'The Kirishima thing' or "桐島、部活やめるってよ" (directly translated it would be 'Kirishima says he's going to quit his club!') deals with the power hierarchy among students in Japanese high schools which is manifested most clearly through club activities.
Though the theme of power relations in high schools seems to be a very common one in American films (particularly from the 80s and 90s) it is a theme I have only seen in recent years in Japanese films, most of which deal with the more overt topic of bullying/ いじめ (for example the drama series 'Life'). 'The Kirishima thing' (Directed by Daihachi Yoshida/ 吉田大八) however isn't about bullying so much as it is about the more subtle and seemingly arbitrary hierarchy among students from different clubs- rather than vilify the top students over the 'lower' ones (as bullying films often do), it depicts the negatives and positives of being on either end of the spectrum. Thus in the end it leaves you with the feeling that even those on the top end of the hierarchy aren't necessarily in control of it and don't necessarily benefit most from it.
From the very opening shot of the film it is obvious that it has been influenced strongly by the 2003 American film 'Elephant' directed by Gus Van Sant (which itself was influences stylistically by an 1989 BBC short film of the same name, directed by Alan Clarke). Both Elephant (1989), Elephant (2013) and 'The Kirishima thing' use slow tracking shots from behind to create a sense of suspense and tension. 'The Kirishima Thing' also draws on Van Sant's idea to show the same timeline multiple times from multiple viewpoints.
At first I was sceptical that 'The Kirishima Thing' would be just a Japanese version of a similar high school story to Van Sant's 'Elephant' but the film manages to carve it's own original path through a far less dramatic story (The final massacre in 'Kirishima' is played out in one of the characters imagination rather than in reality, thereby making a point without having to lose the subtlety and grim reality created in the first half of the film). It also cleverly shows how each student is effected by each other by having 'Kirishima' himself never actually appear in the film. Rather Kirishima's actions are just spoken about, giving you the sense that the structure of this high school hierarchy, the top of which is represented by Kirishima, which each student allows themselves to be effected by is just an imagined reality, one which could easily fade away if each student decided not to believe in it.
The film successfully creates the same suspense as Elephant without dealing with subject matter as shocking. I found that more so than in Elephant, I had to really pay attention to the subtleties in the characters to really understand the story. Even then the ending left me pondering for quite a while over whether I had missed something entirely.
I'd definitely watch it again to pick up on a few more subtleties It's a wonderfully shot film and one of the best Japanese ones I have seen in a while. It certainly shows that the Japanese can make just as good remakes of US films (actually better in my opinion) as the US can of Japanese films. If you are unfamiliar with the system of Japanese club activities and how they relate to the social hierarchy within high school you might be a little lost at first but other than that I think it's a film most will appreciate.