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Format viewed: DVD
Label: Pioneer
Country: Japan
Panic High School
picture: Panic High School (1978) picture: Panic High School (1978)
Original title
Koko Dai Panikku
Alternative title
1. High School Big Panic
2. Panic in High School
Yukihiro SAWADA
Atsuko ASANO
Hideaki ESUMI
Running time
94 mins.
by Nicholas Rucka

Panic High School is a studio remake of Sogo Ishii's first 8mm film of the same title, which played to sold-out Tokyo movie houses back in 1977. Perhaps because Nikkatsu was concerned that 20-year-old Ishii would be unable to direct a studio production alone, they assigned one of their former roman porno directors, Yukihiro Sawada, as a co-director on the picture. Furthermore, although Panic High School is Sogo Ishii's first studio production, he already demonstrates his 'punk rock' aesthetic that becomes a hallmark of his later productions.

A parable about the inefficiency and anachronism of the Japanese educational system, which places an unusually large amount of importance on cramming for university entrance examinations, Panic High School is about the suicide of a high school student and its ensuing fallout at his school. When one of his classmates becomes frustrated with the math teacher's lack of sensitivity to the suicide, the student steals a rifle, returns to school, aerates the teacher's chest and then holds members of his class captive. This leads to an aggressive standoff with the police and lots of shots of his parents crying and bowing in shame, totally mortified.

It's impossible to mention this film without commenting on its apparent foreshadowing of the Columbine High School incident in Colorado, USA. But whereas that was premeditated violence in school directed at classmates resulting from peer alienation and a desire hurt those who were at odds with them, Panic High School deals with anger against the establishment - in this case, society at large - and occurs spontaneously; the result of the pressure becoming too much.

In this sense Panic High School is a uniquely Japanese commentary about the foibles of the Education Ministry's educational system wherein even elementary school children could be forced to study for entrance examinations that may decide the very course of their adult life. Any expat who has spent time teaching school in Japan has witnessed firsthand that the fear of the student failing the Japanese educational system is all too real and that the repercussions are profound and long lasting. There is a great social relevance that surrounds a person's educational and, resultantly, their work affiliation. No wonder that when Japanese students reach college they use it for four years of decompression before heading into the professional world… and the rest of their lives.

At any rate, Panic High School, with some (slightly) clunky filmmaking in parts and mostly over-the-top performances from its lead players, is still a funky late 70s film with a knock-out soundtrack, AWOL snap zooms, and more shrieks than should rightly be in anything but a horror movie. His first major film, this is certainly worth viewing if you have an interest in Sogo Ishii.

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