Warning: Spoilers Ahead
So sometime ago while checking out the offerings on Netflix, I came across High & Low: The Worst and placed it on my to watch list after viewing the trailer in the International section. The trailer had me thinking it was going to be a fun movie but a bit goofy and not much else. Come several months later as of the past few days, I found out how right and wrong I was about the movie as the ‘not much else’ bit was wrong. As there was quite a bit of story there that hits ya in the gut while also really enjoying the fight scenes that take place between rival schools and later, a gang called Kidra. I also soon found out this was part of a film series connected to a TV series and that the characters from the Housen School in H&W: The Worst are from another property called Crows that is now officially crossed over with the High & Low Franchise. Unfortunately, the TV series (only two seasons at the moment as far as I know) is not on Netflix at the (BOO!) moment and I don’t think the Crows Franchise is either.
There’s also another issue I have here, and that’s that Netflix doesn’t really bother to put the H&L films in the correct order and you have to rely on information from websites to know what order to watch everything in. So, basically, I watched H&L: The Worst first when I should’ve watched it last and basically unknowingly pulling a move I did back in High School with The Left Behind novel series. But, that’s okay because after doing all that, I found myself greatly coming to love this film series and perhaps even questioning my own sexuality a bit a few times as well.
Now, the High & Low Franchise features a fairly large cast made up of primarily (nearly all male) Japanese singers, and actors/actresses with the singers and models (though I might be somewhat wrong about that part) all being from the same banner of Exile Tribe. A Japanese super music group from the agency known as LDH. The group decided to do this universe as they wanted to do something that would be all sorts of great and that would also promote the value of friendship along the way.
I’m basically short hand simplifying all that but it works and there’s even Manga, an Anime, and a game you can play on Android if I’m not mistaken. In the beginning of this world (note that I have not seen the first two seasons, read the Manga, or watched the Anime, or played the game just yet) there was a powerful Biker crew called Mugen (Meaning Infinity) that was started by a pair of friends who were also Biker enthusiasts and things were okay as the group got bigger. At least until a Yakuza group called Kuryu decided they didn’t like this and caused some very unfortunate problems to happen in order to bring about the group’s end. Namely death and hospitalization. Another (side) factor in the collapse of the Mugen crew is a pair of Martial Artist brothers known as the Amamiya family who refused to go along with Mugen.
Now, fast forward sometime later and you have five new gangs that form in the aftermath of Mugen’s collapse. You’ve got the Sannoh Rengokai (or Sannoh Hoodlum Squad) which features a few former Mugen members, then the White Rascals, a group that like to dress in white and dedicate themselves to being the protectors of women. There’s the Oya Kohkoh (Oya High School), the Rude Boys, and Daruma Ikka as well.
Collectively, taking the first letter in each name, they are called SWORD and each protect/rule/what have you over different sections of the city. Occasionally getting into fights with one another for whatever reason. There’s a few other groups like the Prison Gang, Doubt, the Korean Mafia Chanson, and the Mighty Warriors and they tend to serve as antagonists for SWORD. Either under their own volition (especially if money’s involved for the Mighty Warriors) or at the request of Kuryu due to their own plans for the city SWORD is in. Now there’s quite a few fights that tend to happen and thankfully, each gang is color coded and or at least fashion minded so things don’t get confusing when there’s the really big blow outs. Now, Doubt is pretty much a problem for everyone in SWORD, especially for the White Rascals due to the fact that Doubt tend to kidnap women.
Which, ironically, is how the Mighty Warriors end up with their only female member, Kana Oya’s Sarah, after the group interferes in something of theirs. And you’d think that would cause a conflict of interest between the two but I guess because money’s involved its not much of an issue. I also have to state with absolute conviction that I LOVE Kana’s Sarah in this world.
She’s damn capable of kicking ass and holding her liqour much to the detriment of those men who’ve tried to out drink her. She doesn’t say a lot and doesn’t necessarily have a huge role but the material Kana’s given is still enough to make her really shine. She’s also about the only woman in the series who, well… Even really does anything worth talking about. But I’ll get to that later on in this review and in the mean time, I’ll get to talking about the films. Road To High & Low basically condenses the two (or at least the first season) seasons of the show into one thing to give viewers (especially for us newbies) an idea of things. However, doing that kinda means you tend to not get everything due to how much or how little (take your pick) they put in. So you can either skip it and come back later after watching the other movies, or go ahead and watch it first.
Now, the first film, simply titled High & Low: The Movie, released in 2016 is when things get the ball rolling with a small recap of certain events. Kohaku, one of the founders of Mugen, is tasked by a Korean Mafia known as Chanson to aid with Kuryu’s efforts to get rid of SWORD so that they can take over with evil Capitalism and other things like a Casino. Now, the thing about Kohaku is that the man is grieving after the loss of his best friend Tatsuya and its made him a bit unstable and this is something Chanson and even Kuryu is using to their advantage. Not necessarily realizing Kohaku is aiming to bring down Kuryu through all the strife and what not. Naturally, those in SWORD have something to say about this since its all a threat to them and their ways of life.
Especially for the Rude Boys in the Nameless City area due to the fact its a place of refuge for the homeless and those not looking to be found. Something that later comes to a head in the series in a somewhat depressing way. This is all basically the start of SWORD coming to eventually realize a true Alliance between one another that culminates in the third film Final Mission. It helps that Sannoh’s Cobra (and the leader at that of said group) is the one who basically spearheads the idea of the Alliance. Now, Kohaku is of course stopped from going through with his plan thanks to the power of Friendship and an ass beating.
Though how Yamato’s (another former Mugen member and current Sannoh member) nose wasn’t practically broken by him in the fight is beyond me. All is basically forgiven but that doesn’t necessarily stop the rumblings of the mechinations by those like the Chanson (whom will likely crop up in a future film again) and the Kuryu. And Kuryu themselves, is basically a representation of a 9 headed dragon, meaning that there is 9 families involved with 9 main members that act as the leaders and all that good fun stuff. One of the families was involved in some unfortunate business that saw the Amamiya brother trio end up with out their parents at some point before the TV/Film series began. Which is something that the oldest brother of the trio goes off on his own to find out what needs to be known in order to deal with the family responsible, forcing the two younger brothers to go on a year(s) long search for him.
Giving us the spin off film High & Low: The Red Rain that takes place after the first movie. Ultimately, I found it disappointing and even a little unbelievable in some areas regardless of the fact the boys are trained in the Martial Arts. As the gun toting thugs in the film practically scream incompetence a great deal. Unlike the assassin Genji Kuki, who even after being dropped off a damn building during the events of the second main film End of Sky, keeps on coming like he’s the damn Terminator much to the dismay of Kohaku, Tsukumo (another former Mugen member and was nearly killed by the same car that took Tatsuya’s life), and the Amamiya Brothers. In End of Sky, because of the Casino that Kuryu wants to put in place and basically end life as SWORD knows it, issues are happening for the five gangs due to divided beliefs and as well as ass kickings from those like Doubt, Prison Gang, and the Mighty Warriors.
And even with some damning evidence being used against Kuryu and the Government, it all still proves to be an uphill battle for SWORD as all the while, the health of Rude Boys leader Smoky worsens. And he’s not the only one as another citizen of the Nameless City is starting to develop health issues very similar to Smoky’s. This, folks, is connected with my earlier remark about depressing in regards to the Nameless City, the Rude Boys, and ultimately, Smoky himself. Which all comes to a head in the third film Final Mission as Kuryu is putting out all the stops they can to get what they want no matter the cost. We even learn why Smoky is sick and it dates back to some old history of the Nameless City and Science going wrong in regards to a virus.
Said old history that ultimately saves the Nameless City before its completely destroyed but sadly, doesn’t do the same for Smoky. Whom I will always believe went out beating the shit out of a group of thugs despite his health issues before he went down. How Eri’s (the other unfortunate to get sick like Smoky) ultimate fate is unclear at the moment but hopefully she’s now getting help after all’s been said and done. Kuryu’s ambitions are essentially their own undoing, especially as it leads to the cementing of the SWORD Alliance. And with Smoky no longer in the picture, his second in command, Takeshi is now in charge. But just because Kuryu’s basically out of the picture doesn’t mean everyone’s out of the woods just yet. As Chanson and essentially others, want their piece of the Pie. And its something I look forward to seeing whenever the time finally comes.
DTC, which is the second spin off film of the series, features the trio of Dan, Tettsu, and Chiharu, collectively known as DTC. A sub group of the Sannoh Hoodlum Squad that decide to go on a road trip for some fun and relaxation after all the fighting they’ve been involved in. Its an enjoyable film and one I think that they used as an excuse to have a lot of fun with (not that there’s anything wrong with that of course) and as well as making it partly a musical. Which… Now that I think about it, this film is probably the only one that makes more use of its female talent than what the other previous films did aside from Sarah. But my gripe there isn’t the time just yet my good friends.
One thing I’d like to go into real quick is that despite being called the Hoodlum Squad, the Sannoh boys aren’t really a bunch of punk ass thugs. They’re more like protectors of their area and don’t just limit it to women only like Rocky and the White Rascals do. They also tend to hang out in a restaurant called the Itokan, a dream of Tatsuya’s that he realized after leaving Mugen but only got to experience his dream a short time before his death. His younger sister Naomi (played by now retired actress/model Shuuka Fujii) now runs it and has a somewhat amusing relationship with Yamato. Though whether or not there’s more to them then just being childhood friends is unknown (at least for me) at this time.
Now, the last film in the series (for now) is High & Low: The Worst, which crosses over with Hiroshi Takahashi’s Crows world. Which is also a manga (starting in the 90s) and has three live action films with the third film having came out in 2014. Primarily, H&L: The Worst only really features the crew from Oya High with a mention of Sannoh’s Cobra at one point by Oya’s Leader Murayama. In addition to this, the film features the Housen school from the Crows, a gang called Kidra (that bring back the troublesome drug Redrum) and a group of childhood friends. One of which is known as Fujio who has just come back to the area after transferring back and will be attending Oya High again much to his excited pleasure. He’s also basically primed to take over Murayama’s position as leader as he’s got a certain quality about him that would be leader Todoroki just doesn’t have. Fujio, Murayama, Smoky, Cobra, Sarah, and the four leaders of Housen are honestly my main favorites of the franchise for one reason or another.
Yes, a bit random I said that but it needed to be said, damnit! Murayama in this installment of the franchise also ends up doing some growing up, leading to a certain decision of his around the end of the film. Which makes me curious if he’ll be around in the future or that’s it for him and I hope that’s not the case. Of course before said decision is made, there’s some ass kickings to be had and amusingly enough, Murayama ends up being basically being a voice of reason at one point thanks to Kidra causing some misleading problems. One of which puts a Housen member in the hospital who, one would think would’ve ended up dead thanks to how he was beaten.
Though maybe that’s just me, I dunno. The big ultimate fight that sees Oya and Housen team up against Kidra is great and nicely makes use of things like ladders and palettes. Sort of like an Extreme Rules match from ECW but without the wrestling or the ring. Naturally, this film also serves up another Power of Friendship plus ass beating that makes all right again. Primarily due on account of one of those childhood friends I was referring too by the name of Arata, who has gotten himself into some unfortunate circumstances due to his mom’s bad health and stay in the hospital. He’s also ultimately one of the reasons Fujio and the others go in for the final attack on Kidra. I’ve seen a complaint about the fact Arata doesn’t take all the drug money after all’s said and done and well, it makes sense he doesn’t.
Not because he’s going back to the straight and narrow, but mainly on account that it would put him in some hot water with the surviving remnants of Kidra. Not to mention whoever was helping supply them with the Redrum to begin with. Now, November 19th means that we’ll be getting a new movie featuring Fujio, his friends, and the Housen gang again. Which is guaranteed to be all sorts of fun. Though given the troubles where COVID-19 is concerned, I’m curious to see how much of an effect its had on getting the film made. Along with other projects related to the franchise(s).
A couple of other things to note is the fact that this franchise is practically void of (well meaning) authority figures like the Police (aside from a corrupt cop or two and some gossiping mothers) and parents. Though perhaps the parents thing is more of a thing in the two seasons but I can’t say for certain. But I guess if they were more present, half the fun stuff we see in this franchise wouldn’t be able to happen! Which leads me to my gripe about the presence of women (aside from Sarah) in the franchise as while sure, this is practically an all boys club movie, the women present are just… There. Either as background supporting characters with little to do and just wait around on the men to come home and or get kidnapped and stalked.
Or in Miu Tomita’s Madoka’s case, being a bit loud and obnoxious during H&L: The Worst while partially helping out in the mystery of Arata’s situation off screen. Perhaps there’s more going on for the ladies in the franchise in the TV series itself, I honestly don’t know but I would love to find out. Yes, there’s only so much you can do in the timespan of a movie but I honestly do believe the ladies deserve more than what they’ve gotten.Granted, Shuuka Fujii’s injuries thanks to a cervical herniated disk that saw her retiring in 2017 (though not sure if that’s just from music, modeling, and singing or if movies is part of that as well) is likely why she wasn’t doing a great deal in the movies. Again, I have to keep in mind that this is largely a boys club kinda thing with only so much screen time that can be dedicated here and there when you have a huge cast to work with. Hopefully going forward, the ladies will get to have more screen time and again, maybe they have it in the TV series but that’s an unknown for me as stated before. Mostly on account of it not being on Netflix and being somewhat hard to find to stream online. I could order the DVDs but it’d be costly considering its coming from Japan and according to Polygon, is not subtitled. Hopefully though, Netflix will get the opportunity to include the TV series as well in the future.
Overall, High & Low is a great series with a lot of heart and a lot of fighting that does tend to serve a greater purpose half the time and features great music from those involved as well. I think I can also honestly say that a majority of the cast have a future as the new generation of Action Stars in Japan and perhaps outside of it like here in America. Though how well that would work out is anyone’s guess given Hollywood’s penchant for handling POC actors/actresses a certain way. I’d recommend the franchise to anyone looking for something a little different and I’m not entirely sure this idea would do half as well if done by American studios. What with the self entitled egos we American fellas tend to have but I’m not gonna go there. Well, anymore anyway.
In short, to summarize things…
The writing of the characters and the storylines are compelling and wonderfully promote the ideas of Friendship, Forgiveness, and that an Ass Kicking can be good for the soul. The fight scenes were excellently done as well. High & Low also shows proof that working together and being unified is definitely a damn good thing.
While I did mention that overall, the storylines are compelling, there’s also the fact that at least one storyline was used more than once with a couple of variations. And this all primarily relates to Kohaku, Noboru, Chiharu, and Arata as each character had something shit happen to them and it made them be against their friends until the Power of Friendship, Forgiveness and Ass Kickings gets through to them. Hopefully going forward, this sort of storyline will be less of a thing as its essentially been done to death at this point. I also found it out of left field with little in the way of explanation for why Rocky of the White Rascals would kick out several of his members just for wanting to start a band. Maybe its covered in season 2, I’m unsure at this time as Wikipedia summaries can only tell me so much but something like that needs to be made sense of and perhaps thought out better.
It also never makes sense to me on just why Kohaku waited until he came back to do anything with the info that would hurt Kuryu later in the films. As had he acted much earlier, things would have been different, if at least for a short period of time. Yes, its explained why he waited but considering he had just as much of a personal stake in things, he would’ve been well within his rights to make use of the info. And while I certainly had no issue with some of the characters speaking English at random moments, it can be a little jarring. Especially if they have something of a heavy accent and you can’t really understand a word they just said and it loses that sudden awe factor they are going for. Again, I have no issue here with the English speaking moments and this is just a minor issue for me. Unlike the Amamiya brother duo being able to take down a hundred members from Mugen because they are skilled in the Martial Arts.
I just have a little bit of trouble believing it given the numbers advantage Mugen had but that’s more my problem than anyone else’s. Now I’ve already gone into over the marginalizing of the actresses (aside from Sarah) in the franchise so I won’t get too heavy into that again except to say that I hope going forward, this improves and that perhaps the ladies get their own film to really shine in as they do deserve it.
With all that said, I do hope this review will have given you the incentive needed to watch if you’ve seen this on Netflix while looking for something to watch! And if you have seen this franchise, I’d love to hear your own thoughts in the comments!
High & Low: The Review
Exile Hiro/LDH/Team HI-AX
Review by: Rob Wrecks
Summary: High&Low’s story began at a town that was once under the rule of a powerful organization called Mugen. But after a fight with the one enemy that they couldn’t crush, the Amamiya Brothers, Mugen suddenly broke apart and became a legend of the past, and five new gangs that took control of the area were formed. Based on the initials of the five gangs that lead each territory, the town began to be known as the SWORD area.