You have probably seen billboards and posters of the movie HiGH & LOW all over the metro. It’s an entertainment project that consists of a drama series with two seasons – a prequel called Road to HiGH & LOW and a spin-off entitled The Red Rain featuring two of its prominent characters, the Amamiya Brothers (雨宮兄弟).
LDH Inc., the management behind the supergroup EXILE TRIBE, went all out in this production. Said to be the first of its kind in the world, this huge comprehensive project aims to reach out to various forms of content media. Thus, HiGH & LOW is everywhere. There’s an original soundtrack, a book, a manga, official SNS accounts, stage greetings, live concerts; and some temporary establishments like a cafe, an interactive singing room, and even a pop-up store. They also have a collaboration with Osaifu Ponta issued by Lawson so one can get a JCB Ponta card of various designs with the members’ pictures on it.
HiGH & LOW’s story begins at a town that was once under the rule of a powerful organization called Mugen (ムゲン) which was founded by Kohaku (琥珀 – EXILE’s AKIRA), Tatsuya (龍也 – Arata Iura, 井浦新), and Tsukumo (九十九 – Gekidan EXILE’s Sho Aoyagi, 青柳翔). But their glory ended after they faced an equally powerful duo of fighters, the Amamiya Brothers (EXILE’s TAKAHIRO and Sandaime J Soul Brothers’ Hiroomi Tosaka, 登坂広臣). Both groups eventually disappeared but their names remained a legend in the town currently called S.W.O.R.D. The name is based on the initials of the five gangs that lead each territory.
Sannoh Rengokai (Hoodlum Squad)
Sandaime J Soul Brothers (三代目J Soul Brothers)’ Takanori Iwata (岩田剛典) plays the blonde-haired leader named Cobra (コブラ). He’s joined by Yamato (ヤマト – Noboyuki Suzuki, 鈴木伸之), Noboru (ノボル – Keita Machida, 町田啓太 ), Tetsu (テッツ – Kanta Sato, 佐藤寛太), Dan (ダン – Yamashita Kenjiro, 山下健二郎) and Chiharu (チハル – Taiki Sato, 佐藤大樹). Together, they protect the citizens while maintaining the balance of S.W.O.R.D.
Featuring the members of Japanese visual kei rock band, Golden Bomber (ゴールデンボンバー), the all white-clad Rascals run a hip nightclub called Heaven. Keiji Kuroki (黒木啓司) leads the gang as Rocky, the charismatic scout.
Oya Kou (鬼邪高校 – Oya High)
Actor Yamada Yuki (山田裕貴) is the formidable class rep Murayama Yoshiki (村山良樹) in this Crows-like gang with its members wearing uniforms in that one big mess of a school complete with graffiti walls. Mr. Japan 2013, Takayuki Suzuki (鈴木貴之) plays his right hand, Hideto Furuya (古屋英人).
Talented actor and a self-confessed EXILE fan, Masataka Kubota (窪田正孝) plays the leader, Smoky (スモーキー). With GENERATIONS’ Reo Sano (佐野玲於) as Takeshi (タケシ), KEN-ON artist Tasuku Nagase (永瀬匡) as Shion (シオン), and real life Parkour performer Zen Shimada (島田善) as Pee (ピー), this group of high flyin’, backflippin’, parka-wearing agile young men protect The Nameless Street.
Daruma Ikka (達磨一家)
Out to avenge the fall of his kin against Mugen, a menacing Hyuga Norihisa (日向紀久) is played by another versatile actor, Hayashi Kento (林遣都). His underlings include Gekidan EXILE’s Yuta Ozawa (小澤雄太), and actors Kaname Endo (遠藤要) and Ryohei Abe (阿部亮平).
Introduced at the end of the first season, these highly fashionable and musically inclined fighters led by Sandaime J Soul Brothers’ Elly are out to completely destroy whatever is left to keep the balance of S.W.O.R.D. His gang includes GENERATIONS’ Alan Shirahama (白濱亜嵐), hip-hop artist ANARCHY, sword-wielding Taichi Saotome (早乙女太一), and Brazilian model Kana Oya (大屋夏南) as Sarah (セイラ).
Kuryu Group (九龍グループ)
EXILE’s Kenchi (橘ケンチ) is on the side of the baddies. Under the leadership of Tatsumi Iemura (家村龍美), they distributed dangerous drugs called The Red Rum and caused some great disturbance in town.
The film does not have a completely-all-male cast since E-girls’ members Karen Fujii (藤井夏恋) and Shuka Fujii (藤井萩花) are on team Rude Boys and Sannoh Rengokai (山王連合会) respectively; while Fujiko Kojima (小島藤子), Kaede (楓), Ayano Kudo (工藤綾乃), and Harumi Sato (佐藤晴美) make up Ichigo Milk (苺美瑠狂 – Strawberry Milk). Nozomi Bando (坂東希) is with Gekidan EXILE’s Masayasu Yagi (八木将康) and Ayumu Kato (加藤歩) at Barber Puma.
HiGH & LOW is like a mix of Takashi Miike (三池崇史)’s badass ikemen characters of Crows Zero (クローズZERO) with Sion Sono’s colorful and energetic visuals of Tokyo Tribe. The plot, however, is rather weak as it’s lengthened to make a flashback-filled second season with the introduction of more characters:
- KIZZY (Yu Inaba – 稲葉友) and KAITO (Shuntaro Yanagi – 柳俊太郎) are former Doubt members who joined Keiji after realizing his more honorable motives as a scout. I personally liked the addition of these two since an all-male-cast doesn’t always necessarily mean that they should all be straight, right?
- Masataka Kubota (窪田正孝) and Yu Inaba’s Mars co-star Goki Maeda (前田公輝) with the members of EXILE’s The Rampage tried to challenge Oya Kou’s leader but failed miserably.
- And bringing in throngs of K-pop fangirls to the J-pop world, BIGBANG’s Seungri (also known as V.I.), plays son of Korean mob boss, Mr. Lee.
The series ends with a large-scale action packed movie that was released on July 16, 2016, HiGH & LOW The Movie. It was produced by retired member (but still the EXILE leader) Hiro and directed by Sigeaki Kubo (久保茂昭). Team HI-AX has created a completely original storyline with a familiar, somewhat overused theme: yankiis. This isn’t something new to LDH Inc. artists as they have starred in dramas such as Sugarless, the remake of Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO), and Wild Heroes.
The term “yankiis” has been used to refer to juvenile delinquents. For instance, they are in a sitting or squatting position which is called “yankii zuwari (ヤンキー座り)” similar to that of typical gang members in their smoking posture and is a sign of impudent behavior. Along with lolita and visual kei (ヴィジュアル系), yankii has been a popular subculture in Japan over the years. They used to don a pompadour and shaved eyebrows but obviously, even their style has changed as time went by.
“Bosozoku (暴走族)” is also associated with yankiis but they are specifically those who are interested in motorcycle customizing and at times, reckless driving. Mugen perfectly characterized the Bosozoku as they ride their bikes and follow their leader like a wolf pack. There is a stereotypical bosozoku look which includes a long jacket or jumpsuit with a kanji (漢字) character at the back. Ichigo Milk wears the female version of this style. Instead of redefining the stereotypes, HiGH & LOW is preserving the yankii culture in a contemporary and fashionable manner.
Most people think that real life yankiis will always lead to becoming a member of the yakuza (ヤクザ), a Japanese organized crime syndicate, but it’s not always true. For some, being a yankii is just a phase. Some former school yankiis actually end up with stable jobs and decent lives. They are regarded as troublemakers, but in films and dramas, yankiis (especially males) have been portrayed as “kakkoii (かっこいい)” or cool.
Elite Yankee Saburo director Yudai Yamaguchi (山口雄大) is in charge of another HiGH & LOW movie. The Red Rain will put the backstory of the Amamiya Brothers on the front line with the highly anticipated participation of talented and extremely charismatic actor Takumi Saito (斎藤工) as their older brother, Amamiya Takeru (雨宮尊龍). HiGH & LOW The Red Rain is set to be released on October 8, 2016.
HiGH & LOW The Movie grossed 668.3 million yen and placed second at the Japanese box office on its opening. It went down the rankings on its second week but has reached a total gross of over 1 billion yen. With the success of HiGH & LOW, not only are they able to introduce the members of the new units of EXILE Tribe, but they have also proven that the popularity of Japan’s yankii culture isn’t going away anytime soon.
HiGH & LOW Official Website *Japanese only