The Drifting Classroom
Director: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Year: 1987
Rating: 7.5

What a wonderfully weird and cool film this is and the coolest thing about it? It stars frigging Troy Donahue. Troy Donahue in a Japanese film directed by Nobuhiko Ôbayashi in the late 1980's. Another fantasy high school classic from the man who gave us House. How did that happen I wonder? Donahue from the for their time hip TV shows Surfside 6 and Hawaiian Eye - young, blonde and handsome and here he is a teacher in an International school in Kobe Japan. That took me by surprise but then so did the entire film which gets stranger and stranger as it goes on - very much against my expectations. Nobuhiko had earlier in the decade  directed School in the Crosshairs and The Little Girl Who Conquered Time - both fantasy films taking place in high school as well as two lesser known films of the same ilk - Lonelyheart and Tengoku ni ichiban chikai shima. And after this film he directed Chizuko's Younger Sister, again a supernatural tale of a school girl. Sort of the John Hughes of Japan with a fantasy element thrown in. The film is based on a manga by Kazuo Umezu and the music comes from the genius of Joe Hisaishi who composed the soundtrack for many of the Hayao Miyazaki films.

On the negative side the acting from most of the multi-ethnic - multi-national children is abysmal  - it feels like these kids were all picked at random from a local International school and much of the not brilliant dialogue is in English unless the conversation is between native Japanese speakers. Maybe Nobuhiko thought this had potential to cross borders - I don't think that happened but it should have if not in itself, at least in a remake - hopefully with Molly Ringwald in it. I don't know though if Hollywood would have had the guts to go where this teenage movie does. Because it doesn't end well for many of the students and teachers. They die. In various ways. From the beginning you think this will all be resolved like most teenage films do - happily - you get the girl, your parents accept you, you win some competition, you come home to your loving parents - nope, not here. The only competition is staying alive.

It begins in a perv manner just like School in the Crosshairs did with teenage Shou (Yasufumi Hayashi), just recently back from years in America and having trouble adapting to Japan, coming out of the shower naked and grabbing his mother's braless breasts from behind. I thought - is that what he learned in America? He has a big row with mom and she tells him to leave and never come back. Instead he goes to school - Kobe International High School where he meets up with his friends Piggy (you should be able to picture him), Mark the school stud, Ayumi the school sweetie and two teachers - Taggart (Donahue) and Miss Midori (Kaho Minami). Miss Midori is getting married and it is announced to the class who then break into a musical number to celebrate - just like any class would. Suddenly these bright lights from outside go crazy and the school begins to shake (or the camera does anyway). And sand comes cascading in. It is lunacy.

And a lot of bad shit happens. They seem to have gone to the future (as we learn later) and the school is in a vast desert (meaning of course though never articulated that the world they knew was destroyed - a nod to Planet of the Apes). Sand is everywhere in the school creating barriers and sand tunnels - suffocating many - they find one teacher who is sitting down and who turns around only to have sand pour out of her mouth. Lots of the students are dead - more are to die - one teacher goes psycho and tries to kill them all. Food and water are rationed. A little Lord of the Flies takes place, another musical number breaks out of Swanee River of all things. But that is just the beginning.

First a cute little creature that floats on its tentacles shows up - kind of a mascot but then the giant crab monsters do as well -  one playing the piano - so not so much Don't Shoot the Piano Player as Don't Eat the Piano Player. And they continue to die. In the old world there is just a giant hole in the ground where their school once was and where Shou's mother waits for him to return. A time slip. I took a gander at what others thought of this film thinking everyone would love it - nope - rated a 5.4 on IMDB - people complaining about the poor acting and the cheesy special effects - both true - this is a messy. sloppy film but damn I just thought this was great with its weaknesses actually adding to the overall strangeness and lovability of the film.