Japan’s film and TV industries are populated by hundreds of comedy writers, but few find politics funny, at least in public. One exception is filmmaker Akira Nagai, whose power struggles unfold not in the Diet, but at an elite boys’ high school in “Teiichi: Battle of the Supreme High.”
Based on a manga by Usamaru Furuya that ran from 2010 to 2016, the film smartly satirizes the Japanese political world in particular, as well as political animals everywhere.
The budding politicos contending for the student council presidency and their fervent supporters are kids from the top rungs of the social ladder who burn to advance even higher. And that fire burns brightest in the title hero, Teiichi Akaba (Masaki Suda).
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||118 mins|
Since this is an adaptation aimed at a mass audience as well as the manga’s many fans, Nagai’s treatment is comically exaggerated to the point of absurdity. And yet the film does not unfold in a socio-cultural fantasy land: The boys may act like their respective manga characters, but they also represent real-life types in Japanese politics, where gilded elites rule and factions engage in Byzantine intrigues and double-crosses, just as their fathers and forefathers did.
We first meet Teiichi as a lowly first-year student, who must ally himself with the right senpai (seniors) if he is have any hope of reaching his ultimate goal: becoming prime minister and starting his own country.
Backed by sidekick Komei Sakakibara (Jun Shison), who has romantic designs on him, Teiichi sucks up unashamedly to Rorando Himuro (Shotaro Mamiya), a haughty boy with long blond tresses who is a candidate for student council president — as well as a kick-ass street fighter.
Rorando’s leading opponent is Okuto Morizono (Yudai Chiba), a bespectacled shōgi (Japanese chess) genius whose proposal for a more democratic form of student government makes him instantly popular. When the election prospects of Rorando, who was once a shoo-in, start to look shaky, Teiichi stops metaphorically licking his shoes (as seen on the film’s poster) and abandons his sinking ship. That is, he morphs from dog to rat.
A director in demand, Nagai has adopted a stylized, theatrical approach in “Teiichi” that serves to expand the story beyond its fictional high school setting. In everything from the old-fashioned uniforms (seemingly inspired by the 19th century Prussian Army) and to the rigid postures and loud declaiming of the participants, student council proceedings are creepily reminiscent of “Triumph of the Will,” that classic 1935 record of fascist theater. Also, for all the gags that trade on gay stereotypes and familiar adolescent anxieties, the film probes the darker realities of its teens’ psyches with a sharp comic blade.
As Teiichi, Suda is a slick-haired, jut-jawed Machiavelli, forever scheming and calculating for the advantage of No. 1. His naked ambition, however, has its source in a childhood trauma: Forbidden by his autocratic father from playing his beloved piano, he became determined to rule. But as his patient girlfriend (Mei Nagano) knows, that artistically inclined little boy still exists, however much Teiichi wants to crush him.
Not that a talent for music precludes the will to conquer millions — even Adolf Hitler had a penchant for art.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5