A supremely silly and deliriously entertaining parody of Japan’s elitist pathways to the seats of power based on Usamaru Furuya’s popular manga.
Photo courtesy of JCCC
Teiichi—Battle of Supreme High (2017)
Director: Akira Nagai
Starring: Masaki Suda, Yudai Chiba, Shotaro Mamiya and Mei Nagano
Screenplay: Yoshihiro Izumi
Running time: 118 minutes
Teiichi dreams of one day ruling the country and his own empire, but in the meantime must ensure his candidate for class president wins the election. As with national politics, lies, bribery, sabotage and scandal all come into play.
“Suda’s performance —all frenzied physicality and eye-popping intensity—is at once appalling and oddly sympathetic. “
Traditionally there has been little political satire in Japan. The average Japanese is thought to be fairly politically apathetic, respectful of hierarchies, deferential to superiors and shy about making fun of their governing individuals and institutions. In Japan there are no equivalents of the US’s The Daily Show or our own This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Instead, such humour is often conveyed through traditional comic storytelling forms like rakugo and manzai.
This is not to say there isn’t much in Japanese politics crying out to be mocked. The political mishandling of the 3.11 Tohoku disaster very publically shook the country’s faith in its institutions. In response, last year’s Godzilla film offered some blistering ridicule of Japanese politicians and bureaucracy and Japanese audiences loved it. Now we have Akira Nagai’s Teiichi—Battle of Supreme High, an absurdist satire of Japan’s elitist pathways to the seats of power based on Usamaru Furuya’s popular manga.
Teiichi Akaba (Masaki Suda) is born a sensitive, artistic boy: he is a piano prodigy, afraid of confrontation and the target of school bullies. These gentle traits he inherited from his mother. His father (Kotaro Yoshida)—a pathologically ambitious politician, humiliated in his own career—furiously projects his own ambitions onto his son. A parental spat leads to an accidental blow to the head and Teiichi miraculously awakens as a savage political animal.
The new Teiichi enters Kaitei College, a prestigious incubator of the country’s political and bureaucratic elite. There he commits himself to becoming the next student president in the first step in a campaign to not only become the prime minister but to eventually create his own country (hence the film’s Japanese title: Teiichi no Kuni or The Country of Teiichi).
The film goes on to hilariously trace his Machiavellian rise to power and the constantly escalating levels of manipulation, paranoia and toxic masculinity that drive this campaign. Together with sidekick Sakakibara (Jun Shison), who can barely conceal his lust for Teiichi, he shamelessly curries favour with Himuro (Shotaro Mamiya), a golden-maned snob, ace street-fighter and leading candidate for student council president. Himuro’s leading opponent is shogi chess-master Morizono (Yudai Chiba), whose proposal to abolish factionalism in favour of a more democratic merit-based form of student government wins him instant popularity. Add to the mix the equally ambitious Togo (Shuhei Nomura), son of Teiichi’s father’s most reviled nemesis, and Mimiko (Mei to the head and Teiichi Nagano), Teiichi’s high-kicking defender in his days as a bullied middle-schooler, and we find ourselves caught up in a complex latticework of intrigue, betrayal, shifting alliances and inarticulate romance. Oh, and did we mention there’s hara-kiri too?
Nagai’s lively and inventive film benefits from a smart, tightly paced script and artfully over-the-top performances. Suda’s Teiichi—all frenzied physicality and eye-popping intensity— is at once appalling and oddly sympathetic.
With Kaitei’s student council standing in for the Japanese parliament, the film plays better to domestic audiences who will immediately recognize the political “types” being skewered. Though its satirical edge may be dulled slightly by a lack of familiarity, Teiichi remains a supremely silly and deliriously entertaining piece of pop cinema.
Teiichi—Battle of Supreme High will be co-presented at the JCCC by the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival and the Toronto Japanese Film Festival on November 15. The program also includes the November 16 screening of Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal.