Monday, July 5, 2010

REVIEW: The Drifting Classroom

漂流教室 ( Hyōryū Kyōshitsu)

Released: 1987

Nobuhiko Obayashi

Yasufumi Hayashi
Aiko Asano
Vajra Barzaghi
Kiwako Harada
Troy Donahue

Running time: 104 min.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

Since the resurrection of "Hausu" aka "House", Nobuhiko 'Obi' Obayashi has become somewhat of a fascinating character for many. His experiemental work has provided me with hours of fun and glee, and "Hausu", while utterly insane, fills me with much joy each time I watch it. That ends the extent of my Obi knowledge. Kazuo Umezu is also another deeply fascinating character. The godfather of horror manga, he lives in a striped house and is responsible for writing some of the most original and inspirational manga works since Osamu Tezuka. "The Drifting Classroom" is one of his crowning acheivements. Its "Lord of the Flies" meets "The Twilight Zone". So take a colossal masterpiece of manga culture, and have it translated for the screen by a former experiemental filmmaker and what do you get? Or is the question, do you really want to know what you get?

Sho is a student at Kobe International school. His mother is worried he doesn't have enough Japanese friends, due in part to his families relocating to America years earlier for his father's work. After a fight with his mother, part of what involves him grabbing her boobs, he leaves for school angry, vowing never to return again. And return he never does. All seems well for his class of international students, they even break out into song and dance. However, the musical number is cut short by bright flashes and the trembling of the earth. Soon the class find themselves cast into another world, barren of life. The school has been transplanted in a desert landscape, and its only inhabitants are giant cockroach type creatures that are hell bent on eating small children. How will they survive!

There are two ways to view this film. The first is as an adaptation of the manga. Unfortunately, its a terrible adaptation. The basic premise is the same, a school being teleported to a barren world, but thats really about it. Its sapped its self of any social relevance, any parable or metaphoric nature the manga had. Its sort of like they took all, and I do mean all, of the good ideas from the manga, and then threw them out and started from scratch. In fact, they take out almost anything that involves conflict or the struggle for survival. Sure, they're attacked by the cockroaches one or twice, but thats really it. The struggle to find food and water in a desert world is sort of skipped over. The moral dilemmas these kids would face living in this world are completely absent. There's a brief struggle for leadership between Sho and one of his fellow students, but thats it! Everyone also seems to figure out in the first few minutes of the schools disappearance fairly easily that its a 'time slip' that is responsible for his, like its a common occurrence.

Now, manga aside, if you view this as a stand alone film, it fails even more. The biggest mistake was making this an international affair. Most of the cast speaks English throughout the film, and so you're left with a group of kids who either struggle to speak with enough clarity so you know what they are saying, or who struggle to act in a believable way. This film is filled with terrible acting. Filled to the teeth. Sure its hard to find that many children with solid acting chops, but come on, you could have at least found one! Bad acting aside, the film is also chock full of terrible special effects. Granted this film was made in the eighties, when music videos were filled with terrible video effects, it seemed Obi, ever the experimenter, decide to use these godawful effects for this film! Some of it is used to hide the fact that the cockroach creatures look pretty bad, but even the constant strobing lights, the random posterized images or the shaking frame can't hide that!

So was this film all bad? Mostly. You could see moments where it still has that fun loving schizophrenic feel that "Hausu" had, but "Hausu" basked in it, and used its shortcomings to its advantage. This felt like a garbled mess where no one knew exactly what movie they were making and who they were making it for.

1 comment:

Mark Hodgson, said...

There's over a hundred great Japanese cult movies waiting to be discovered outside of Japan - this isn't one of them...