Sutoreiyâzu kuronikuru [Strayer’s Chronicle] (2015)

Before we do anything else, we need to get one thing straight:

Strayer’s Chronicle is not a Japanese rip-off of the X-Men.

Not even of The New Mutants or Alpha Flight.

I know, it looks like one.  We’ve got a group of angsty young teens with strange mutant powers.

However, instead of wrestling mightily with big hot button issues like those guys in spandex at Marvel, they are more concerned with their impending deaths.

Which, you’ll admit, does sound more Japanese.

Two groups of “evolved” human beings were created by a secret government program.  They subjected the parents of one group to extreme stress in the hopes that the rush of hormones involved would make their children more powerful, while the other group have been genetically engineered.

Unfortunately, this means that the tradeoff for the second group’s exceptional powers is that they have a very short life span (like the replicants in Blade Runner).  However, while the first group won’t necessarily die young, they face an even worse fate, as their brains will eventually shut down, due to the excessive stimulus.

The first approach was ultimately dropped in favor of the second, and that research halted — until, that is, the second team ran away.

The first group now serves the man who directed the project, Koichiro Watase (Tsuyoshi Ihara) who is the senior Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Someone describes them as his private army and it is a pretty fair description as he uses their special talents to carry out his secret orders.

But things start going wrong when they find out that the second group of mutants was behind a series of assassinations of high-ranking officials and the kidnapping of a major politician’s daughter. They are ordered to bring the second group back in alive, but it proves more difficult than they expected.

And then everything changes when they start learning their true purpose and why they were created.

It came as a surprise to me to learn that this one was based on a novel and not a manga.  It reminds me of a lot of the manga and manga based movies I’ve seen, with its dark tone and earnest young people, its terrible secrets and the Apocalyptic threat they face.

As I said, it’s very Japanese.

The basic themes — the attempts of the mutants to come to terms with the meaning of their short lives, their mortality, and the terrible purpose those who created them had in mind — are all potent ones.  I suppose some of you will point out that Wolverine (particularly in Logan) has dealt with many of these issues while the other members of the team were off worrying about Global Warming or Homelessness or whatever, but there is a dark seriousness here that you’re not going to find in film with wild digital effects and even a character morphing into a lizard monster.

…Well, not unless it was made in Japan.

I’m not a exactly a big fan of this film, but it is well done, with reasonably good digital effects and a pretty good cast (something the Japanese seem to do better than we do when it comes to movies about teenagers).  The story is quite solid as well, tying in the past and present, the kids and their strange lives, and the background story of political maneuvering and sinister experimentation.

Okay, it’s a bit slow.  And grey.  At two hours, its a bit long.  And (like many of the more earnest Japanese efforts) a bit joyless. And it would have helped if they’d taken more time to explore some of the lesser characters.  Even their superpowers are far from clear.

But it is a solid and well made film.  Frankly I find it a lot more interesting than most of the repetitive super hero offerings out there.  It’s not exactly my thing, but I recognize its virtues and enjoyed it, even though I was in the mood for a rather lighter sort of film.

This one was made for those of you who love the more serious and somber sort of Japanese genre films. As you’d expect, it looks great, the fight scenes are good, and there are some interesting ideas at play here.

It is definitely worth a look, even if it isn’t quite your thing…

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