A schoolgirl with supernatural powers takes on an alien intent on world domination in this fantasy adventure. Yuko (Hiroko Yakushimaru) discovers that she has unusual abilities when she is able to reverse the direction of a truck that is about to hit a young child. She later meets a mysterious figure who offers to help harness her powers to take over the world. A transfer student begins recruiting Yuko’s classmates to a new cram-school where they seem to be brainwashed into becoming obedient and docile. It is up to Yuko to save her classmates from this alien threat.

Written by Taku Mayumura and directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, “School in the Crosshairs” is a light-weight fantasy adventure. Despite some interesting elements: telekenesis and extra-terrestrials, the film fails to really develop its characters and themes. The actions of the aliens are analogous with an totalitarian states, with their quasi-fascistic uniforms and authoritarian dictats, but this subtext is left largely unexplored. The film’s quirkier moments help maintain the viewer’s interest, with musical numbers performed by the students at their club recruitment day, or a neighbour who has a chimpanzee as a pet, but it somehow feels lacking, both in story and character. We never feel fully involved with Yuka and the alien threat never feels particularly real. This is largely due to a lack of explanation or consequences in what unfolds. It is a series of bizarre events culminating in a somewhat lacklustre denoument between Yuko and the aliens that takes place in a liminal space, further distancing it from any real threat.

Director Nobuhiko Obayashi was fiercely anti-war, expressed most beautifully in his masterpiece “Hanagatami”. This film is perhaps an early attempt to work in some of the themes of totalitarian government. We see early on that the class is slightly unruly, although nothing serious, and how the intention to make them conform to the rules turns into something more sinister. With the children enslaved to an ideology of conformism and persecuting those who break the rules, they lose their freedom and individuality. While we see a little of this in the film, it would have been interesting to expand on it, perhaps showing the impact on the characters and the world outside of the school. However, with so many disparate elements, many of which fail to connect, the film is unfortunately more of a curiousity than a must-see.

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