A little background information (conveniently provided in the essays accompanying the new Criterion DVD release of Seijun Suzuki's 1966 Fighting Elegy) helps. Propelled by an unprecedented wage gap separating the urban rich from the rural poor, Japan in the 1930s was home to a rising movement that called for the militaristic reform of the nation's government. Central to this revolt were the writings of political extremist Ikki Kita; inspired by Kita, a small army of young military officers - many of them from peasant stock themselves - led a revolt in Tokyo in February of 1936 that left key members of Japanese government and industry dead. Martial law was instated and the rebellion quelled; the following year Kita was executed for treason, and Japan was set on the deadly course that led her into WWII.

It matters for the reason that Suzuki's muscular Fighting Elegy, which opens in 1932, follows the exploits of a middle school student named Kiroku (Hideki Takahashi) as he fights his way to the top of the testosterone-fuelled machine that this rise in militarism first tooled. In this he is driven by patriotism, of course, but his primary motive in building his body and defying authority is to sublimate the intolerable lust he feels toward proper, Catholic Michiko (Junko Asano), with whose family he is lodging. In the gangs with whom Kiroku spends time, chasing after girls is for "sissies." And Kiroku, a Catholic himself, can predict all too easily how Jesus would feel about the whole thing. Masturbation helps, provided you can find a spot in the house where there are no crucifixes hanging in plain view, but Kiroku's primary mode of release remains fighting.

Continue reading: Fighting Elegy Review