Monday 20 November 2017

Japanese Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reviews TEIICHI: BATTLE OF SUPREME HIGH (Akira Nagai, 2017)

Well the single figure audiences elsewhere this week make a striking contrast to the Japanese Film Festival's near full houses. Some sessions seem to be booking out. The audiences I saw there were overwhelmingly Asian.  I note the excellence of the promotion, with a presentable booklet available more than a month beforehand and a warm up retrospective - only the ham fisted Seijun Suzuki but still. 

Hard to imagine Akira Nagai's  Teiichi no kuni/Teiichi: Battle of Supreme High emanating from any other source - in fact it’s edging on for startling to find it coming out of Japan.

The young school boy is bullied by the son of his businessman father’s arch rival until his girl chum karate kicks the snotty thug. Our hero only wants to play piano despite his dad's exhortations to man up and get on with the business of being Prime Minister of Japan which dad missed subsequent to the time he lost his high school president election by one vote.

Grown to be Masaki Suda, the kid arrives at the uniform- wearing high school, a place of military order which is clearly exaggerated for comic effect. It’s just that we don’t know how much. The Expats I saw it with were falling about at bits of serious business that clearly meant something more to them.

'an uber-mensch with shoulder length blonde hair'
Teiichi:Battle of Supreme High
The current high school president will be replaced by one of three, a privileged youth who proves inarticulate, a kid who only wants to get rid of the ritual, faction-dominated school pecking order and an uber-mensch with shoulder length blonde hair who takes down neighbourhood toughs when they rough up his class mates.

The new school boy rivals’ path to glory will be determined by throwing their support behind the winning candidate. However, things are complicated by the arrival of a popular nice guy scholarship boy. Meanwhile the lead is talking to the kung fu school girl via cups on string ‘phone because that can’t be tapped and counted against his prospects.

The film has been compared to the Reese Witherspoon/Alexander Payne Election (USA, 1999) but the proceedings are more formalised, more grotesque as the action moves between the homes with their ambitious fathers (mums don’t get much action), the school with donation conscious management and the tribal loyalties among the kids. Raising the school flag is an enormous deal, a previous flag boy having failed and been required to commit virtual hara kiri, making him ineligible for any future status in the ruthless climb to power.

The lead’s gay-boy sidekick is bugging the opposition and the dads are going to the slammer over a racket involving US auto producers – compare the Argentinian movie reviewed recently Summit.

'near naked boy drummers' Teiichi: Battle of Supreme High
Throw in a couple of extraordinary musical numbers, one with near naked boy drummers and one a re-staging of the circular victory dance which gave an historic Shogitai power. The striking cast all contribute vivid characters but it’s hard to separate the players’ skill from the bizarre Manga originated story line. Production values are super pro.

The dynamic is how much of what we are shown as grotesque and exaggerated actually reflects reality, rather than any suspense from the outcome of the elections. This one arrives at the same time as Bad Genius with the two films having a community - both studies of ridiculous school ambition peopled by academic high achievers who never seem to spend any time in the class room - not unlike the football player heroes of thirties Hollywood college films.

Oh yes….. and…. “A frog that spends its time in a well knows nothing of the ocean - but it sees the sky.” There’s also a Chairman Mao quote but I didn’t write it down in the dark.

Whether there is an audience here for this one despite its excellences is speculative.

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