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Youth of the Beast (Suzuki Seijun 1963)


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Youth of the Beast
[Yajuu no Seishun]

Genre: Yakuza / Tough Guy

review in one breath

Director Suzuki Seijun teams up with prolific tough guy Shishido Jo in this tale of bad cop seeking employment by the highest paying yakuza lord. Though initially enamored by his formidable brutality, the yakuza soon realize there may be more to this rouge than they initially perceived. And then all hell breaks loose.


intro

Director Suzuki Seijun is now almost a household name for his cutting-edge style in Japan's early yakuza-genre films. In essence, Suzuki is characterized by bold use of color and depictions of physical force. Philosophically, he has also been generally committed to a anti-violence message, much more so in his latter films.

Youth of the Beast, the film currently under review, was originally released in 1963, less than a year before his explicitly anti-war film Fighting Elelgy and four years prior to his Branded to Kill, a now classic yakuza-noir film for which he was promptly fired by Nikkatsu Films.

The lead role here is played by Shishido Jo who has an almost unparalleled filmography involving tough-guy roles in Japanese film. According to JMDb Shishido has appeared in no less than 250 films. (!!)

In a few respects this film is reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa's 1961 Yojimbo in which a rogue samurai plays two yakuza sides against the middle in what initially appears to be his thirst for money but what ultimately turns out to be a strategic ploy to bring about a higher justice. In Suzuki's version, however, there ultimately proves to be more than two sides as our rouge cop gradually realizes moral corruption has infiltrated even the cause he was fighting for.

story

Disgraced and convicted for embezzlement, former cop Jo soon makes his presence known among the wannabe yakuza tough guys of central Tokyo. And when the region's dueling yakuza lords hear of him, they are eager to pay top dollar for his allegiance.

Jo's strategy, however, proves to be quite calculated as he plays one yakuza gang against the other in what initially appears to be pure self interest. Then he stops by the funeral of his former police partner proving that his old sentiments have not completely disappeared. But with his reputation with the police force all but spent and he finds himself in the middle of three warring factions.

Driven by a personal vendetta which he is unable to share with anyone else, Jo must rely upon his ruthless wit and courage to see his purpose through.

verdict

Director Seijun is perhaps better renowned for his revolutionary cinematics rather than his narrative uniqueness, and so in summarizing this tale very little seems out of the ordinary. And so what is indeed most memorable regarding this and his other films is the bold visual presentation.

Easily half of the enjoyment of watching these older films is simply the visual component in which Suzuki's great effort is apparent in depicting the colorful and fast-paced "modern" world in which his characters live.

I guess I am not a big fan of Shishido, though I do look forward to seeing more of his films. (I did feel impressively nostalgic in his cameo appearance in the very recent Oboreru Sakana.) Nevertheless, this remains a classic yakuza-noir film which is wholly satisfying visually.

One final observation might be that this film could serve as the basis for an excellent drinking game. (We could call it "Bottle of the Beast"!). Audience members must take turns drinking a shot of whiskey each time a character in the film takes a drink, and one-half shot for every time a bottle of liquor appears on the screen. This game is guaranteed to render every audience member unconscious before the film concludes!!

This Region 1 DVD by Criterion Collection also contains valuable (subtitled) interviews with director Suzuki and Shishido Jo. This is easily recommendable for an evening of nostalgia and visually captivating yakuza fun.

Version reviewed: Region 1 subtitled DVD available via mainstream US venues.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Early Suzuki Seijun film starring Jo Shishido. Plenty of time-capsule scenery of retro Tokyo culture. Mild gun and knife violence. Some sadist brutality against a mistress. SEQUIN PASTY FAN DANCE!! Fun for its visual entertainment. And BOOZE GALORE!!

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