Document type
1 August 2001
Format viewed

Bad Company

picture: Bad Company (2001)picture: Bad Company (2001)

Original title
  • Yamato OKITSU
  • Ryosuke TAKAHASHI
Running time
98 mins.
Tom Mes

Bad Company is another entry in the prestigious, high-quality line-up of producer Takenori Sento's Suncent company. Written and directed by Tomoyuki Furumaya, it has proven to be a rather triumphant return for this young filmmaker, who suffered a creative crisis that lasted five years prior to making it.

Largely autobiographical, Bad Company is the tale of junior high school rebel Sadatomo and his clashes with teachers, authorities and parents. A layabout, Sadatomo takes his two closest friends (both impressionable lads, as boys in their early teens tend to be) on extended sessions of school-skipping, shoplifting and vandalism. Their transgressions usually amount to little more than mischief and none of them truly have the making of a criminal, but for Sadatomo, this mischief is a method of rebellion against the heavily regimented school climate. A climate which not so much exists to teach children knowledge, but rather to program them for their inevitable role in adult society.

In fact, throughout the film they are taught virtually nothing in the way of factual knowledge. Their teacher mister Kobayashi - an authoritarian, patriarchal, but also human figure - gives lessons in discipline and obedience instead of math or literature. Though he often raises valid points, his methods are Spartan, abusive even. Since the children are obliged to go to school, there is no escaping his often humiliating (and sometimes downright degrading) psychological approach, which includes categorising his young pupils in a "humanity index" which includes the levels 'delinquent', 'scum' and 'people'. The end result may make them obedient citizens ready to do their part for the greater good of society, but it comes at the price of their individual free wills.

As with Akihiko Shiota's Don't Look Back (Dokomademo Iko, 1999), Bad Company is an adult story transposed to the world of children. Story-wise it is modelled on a pair of Stanley Kubrick films; the teacher's relentless hammering on discipline, obedience and rules echoes R. Lee Ermey's memorable performance as the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, while the behavior of Sadatomo and his two friends and the development they go through in the course of the film is clearly inspired by A Clockwork Orange. In fact, the story structure of Bad Company and Kubrick's 1971 masterpiece are virtually identical, with the main character going through a process that takes him from delinquency to punishment to submission and back to delinquency again. And like Kubrick's film, Bad Company contrasts conformity with free individual thought in a manner that is challenging and thought-provoking. By having delinquency represent free thought, Furumaya makes the moral choice more difficult for the audience, testing their tolerance and forcing them to question their own value system. It's an effect similar to that achieved by Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale, to which this is an excellent companion piece.

Bad Company is only director Furumaya's second film. Made after the five-year hiatus that followed his similarly themed debut This Window Is Yours (Kono Mado Wa Kimi No Mono, 1996), it had its world premiere at the 2001 Rotterdam Film Festival, where it scooped both the jury prize and the international critics' prize. The film and its festival success went largely unnoticed in Japan, a fate undeserving of this small but significant and challenging film.