Today’s selection: The Drifting Classroom (1987, dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi)
Available from: fansub-only
The English edition of Kazuo Umezz’s manga The Drifting Classroom has parental advisory stickers on the front, which strikes me as funny given that it ran in Shonen Sunday… I guess kids just used to be tougher? It’s admittedly a fairly gruesome story, about a school getting sucked through a time portal to a post-apocalyptic desert full of bug monsters and death. The 1987 movie adaptation is compressed, by nature of being a single feature instead of an 11-volume manga, and is more light-hearted, by nature of being directed by a madman. Also different is that most of the movie’s in English.
Watch enough kid’s movies, and you get desensitized to child actors, watch enough Asian movies, and you get desensitized to poor English performances. This is what dawned on me as I first watched the film, shortly after my “wow, their acting is a lot better than I expected” thought. Still, it makes it hard to recommend the movie to just anyone in the English-speaking community, while the bulk of a movie being in English might be part of why the movie hasn’t been released past VHS in its native Japan. As a result, it’s a tough sell everywhere. I would ask why Obayashi chose to change the locale of the story from a Japanese school (in the original manga) to an international one based in Kobe, but asking why Obayashi does anything is sort of futile; we’re talking about the director of House and School in the Crosshairs, after all. I guess making the movie in English could have made it easier to sell internationally, but for that you’d really need professional actors instead of whoever happened to be at the real-life school (an American movie adaptation of the manga was eventually produced as Drifting School in 1995, by the way).
I wish it were more popular, though, as the VHS version is murky and dark, not allowing much look at some intriguing creature SFX. A cleaner print could really improve things on that front. Most of the complaints that I’ve heard about the special effects are in regards to the matte paintings, which usually look fake in Obayashi’s movies, probably as a stylistic choice. Ideally, this could get a rescue from the likes of Criterion; if nothing else, the spontaneous musical numbers should appeal to the same “what the hell am I watching” cult crowd as House. I wouldn’t hold my breath, as by that point in the future we’ll all have been overridden with giant cockroach monsters.