Tamio Kawaji

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Youth Of The Beast Review


Excellent
The yakuza films of director Seijun Suzuki represent, without exaggeration, the best time a person could hope to have in the world of post-war Japanese cinema. Working as a contract director for Nikkatsu Studios, Suzuki took routine genre assignments and transformed them into wild exercises in innovation and excess, and his 1960s yakuza features are impossible to mistake for the work of anyone else. Where else are the colors this garish, the compositions this bold, and the camera angles this ridiculously extreme? (Even followers like Yasuharu Hasebe and Kinji Fukasaku never went so far, or at least not so well.) In an interview accompanying the Criterion DVD release of his 1963 Youth of the Beast, Suzuki complains, for instance, that in yakuza pictures the offices of the big bosses tended all to look the same; in his film, these offices are set just below the crowded floor of a nightclub, which is seen through a wall-length two-way mirror. Because the office is sound-proofed, the stripper in pink feathers carries on without accompaniment through the mirror, and the furniture is the chicest '60s setup imaginable. Compare this office to the businesslike set in a contemporaneous feature, and there you go.

Youth of the Beast, like Suzuki's Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter, is first and foremost about its own extravagant style. When we talk about Suzuki, we don't talk about his plots; he tended to amp these up to the extent that Nikkatsu fired him in 1967 on the grounds that his films were "incomprehensible." And it's true that faced with the choice of making, say, a clear transition between scenes or a flashy one, Suzuki opted for flash every time. So it is that the plot logistics of Youth of the Beast require some attention. In a nutshell, a rogue bad guy named Jo (played by jowly Suzuki stalwart Jo Shishido) shows up on the streets of Tokyo following a double suicide involving a cop and a call girl. Two rival gangs vie for his loyalty, but Jo, it seems, is too ruthless to stay loyal for too long. Could Jo harbor deeper motives than cash and self-preservation? One wonders. Meanwhile crosses and double-crosses bloom like the bright red flowers that play into the plot (Suzuki shoots these flowers in color even in the film's black-and-white opening scenes), and the cast of underworld villains grows to include a junky whore, a sadist with infallible aim, the mysterious Mistress No. 6, armies of thugs, a quantity of policemen, and a gay pimp who should never, ever be left alone with a woman. It gets to where even M.C. Escher would struggle to correctly graph the plot.

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