Youth of the Beast (The Criterion Collection)
Special Edition, The Criterion Collection
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When a mysterious stranger muscles into two rival yakuza gangs, Tokyo's underworld explodes with violence. Youth of the Beast was a breakthrough for director Seijun Suzuki, introducing the flamboyant colors, hallucinatory images, and striking compositions that would become his trademark. The Criterion Collection proudly presents the film that revitalized the yakuza genre and helped define the inimitable style of a legendary cinematic renegade.
- New essay by film critic Howard Hampton
- Original theatrical trailer
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Top customer reviews
The film opens in black and white with a large crowd that has gathered in curiosity outside a small hotel. A man is found dead with a dead woman on top of him in one of the hotel's tiny rooms. The police are investigating the scene while one police detective is reading out loud what seems to be a suicide note. Consequently, the police detective voices the obvious nature of the deadly incident that has taken place in the room hours earlier while another police officer comments on how lucky the dead man must have been to have had a loving mistress such as the dead woman on the floor. Further investigation of the room reveals the dead man's line of work, as he used to be a police detective. After this short opening, the film turns into a colored cinematic experience, as it makes a short leap into the future.
Initially, it seems a little confusing where the story is going, as the audience is allowed to follow a thug trying to enter the world of yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Nonetheless, a patient audience will be rewarded, as the story will help reveal the identity of this gangster, Joji "Jo" Mizuno (Joe Shishido). By raising some havoc in the Nomoto Enterprises turf Jo succeeds in getting their attention, as he quickly climbs the ladder of criminal success. He is offered a lucrative position in the Nomoto organization, as he is obliged to perform extortion for the organization in another gang's turf to show his loyalty.
Eventually, the audience is introduced to Jo's true identity, as he has been released from jail and wants to repay a debt he has to the police detective that was found dead in the apparent double suicide at the beginning of the film. The film turns into an intricate cat and mouse game between Jo and the mobsters, as he attempts to find the true killers of the dead police detective. However, it is not as easy as Jo anticipated, as he finds himself in a quandary while encouraging gang war in his approach to find the killer.
Seijun's gangster tale depicts a Japanese film noir with some possible influence by Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961). Nonetheless, Seijun makes sure that it is not a rip-off of another film, which is evident as the story is told. The criminal and corrupt atmosphere in the film is elevated through scenes from backrooms and soundproofed rooms. Through these rooms the mise-en-scene brings wall-to-wall two-way mirrors, exotic dancers, and film clips on the back of theater screens that should help evoke additional emotional impact of the situations on the audience. This displays Seijun's personal interest in film, but also intentional contemplation by him. Maybe he wanted the audience to actually think more about the moment than just to merely enjoy the ride through the story.
One notion that has been suggested is that the audience should reflect on their own folly while viewing Seijun's films. This notion is increasingly interesting while contemplating Suzuki's heavy use of sadism, violence, and sexual symbolism in the film. In some aspects, this is very similar to what one can see in Ichi the Killer (2001) by Takeshi Miike, but Miike brings the violence to the next level by visually illustrating what Seijun only suggested. In any case, there is something more in each scene than what meets the eye, which leaves much for the audience to ponder.
Rating = ***
Director: Ichirou Ikeda
Producer: Keinosuke Kubo
Film = three (3) stars; set design = four (4) stars; score = 3.5 stars. Director Ichirou Ikeda offers up a tongue-in-cheek, surrealistic depiction of a yakuza turf war complete with an embedded police spy. The huge cast makes it virtually impossible to keep tract of which character is a member of which gang. But not to worry. It doesn't matter, as the lines spoken by rival gang members/leaders are close to identical (which is a self-parodied complaint often made during the film!). Ikeda seems intent on creating scenes that exhibit all forms of criminal activity that contemporary censors would allow! The movie includes a surprise ending although the script does have a few clue fragments of what's to come early on. Actor Jou Shishido ("chubby checks") appears in virtually every scene and is able to defy some laws of physics by being at two places at virtually the same time (courtesy of the film's editing process)! (Shishido had surgery to blow out his checks apparently because the actor believed this would make him appear tougher on screen. Does one look meaner with the Mumps?) Set designs of yakusa offices are especially original. One is behind a panel of one-way mirrors in a nightclub and is sound proofed (enabling gang leaders to hold business meeting while watching customers and the entertainment). Another office is behind a movie theater screen (also sound proofed). Cinematography (wide screen, color) and scene lighting are fine. So is restoration. Translations/subtitles are close enough. Signs are translated. Score is particularly interesting. It successfully (and uniquely) bends jazz with rock&roll. In addition to chubby cheeks' over coming at least one macro law of physics, there are other (intentional?) amusing events such as: the title of the film (it is totally unrelated to the movie and seems to be bait for attracting young audiences); four burly gangsters often prying themselves out of tiny cars; screeching tires as cars turn corners on unpaved roads; and gun shots that always sound the same despite where they occur and which weapon is fired (the sound tract is over saturated with gun fire from smokeless weapons!). Grab lots of popcorn and enjoy! WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
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