Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Forgotten Movies, Fantasia Edition: Yudai Yamaguchi's CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL

The Fantasia Film Festival begins today in dear old Montreal, and I'm flying up on Saturday to experience a week's worth of flicks and friends, a welcome break from spending all my time working... on a film festival. With this I bring to you, the HQ 10 readership a Forgotten Movie from one of the many great Fantasia's of year's past.

In a lot of ways, there's nothing better than a good comedy. Solid laughs throughout a film's running time often leaves one with a happy and memorable experience. This is why I own a copy of DODGEBALL. But you know what's better than a good comedy? A good comedy that comes from out of nowhere, that's what. A good comedy that surprises the living hell out of you by being good when all signs pointed to being bad, and that was my experience with Yudai Yamaguchi's CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL. And what's even better, this is one good comedy that came out of both nowhere and bad expectations, something that doesn't happen very often, if ever. Does that make any sense? To explain, the director of this film previously made a movie called BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL, which I have not yet seen but have been told by pretty much everyone it sucks to high heaven, so that explains why expectations were low. When I saw this film was on the Fantasia 2005 schedule, I had to question why. And it got a prominent Saturday night slot, too. What's up with that? It wasn't until I was sitting in my seat and laughing my ass off with 700 others, some of them my best friends, that I realized why - CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL is fucking hilarious.

Like most every other Japanese movie these days, CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL is based on a manga (Japanese comic book), proving that Hollywood is not the only film industry bereft of original ideas, and I'm told it's loyal to its source. But it also seems extremely cinematic in its execution, made with the crackerjack timing of the Zuckers for nonstop nutty jokes, and dry, dry humor. The plot of the film is that the worst high school in Japan is the title school (named after Japan's top baseball player, apparently) and at the start we find an otherwise clean-cut, intelligent student transferred to the school by mistake. But he finds that the supposedly bad students are actually just misunderstood and that the school is simply a magnet for weirdness. The student body includes yakuzas, a robot, a gorilla, Freddie Mercury, and Japanese actor Kai Ato, while the episodic nature of the plot gives us the birth of the Global Defense Force, a robot exorcism, and an alien invasion. With that, I have just skimmed the surface of what happens in CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL; this is a picture where a lot happens, but it doesn't so much happen as just flow in from one scene to the next. There is the basics of a plot in there, but it's mostly a lot of unrelated sketches that kinda sorta flow into a narrative. Some, film critics mostly, would probably take issue with this approach and maybe they're right. But they're also assholes for simply not just giving in and enjoying themselves, which is sure as hell what the audience I saw this film with did. I also experienced an interesting phenomenon with this film that I'd only experienced a few times before. There was a 10-15 minute stretch where there were absolutely no laughs. Lots of funny stuff was happening, but strangely, the laughs just stopped. I started to think that the film had lost its mojo and that it was all downhill from there. But then the laughs started up again and by the end of the picture the audience was on its feet. So what the fuck happened? It wasn't until much later that I realized that the problem wasn't the film, it was the audience: they'd been laughing so much they need to rest! This was pretty astonishing, I thought, and I remember the first time I ever experienced this was with the original AIRPLANE!, and it's nice to see someone who knows what they're doing invoke the unspoken comedy rule that you've got to give your audience a break sometimes. But this bodes well for CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL, because it means that it will stand up well to repeat viewings, that people will think that they missed something when in fact they were just tired.

Unlike a lot of other films in
The Forgotten Movies, CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL is available on DVD in the U.S., from Media Blasters, although it's a bit of a bitch to find if you're looking to get it in stores (Netflix does stock it, though). It's recommended, of course, and as I travel up to Fantasia this weekend for another week of film fest fun, I will take with me fond memories of such films as CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL for making the event so much fun, and if that's not the dumbest thing I've ever written I don't know what is.

(Parts of this review were lifted from an earlier piece that I wrote on my MySpace blog some years back. A bit of laziness on my part, sure, but I, unlike some people on the internet, will actually cop to that. Just sayin')

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