The accepted stereotype is that the Japanese are an orderly people who wait for the light to change before crossing intersections on foot and who can be trusted to purchase their train tickets on the honor system. Although it's largely forgotten now, a single film released in Japan in 1956 did more than anything up to that time to refute this stereotype; it presented, for mass consumption and arguably for the first time in Japan, a portrait of an idle class of post-war youth who didn't much respect their elders, questioned traditional values, and dumped convention in favor of such youthful pursuits as gambling, lying around by the sea, and diligently pursuing the opposite sex. The film is Ko Nakahira's Crazed Fruit, and the good people at the Criterion Collection have polished it up for DVD; here's hoping that this influential and worthwhile film doesn't get forgotten again.

How influential was it? If you charted Crazed Fruit's influence alongside its shock value you'd probably find a pretty strong correlation. And in 1956 it was an eyeful indeed. The film opens on two teenaged brothers, Haruji (Masahiko Tsugawa) and Natsuhisa (Yujiro Ishihara), as they create an ungentlemanly disturbance while racing to catch a train. (They do not buy tickets.) Once aboard, they sling their belongings onto an overhead rack and proceed to talk loudly about their eagerness to water ski (the younger Haruji) and meet girls (Natsuhisa). Haruji even strips off his shirt to rebut the claim that he's scrawny. Already it's impolite, but before long Haruji has taken up with an older girl (Eri, played by Mie Kitahara) who, unbeknownst to him, is married to a much older American. When Natsuhisa learns Eri's secret he blackmails her into sleeping with him behind the smitten Haruji's back. As this central conflict plays out, director Nakahira fills screen time with the adventures of the boys' similarly aimless friends as they go about living their sunstruck, unsupervised lives. During one evening, in the course of which a plan is hatched to play poker with girls instead of cards to see who can get the best hand, the teens pause from their drinking and gambling to talk through their beliefs: "Look what the older generation tried to sell us," they complain. "Do you find anything exciting in that? We live in boring times so we make boredom our credo." But young Haruji, at first, isn't having any of that. "You guys have no idea what you want to do," he says. "They call people like you the Sun Tribe. I'm not going to live like that."

Continue reading: Crazed Fruit Review