- Original title
- Japanese title
- Running time
- 98 minutes
- 1 August 2001
by Tom Mes
For a large part of the late 1990s, the name of producer Takenori Sento was a prominent one in Japanese art house and film festival circuits. Coming to prominence as one of the producers of Hideo Nakata's original Ring, Sento went a more idiosyncratic route than one might expect, producing and eventually marrying festival golden girl Naomi Kawase. Kawase's debut feature Suzaku (Moe no Suzaku, 1997) won the Camera d'or in Cannes and turned Kawase into an overnight celebrity on the homefront, which must have gotten Sento thinking. The result of these contemplations was Suncent Cinemaworks, thorugh which Sento produced films by the country's leading arthouse directors, including Shinji Aoyama's Eureka (2000) and Nobuhiro Suwa's M/Other (1999).
Suncent eventually went belly-up when it became clear that festival plaudits do not a solid business scheme make (though the direct reason for the bankruptcy was its involvement with the overambitious failure of Sogo Ishii's Gojoe), but at least we can't blame Sento for playing it safe. He can also be credited for fostering a handful of small gems, among which Bad Company ranks as one of the most enchanting, if one of the least known. The film proved a fine return to filmmaking for Tomoyuki Furumaya, who had suffered though a creative crisis that lasted five years.
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 more than a bit resembles the journey of Alex and his droogs in 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 was 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. Although Furumaya went on to become a solidly jobbing director in its wake, directing such commercial fare as The Homeless Student, Bad Company and its festival success went largely unnoticed at the time, a fate undeserving of this small but significant and challenging film.