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School in the Crosshairs

November 22, 2009

One of the many idol films helmed by madman Nobuhiko Obayashi, School in the Crosshairs (1981) is more akin to the wacky style of House (1977) than the more subtle fantasy dramas that tend to be the director’s best movies. This is not to say School in the Crosshairs won’t find its fans; it most certainly will, and not only people who reside in the director’s camp. In fact, the film is perhaps more remarkable as a Hiroko Yakushimaru movie than Obayashi effort – it marked the soon to be super idol’s final break through. And while Hiroko may have improved as an actress, she never quite looked as cute and adorable as she does here. One of the benefits of being aged 16…

However, it’s not only Hiroko’s innocent presence that dominates the movie. With an opening shot set in outer space (that’s right) and an introduction text babbling about a small girl and her large chest (in almost any other film this piece would get a sexual undertone), followed by one of the most beautiful black and white opening credits sequences, it’s obvious School at the Crosshairs is also very much a director’s media. Obayashi, at the top of his game as a visual artist, gives his young star appropriately beautiful backgrounds. The director plays with visual outlook throughout the film, but rather than applying ugly contrast boosting Obayashi often fades the colors, giving the film an extremely beautiful, grayish look. Bright colors are not forgotten though; the final 15 minutes is a fireworks display, in every sense of the word.

The storyline leans towards nonsensical. Hiroko plays a teenager, who, instead of getting interested in boys (the film features no romance subplot whatsoever), receives supernatural powers. She’s not the only magician in the school, though. A new transfer student tries to take over the school and form a “nazi party” of summoned students. A man from Mars also tempts Hiroko to join him to rule the universe. None of this makes much sense. The film remains very superficial; it looks and sounds beautiful, but it doesn’t have much else to offer. It’s a fun and adventurous film, but not a master class work in Obayashi filmography. Also notice that this film was made before Hiroko’s pop star career kicked off, so you’d have to wait till Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (1981) to hear her singing.

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