Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Sex, Crime, and All That Jazz

The Warped Ones (Kyonetsu no kisetsu). 1960. Directed by Koreyoshi Kurahara. Written by Nobuo Yamada. Cinematography by Yoshio Mamiya. Edited by Akira Suzuki. Music by Toshiro Mayuzumi. Released by Nikkatsu.

Cast: Tamio Kawaji (Akira), Eiji Go (Masaru), Noriko Matsumoto (Fumiko), Yuko Chishiro (Yuki), Hiroyuki Nagato (Kashiwagi), Chico Roland (Gill), Chigusa Takayama (Yuki's mother).

Japan’s Nikkatsu Studios is best known for their wild, kinetic action films, especially those of Seijun Suzuki (Tokyo Drifter, Branded to Kill). However, there were a number of other directors at this studio whose works rival Suzuki’s. These films are featured in Japan Society’s monthly film series, “No Borders, No Limits: 1960s Nikkatsu Action Cinema,” screening through May 2008. The series, consisting of films screening in the U.S. for the first time, is curated by Mark Schilling, film critic for Variety and Japan Times, and based on Schilling’s recent book of the same title. The series began in September with Takashi Nomura’s A Colt is My Passport (1967), starring popular action star Jo Shishido, and continues with Koreyoshi Kurahara’s The Warped Ones (1960), screening November 9 at 7:30.

The Warped Ones definitely lives up to its title (literally "Season of Heat" in Japanese), as it is a jazz-filled portrait of nihilistic youth, playing at petty crime and prostitution with reckless abandon. The camerawork is as restless as these young people who storm through the streets, leaving destruction in their wake. Akira (Tamio Kawachi) is a jazz-obsessed delinquent whose grand ambition in life is to do absolutely nothing. He hangs out with his friends Masaru (Eiji Go) and Yuki (Yuko Chishiro), the hooker Masaru shacks up with. Contrasted with them are artist Fumiko (Noriko Matsumoto) and her reporter fiancé Kashiwagi (Hiroyuki Nagato), who get caught up in the mayhem after Kashiwagi informs on Akira to the police, landing him in juvenile reformatory for a short time. Akira spots Kashiwagi and Fumiko on the street, and immediately sets out to get his revenge, enlisting his friends’ help. They kidnap Fumiko, and take her to the beach, where Akira rapes Fumiko. But the story doesn’t end there. Fumiko returns to find Akira, informing him she is pregnant with his child, demanding that he do something to repair her “defilement.” Akira’s revenge is turned on its head, as he becomes entangled in Fumiko and Kashiwagi’s own twisted relationship.

Even though Seijun Suzuki is considered the director who most bent the conventions of the Nikkatsu house style, on the evidence of The Warped Ones a case could be made for Kurahara as well. The protagonists are analogous to the amoral hero and heroine of Godard’s Breathless, to which this film shares some superficial affinities. However, the amorality shown here goes much further than in the Godard film. In contrast to Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character, still very much a glamorous hero and all cool detachment, in this film the young people depicted are modern savages, living only for animalistic needs and desire, and all glamour is stripped away.

The Warped Ones is a very unusual film, on the surface hewing to genre films of this kind. However, the film focuses more on the corruption of everyone we see, viewing it all with a cold, dispassionate eye. At the film’s conclusion, both the respectable and the irresponsible end up in the same place, at an abortion clinic, to prevent new lives from entering this spiritually dead society.

No comments: