Nerawareta gakuen [School in the Crosshairs] (1981)

(aka The Aimed School )

What a singularly strange film this is!

And, yes, I mean Japanese movie strange and not just ordinary movie strange.

It’s not hard to figure out why: it was directed by Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, who also directed the utterly insane haunted house film House (Hausu)  four years earlier.

And while we don’t get a piano eating little girls this time around, we do have Ôbayashi’s use of very old-school analogue effects to create wonderfully surreal visuals.

Yuka is a naturally gifted student who excels at her studies without having to work very hard at it — and yet her kindness and self-effacing nature make her one of the most popular students in her school.

However, she learns that she has telekinetic superpowers when she accidentally winds back time to save a child from being hit by a truck.

Not long afterward, a mysterious being from Venus (in Cape and Tights!) appears to her.  A sinister exchange student who has powers just like Yuka’s, arrives next and somehow convinces everyone to impose a strict regime of order on the school with the help of the uniformed student enforcers she recruits.

Those who break the rules get sent off to a secret cram school where they quickly become dull and complacent followers just like everyone else.

Yuka and her Kendo-loving best friend, Koji, find themselves increasingly isolated as everyone joins the New School Order, and they are forced to go find the secret school and take on its even more mysterious master…

Normally, I wouldn’t offer a summary covering this much of the film, but the basic plot here is so simple and straightforward that you could guess the rest easily.  Nor is it really all that important whether you know the plot or not. Ôbayashi is far more interested in the visuals, in the texture and details of the everyday life at his rather unusual school.  It’s described as “experimental” at one point and clearly the students have more freedom than most Japanese school kids do.  We have the couple who always wear roller skates, the two who always wear punk rock-style leather military uniforms, and countless others with their own strange quirks.  One long sequence with all the extra curricular clubs trying to attract new members is boldly choreographed, with all the separate activities merging into one huge dance, like the intro to a big number in a musical that never quite manages to burst into song.  In fact, it looks suspiciously like they borrowed it from Grease.

The true highlights of the film are the incredible effects sequences, from the surreal opening to a weird black and white car ride with sudden splashes of color when Yuka first meets the stranger from Venus to an all-out barrage of color and weirdness at the finale.

Perhaps the best single image in all this is the stranger’s punishment for Koji and another student, where they are trapped inside big red stars, an iconically simple image which works because it is flat on a 3-D object.

There really wasn’t much of an effort to ground the film within a solid science fictional setting — the details of what the powers are, or where they come from are less than vague, and we never learn much about the Stranger beyond his claim to have come from another world.

Not that it really matters.  Not in this film.

But don’t get the wrong impression: the films is constantly entertaining with a loving portrayal of its eccentric school, a bit of comedy, and several wild and unexpected sequences.

The end result is colorful, incredibly energetic and always fun.  But it is all glitzy surfaces and cheerful action and not too much more.

Well, it does take a few potshots at the cramming school and the obsession with such classes and tutoring  in a modern day Japan obsessed with getting the best grades — and points out that other things, like sports and leisure, are an important part of education as well.  Sadly no one seems to have listened.

Oh, and some people will try to claim that this one is about a girl’s sexual awakening, but they’re the same ones who try to find sex in everything.

But no matter.  This is a wild and eccentric bit of entertainment which is as much (or even more) a school comedy as it is a warring telepaths film.  It’s as frothy a popcorn flick as you  could ask for — and lots of fun.

After all, not every film has to be deep or significant

And you are not likely to find too many other movies that are quite this entertaining — or colorful

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