Youth of the Beast (Seijun Suzuki / Japan, 1963):
(Yaju no Seishun; The Young Rebel)

A double suicide in somber black-and-white yields to blazing jukebox sound and fury -- Japanese folklore (out of Bunraku theater) meets raucous modernity in a Nicholas Ray visual slap. If Seijun Suzuki has a scene inside a nightclub, it must be in a soundproof room equipped with one-way mirrors so that a gangland beating can take place while a burlesque queen fan-dances in the background. A torpedo (Jo Shishido) wedges himself between warring yakuza clans, where free-flowing violence ("Your brother is missing three fingers. Wanna lose your lose?") is business; he speeds up a shakedown by improvising a blowtorch out of his victim's hairspray can and a lighter, though the brutality is only a guise for a disgraced detective out to avenge a bud's death. Suzuki can compose a beautiful image, but does so strictly to scald it: The rotten-yellow lighting in an interrogation scene becomes the golden dust billowing outside the porch in the next shot, the welts on the back of the boss' mistress are rhymed by the crimson carpet on which she writhes. The story's concentric betrayals allow for tickling notes and predictions (Underworld, U.S.A., La Chinoise, The Chase) and discombobulating color flourishes (pink smoke from a bundle of dynamite, Shishido pressed against the camera lens as red squirts from his sliced finger), served by Suzuki like so many stanzas from Flowers of Evil. For all the macho jostling, it's really a work on Japanese femininity, on the unseen hooker mother whose mere mention makes one thug (Tamio Kawaji) break out the razor blade, and on the placid widow (Misako Watanabe) whose mask of tranquility, like all others under the auteur's anarchic scrutiny, falls just at the end. With Akiji Kobayashi, Hideaki Esumi, Nobuo Kaneko, and Shiro Yanase.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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