台風クラブ (Taifu kurabu)
Running time: 115 min.
Reviewed by Chris MaGee
Adolescence is difficult enough. You don't need natural disasters on top of it. but that is exactly what a group of teenagers face in Shinji Somai's classic 80's film "Typhoon Club". Friendship, infatuation and circumstance have brought a group of teens together in a suburban junior high classroom. Rie (Youki Kudoh) is the pretty popular girl, the kind of girl boys dream about and other girls secretly aspire to be, but on the inside Rie is full of self doubt. Akira (Toshiyuki Matsunaga) is the class clown, the kind of boy who sticks a dozen pens up his nose just to get a laugh. Yasuko, Yuri and Midori are the three inseparable girlfriends at the back of the class, but their innocent sexual experimentation makes them more like actual girlfriends than anyone knows. Michiko (Yuka Onishi) tries to police the students around her. What better way to control yourself than to control your environment? Ken is the deeply troubled star of the school baseball team who compulsively repeats phrases to himself like "Gomen nasai (I'm sorry)" and "Tadaima (I'm home)". Fellow baseball player Kyoichi (Yuichi Mikami) is the philosopher of the group, whose musings on life and death ultimately comes to a dark and dangerous conclusions. Director Shinji Somai, who cut his teeth as assistant director under filmmakers such as Kazuhiko Hasegawa and Shuji Terayama, takes this group of teens and all their rivalries, crushes, allegiances and animosities and, quite literally, puts them smack dab in the middle of a storm. With a typhoon students are being evacuated and told to stay home, but a series of events leads to these kids being trapped alone in the school. It's here that they must not only weather the storm, but come to grips with each other.
It's not difficult to see the connection between the raging typhoon of Shinji Somai's film and the storm of hormones raging in its ensemble cast. These are little more than children, who are being pushed, like a stiff wind at their backs, by their gonads and society at large towards adulthood, whether they're ready or not. This central metaphor is played out beautifully in a series of vignettes taken from over four days, although these moments become increasingly dark as we approach the black eye of the storm. Viewers might very well be shocked by the frank treatment of violence masturbation and dalliances with lesbianism in "Typhoon Club". When the rain begins to pour down the kids decide to dance out into it, stripping down to their underwear in an uncomfortable display of youthful sexuality. Rie uses the storm as an excuse to run away from home and ends up in the apartment of a much older college boy whose intentions towards her are disturbingly unclear. In one of the film's most unforgettable and frightening scenes Ken literally beats down the classroom door in an attempt to rape Michiko.
Despite its powerful depiction of adolescence, though, I couldn't help feeling something was missing as I watched "Typhoon Club". The typhoon doesn't make its appearance until the halfway mark of the film, and I expected that once it has trapped the class inside the school that I would have a clear idea of exactly who these kids were. That just didn't happen. Instead I was left with powerful images (like Ken's attack on Michiko) involving half-formed characters. I have to say that at first I was disappointed, seeing that "Typhoon Club" is a film that's been name dropped by everyone from film scholar Donald Richie to director Nagisa Oshima. It was only as the film progressed that I began to appreciate the predicament of these teenagers and how director Shinji Somai depicted them. If there is one common thread amongst all the characters in "Typhoon Club" it has to be the search for self. Rie, Kyoichi, Yasuko, Akira, Ken, Michiko, all of the kids are trying to transcend and/ or defy their teachers and parents in order to establish their own personalities. The only problem is that they haven't succeeded, at least not yet. They simply haven't lived enough, so they really are half-formed, vague and often confused... like so many of us were when we were 14-year's old.
Since watching "Typhoon Club" I have read many reviewers comparing it to John Hughes' "The Breakfast Club". Frankly, I just don't see the comparison. Beyond the fact that both films were made in the 1980's and that they take their teenage cast and sequester them in a school during off hours the guts of "Typhoon" Club" and "The Breakfast Club" are entirely different. Hughes' might have delved into the psyches of his young characters, but on the whole "The Breakfast Club" went for laughs just as much as it did pathos. Compared to the classroom confessional of Hughes' film, though, "Typhoon Club" feels much more like a true map of the short circuiting adolescent mind. If there is a film that I could compare Somai's film to it would have to be Shunji Iwai's "All About Lily Chou-Chou". With its group of carnal, bullying and confused schoolkids, it is easy to see how "Lily Chou-Chou" took its lead from "Typhoon Club". If you loved Iwai's film than this is one that viewers should seek out, but if you're looking for another teen dram-edy then this is a film that will disturb more than it will entertain.