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Kyouki no Sakura - Madness In Bloom (Sonoda Kenji 2002)


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Kyouki no Sakura
[Madness In Bloom]

Genre: Japanese Fascism Meets Clockwork Orange

review in one breath

The title Kyouki no Sakura, though translated rather simply as Madness in Bloom, is in fact a play on words. The pronounced term "kyouki" perhaps most commonly connotes "madness" (aka "dangerous spirit/mind"), but it can also mean "chivalrous spirit". In the title of this film, the term is spelled using one character from each of these meanings, specifically using the character for chivalrous rather than madness. The term "sakura" could likewise mean "bloom" in general but here most clearly refers to the more specific cherry blossom, long beloved by Japanese as their national flower. (The flower permeates the film, most dramatically in the yakuza boss' home.)


In many ways this film is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange. The differences, though, are fundamental. Kubrick's Clockwork was an exploration into violent youth anarchism in the face of social decline and over-conformity. The violent youth of Sonoda's Kyouki are also driven by an ideology, but here it is a highly disciplined and traditional nationalism which flies in the face of meaningless Westernization and modernization. This dedication to nationalism places these youth in a very long and proud tradition espoused (to this day) by militants, extremists and yakuza. Though strictly a local Shibuya district gang quickly gaining notoriety, their explicit nationalism naturally drives them into the arms of like-minded yakuza gangs which oversee far larger sections of the city. Though initially anxious to join the larger yakuza activities, once involved, the rather naive ideology and cohesiveness of the gang quickly deteriorates as each member is gradually chewed up and spit out by a far more sinister machinery.

The gang's leader is Yamaguchi Susumu (Kobuzuka YĆ“suke, perhaps most notable for recently playing Amakusa Shiro in Makai Tensho (2003)). Yamaguchi is eventually introduced to the yakuza boss Aota Shuzo (Harada Yoshio) who takes Yamaguchi under his wing, becoming nearly a father figure. When Yamaguchi is finally privy to the destruction of his friends and the betrayal of Aota, he will enter the fight of his career against Saburo (Eguchi Yosuke), a far more mature and formidable yakuza killer.

The cinematics in Kyouki no Sakura are both polished and experimental. The entire project comes off as very contemporary, fueled by an excellent soundtrack and almost non-stop creative violence. The message here is clearly one of ideology and loyalty toward more traditional values, though not without a flicker of sadness for the youthful demise of the main characters. In this way, Kyouki no Sakura proves to be an effective modern parallel to Suzuki Seijun's Fighting Elegy (1966) which traversed much of the same ground with the same degree of youth violence via the attraction to nationalistic fascism, portrayed in experimental cinematics and with a modicum of subtle infused humor.

Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Contemporary nationalist yakuza tale set amidst a groovy soundtrack. Alot of brawling and punching and beating. Graphic brutality to a young woman. Some belimbing and forced seppuku "suicides". One transvestite rather unceremoniously groped (who then comes back with a steel bat) Etc. One brief scene of the victor taking the spoils. By the way: there is a main female character in this movie, but her girlish charm and cute face lose out to testosterone-feuled, sword-flailing revenge. Interesting visual twist to a youth-yakuza motif.

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