Know About Japan’s “Yankii” Culture With EXILE TRIBE’s HiGH & LOW Project

  • 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.

    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

    HiGH & LOW‘s story begins at a town that was once under the rule of a powerful organization called Mugen which was founded by Kohaku (EXILE’s AKIRA), Tatsuya (Arata Iura), and Tsukumo (Gekidan EXILE’s Sho Aoyagi). 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). 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’ Takanori Iwata plays the blonde-haired leader named Cobra. He’s joined by Yamato (Noboyuki Suzuki), Noboru (Keita Machida), Tetsu (Kanta Sato), Dan (Yamashita Kenjiro) and Chiharu (Taiki Sato). Together, they protect the citizens while maintaining the balance of S.W.O.R.D.

    White Rascals

    Featuring the members of Japanese visual kei rock band, Golden Bomber, the all white-clad Rascals run a hip nightclub called Heaven. Keiji Kuroki leads the gang as Rocky, the charismatic scout.

    Oya Kou (Oya High)

    Actor Yamada Yuki is the formidable class rep Murayama Yoshiki 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 plays his right hand, Hideto Furuya.


    Talented actor and a self-confessed EXILE fan, Masataka Kubota plays the leader, Smoky. With GENERATIONS’ Reo Sano as Takeshi, KEN-ON artist Tasuku Nagase as Shion, and real life Parkour performer Zen Shimada as Pee, this group of high flyin’, backflippin’, parka-wearing agile young men protect The Nameless Street.

    Daruma Ikka

    Out to avenge the fall of his kin against Mugen, a menacing Hyuga Norihisa is played by another versatile actor, Hayashi Kento. His underlings include Gekidan EXILE’s Yuta Ozawa, and actors Kaname Endo and Ryohei Abe.

    Other Groups and Cast


    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, hip-hop artist ANARCHY, sword-wielding Taichi Saotome, and Brazilian model Kana Oya as Sarah.

    Kuryu Group

    EXILE’s Kenchi is on the side of the baddies. Under the leadership of Tatsumi Iemura, 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 and Shuka Fujii are on team Rude Boys and Sannoh Rengokai respectively; while Fujiko Kojima, Kaede, Ayano Kudo, and Harumi Sato make up Ichigo Milk (Strawberry Milk). Nozomi Bando is with Gekidan EXILE’s Masayasu Yagi and Ayumu Kato at Barber Puma.

    HiGH & LOW is like a mix of Takashi Miike’s badass ikemen characters of Crows 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) and KAITO (Shuntaro Yanagi) 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 and Yu Inaba’s Mars co-star Goki Maeda 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. 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.

    Japan’s Yankii Culture

    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” similar to that of typical gang members in their smoking posture and is a sign of impudent behavior. Along with lolita and visual kei, 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” 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 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, 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” or cool.

    HiGH & LOW The Red Rain

    Elite Yankee Saburo director Yudai Yamaguchi 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 as their older brother, Amamiya Takeru. 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