimaru (a Japan Society favorite from Sailor Suit and Machine Gun) is unflaggingly plucky and charming, but also disarmingly self-effacing, while Ryôichi Takayanagi plays Seki as a big old likable lug of a guy. However, it is strange Masami Hasegawa did not go on to greater teen stardom, because she is terrific as the uptight, glowing-eyed Takamizawa.

There is so much random weirdness in Crosshairs Obayashi practically creates a trippy new standard for normalcy. Regardless, it is all good, virtuous fun. There is a real story in there too. In fact, it is based on a YA novel by Taku Mayumura that has also been adapted for television and anime. It is easy to see why viewers would enjoy weekly visits with characters like Mitamura and Seki, as well as even their boneheaded but free-thinking gym teacher. Honestly, this film is the reason Edison and the Lumières invented moving pictures (they just didn’t realize it at the time). Very highly recommended, School in the Crosshairs screens this Friday (3/31) at the Japan Society, as part of Beyond Godzilla.