The Story of S.W.O.R.D introduced the main characters of the HiGH&LOW universe and is followed by a second season that sets the stage for The Movie’s epic clash between the protectors of S.W.O.R.D. and the combined forces of those who plan to take over the city.
As EXILE TRIBE’s HIGHER GROUND play in the background, we see a quick recap of what transpired in the television series.
The story begins when best friends Kohaku and Tatsuya create the formidable Mugen with seven original members. Due to their strong influence and good reputation, hundreds of riders join the group and they become a legendary gang that controls the city. When pacifist Tatsuya decides to leave, the once leaderless group now moves with Kohaku at the helm. However, the strong and skilled brothers Masaki and Hiroto Amamiya, refuse to acknowledge Mugen’s power. Mugen’s glory days come to an end when a traitor kills Tatsuya and Tsukumo ends up in a coma. Mugen members disperse and at the same time, the Amamiya brothers disappear. This signals the rise of SWORD, a place named after the five powerful groups that lead each territory: Sannoh Rengokai, White Rascals, Oya Kou Kou, Rude Boys, and Daruma Ikka. However, the rancorous Kohaku returns. In search of Tatsuya’s killer, he agrees to work with the Korean mafia Chanson, the Mighty Warriors, and Doubt to destroy SWORD as the first step of his revenge on Kuryu.
HiGH&LOW The Movie succeeds in engaging the audience with an explosive opening scene — literally, as the enemies set the Nameless Street on fire while a cadre of troublemakers go around the other SWORD districts to cause a ruckus. From stylish outfits to intricate fight scenes to Hiroomi Tosaka’s freakin’ handsome face, the film is just as, if not more, visually satisfying as the series.
Like a shout-out to contemporary yankii movies, these shots of Daruma Ikka remind me of the final battle in Crows Zero when GPS and Serizawa’s army walk under the pelting rain whilst holding black umbrellas and Tamao Serizawa is the only one holding white.
Meanwhile, The Mighty Warriors go full-Tokyo Tribe as they deliver their story and reminisce about messing up the SWORD districts through rap songs in their vibrant club.
While the visuals are solid, the narrative is a bit all over the place. It’s easy to discern the good guys from the bad but viewers who haven’t seen the series will probably have a head-scratching experience as The Movie deals with too many characters and several interweaving arcs.
Leaders and members of SWORD already had their shining moments in the series so this time, the film focuses on the growing strength of their enemies. However, unlike Hayashi Kento who flawlessly portrayed the wild and revenge-driven Hyuga Norihisa, the baddies in HiGH&LOW The Movie are less engaging.
Kohaku’s ‘going mad while seeking revenge for the death of a friend’ is basically just a repeat of Hyuga’s predicament in The Story of S.W.O.R.D. Not trying to justify Hyuga’s violence in the first season, but somehow I can understand his hatred towards Mugen since the latter is the cause of his kin’s downfall. I find it hard to sympathize with Kohaku who’s utterly depressed about the loss of his friend but is doing everything to hurt the remaining ones (Cobra, Yamato, and Tsukumo).
Seungri did a good job considering this is his debut film and he has to deliver most of his lines in Japanese. It’s just quite difficult to take him seriously since BIGBANG is one of my favorite Korean groups so I know how adorable their maknae is in real life. As Lee, he uses his mafia power and wealth to get Doubt and The Mighty Warriors work for him.
Doubt is the evil counterpart of White Rascals. There are two prominent members but only one of them stands out and it’s not because of acting skills but because of his hair (or lack thereof).
The Mighty Warriors are known for their fighting skills, fashion taste and musical talent but their own distinct qualities work against them since their style makes them look like they’re on their way to a gig instead of a fight. Elly, who’s a great dancer and choreographer in real life, is totally fit for action scenes but when it comes to acting, his eyes are plain dead and I cringe at his English lines.
Taichi Saotome plays Ryu. To say that I hate his character would be an understatement. His swordsmanship will look cool in a jidai geki movie but isn’t there an unspoken rule that in the yankii genre, using a deadly weapon is a coward move? (How dare you do that to Smoky, of all people?!)
GENERATIONS’ leader Alan Shirahama plays Bernie. I think he’d look better as a member of the Rude Boys instead of the Mighty Warriors. I’m indifferent to Pearl and Anarchy.
The main orchestrator of all the chaos is Kuryu’s Iemura group. Having been a part of this gang for a while, Sannoh Rengokai’s Noboru gained some access to information that reveals Iemura’s plan of earning huge profits from a casino that they’re desperately trying to build on the land where SWORD stands. The Iemura members sit comfortably inside their meeting room as they plot the destruction of SWORD but some of them are old enough to experience rheumatism, I bet if you throw them into the battle field, they’d be knocked out with a single hit.
Not only did HiGH&LOW The Movie fail to develop a compelling antagonist, it also failed to give us a protagonist worth rooting for.
I’ve adored Cobra since day one but the weak script wasn’t able to establish his character as the heart of the show. I find his dramatic confrontation with Kohaku a bit cheesy and anti-climactic.
The Amamiya Brothers always show up in the right place at the right time but they have their own issue to worry about as The Movie hints the ‘search for aniki’ plot for their spin-off The Red Rain. For some reason, Smoky seems to know something about Amamiya Takeru’s whereabouts.
Masataka Kubota is totally qualified to be the central character. Problem is, he’s not an LDH artist. Smoky, an abandoned child who grew up to be the leader of the least glamorous SWORD district, has an ailment that’s so serious he coughs up blood every so often. In the series, the Nameless Street was surreptitiously used as a drug factory. In the movie, the villains bombed his territory, ambushed his gang with bottles, slashed him with a sword, and kidnapped his sister. Kubota really does have a knack for playing tragic roles! With acting prowess that brings this suffering yet riveting character to life, he simply outshines the rest without even trying. I guess it makes sense that he can’t make it to the climactic battle so as not to steal any more of the spotlight. He has a fiery phoenix-like intro and an earlier impressive fight scene to make up for it anyway.
The gangs of SWORD get together for a well crafted final face-off remarkably directed by Sigeaki Kubo. The large scale testosterone-filled brawl is so well-choreographed that we get to revel at their flips, flares, grappling holds, and even motorcycle stunts.
Despite their leader’s absence, the Rude Boys continue to elevate The Movie’s entertainment value with their amazing parkour skills. ZEN and Takeshi’s fancy moves are as awesome as ever and I’m glad that at last, I get to see Shion in action.
The film made several attempts at humor but they fall flat since Masaki’s failure to pick up girls has already become the show’s running joke. The only laugh-out-loud moment for me is Murayama’s subtle fanboying over Cobra-chan. Now that he’s graduating from Oya and with Todoroki set to be a worthy successor, he can’t help but say that he wants to join Sannoh Rengokai.
There are a few females in this flick and their presence can add a bit of romance and drama into the action-packed story:
Yamato and Naomi have great chemistry. Nobuyuki Suzuki and Shuka Fujii look good together and they both displayed some pretty good acting chops.
Smoky and Lala’s brother-sister relationship could have been better but it seems that Masataka Kubota and Karen Fujii have never really acted together. It always looks like there’s a stand-in for Kubota whenever Smoky is in a scene with Lala.
Sadly, Ichigo Milk are merely cosplayers. They are relegated to stereotypical female characters in search of a love interest. What’s the purpose of their motorbikes when they’re left in the kitchen to make onigiris? What a waste of the whole bosozoku outfit when all they need is an apron.
At least Kana Oya as Sara is more than just an eye candy. Ironically, this sole female member of The Mighty Warriors beat up the White Rascals who are known as the defenders of women.
And just when you think all the fighting don’t make sense, Yamato’s mom and Bar Odake’s Mama give a short but tender moment to explain the metaphor of life being just one big fight after all.
Full of stylized violence, HiGH&LOW The Movie is under the yankii action genre which often targets the young male movie-going demographic. But then again, this is an entertainment project so thanks to its tough looking pretty boys, the film will certainly draw a bigger crowd of fan girls instead. The spin-off, the prequel, and the other upcoming films are obvious cash grabs but I think their production is necessary since HiGH&LOW The Movie’s 2-hour running time only managed to wrap up Kohaku’s arc. It’s not enough for the Amamiya Brothers’ and Kuryu’s.
Oh well, as long as I get to see more of Kubota, Omi, Gun chan, Yuki, Kento, ZEN, Keita, Takahiro, Suzuki, Tasuku… Then by all means Hiro-san, Shut up and take my money!