Youth of the Beast
aka 野獣の青春 aka Yaju no Seishun aka Wild Youth
Written by Ichiro Ikeda and Tadaki Yamazaki
Based on the novel by Haruhiko Oyabu
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
A random stranger coming to town to pit two rival groups against each other is a classic story done well in a variety of genres, and with Youth of the Beast we get the story set in the swinging 1960s yakuza beat, with director Seijun Suzuki determined to make the visuals by themselves a grand spectacle. Joe Shishido and his cheeks take their usual place as a Suzuki lead, as Shishido’s Joji Mizuno waltzes in to lead the sides to their collective dooms.
so what makes Youth of the Beast worth watching like similar tales Yojimbo, Red Harvest, Django, A Fistful of Dollars, or even The Warrior and the Sorceress? Aside from the story being well told again, there is the great Seijun Suzuki visuals. Suzuki starts showing off his boredom with the nonstop yakuza films by tossing in a bunch of visual flair. He must have had fun, because his films only seemed to escalate from here. Youth of the Beast opens with a bleak black and white scene of solemn police investigating a double suicide, a cop and a woman, the only point of color (and life) being a red flower. This sharply contrasts with the vibrant color and exciting city life full of laughing girls, violent fights at the drop of a hat, and a jazzy soundtrack that immediately follows, as Joji Mizuno beats through some Nomoto yakuza thugs to rob their money and blow it at their club.
The energetic club is full of life, sin, and sound, while the Nomoto yakuza bosses who control it observe though soundproof one way mirrors, giving the mirth a surreal quality. Mizuno’s ease of dispatching the thugs gains the interest of the boss, and after a bit of interrogation and some display of weapons skills, he’s on their team. Then just as quickly, Mizuno is ratting everything out to the boss of the rival Sanko gang. As he’s out for revenge against the groups that ruined his life, breaking them apart piece by piece becomes a fun game.
Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!
aka 探偵事務所２３ くたばれ悪党ども aka Tantei Jimusho 23: Kutabare Akutodomo aka Detective Bureau 23: Down with the Wicked
Screenplay by Gan Yamazaki (as Iwao Yamazaki)
Based on the novel by Haruhiko Oyabu
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Detective Bureau 2-3 is a light-hearted action film, filled with plenty of comedy bits and trucks full of yakuza running around like video game mobs. This is before Seijun Suzuki went full fever dream, but he does have fun sending up the not very original undercover plot and having plenty of side action and goofs to fill the running time. At times it feels like a Keystone cops vs Keystone yakuza film, as trucks full of gang members armed with random blunt objects drive around in circles chasing after their prey, and dozens of cops run around and try to arrest them all. That’s just flavor for the Joe Shishido being a hero plot, but the trucks full of yakuza (and the musical numbers) are far more memorable than the central story.
The goofiness sort of works against the serious parts, we open with a Pepsi truck ambushing a weapons deal, Sakura and Otsuki gang members are massacred by the armed thugs riding the truck, and some poor Pepsi gets spilled when bottles are shot during the firefight. I guess those bottles won’t be getting the nickel refund! Was there a refund for glass bottles in Japan? The scene seems ridiculous, but the results are fatally real for everyone who is targeted. Only one witness survives, a guy named Manabe (Tamio Kawachi), and he’s suspected of being one of the attackers. The police have him stashed away in their precinct, and outside Sakura and Otsuki gang members wait in their cars, armed with rifles. Don’t worry, they all have the proper permits that say they are going hunting and are just waiting there before they go hunting, which is sort of hilarious. It would be even more hilarious if this wasn’t reality in various open carry states where morons carry AK-47s in public and scare people, and the cops can’t do anything.
The police know Manabe is dead if the mob gets him, and they don’t have enough evidence to hold him forever. So Captain Kumagaya (Nobuo Kaneko) has an idea, he calls on noted Detective Hideo Tajima (Joe Shishido). But to keep everything off the books and confusing in case of leaks or bad ends, Detective Hideo Tajima is given a gun and a permit, all under the fake identity of Ichiro Tanaka. He uses his skills to drive Manabe away from the waiting goons and causes enough of a scene (thanks to a timely cement truck blocking the yakuza vehicles) that they escape, and is instantly recruited to join Manabe’s gang.
Cruel Gun Story
aka 拳銃残酷物語 aka Kenju Zankoku Monogatari
Written by Haruhiko Oyabu
Screenplay by Hisataka Kai
Directed by Takumi Furukawa
Cruel Gun Story is a standout entry from the Nikkatsu Noir boxed set, possibly my favorite (with A Colt Is My Passport a close second) of the set, and maybe even one of the better Japanese noir flicks out there. A criminal is hired to lead a heist, but before you can say “setup”, there is an onion farm’s worth of layers of betrayals that spiral out of control into the inevitable conclusion. Part of the drama is not if certain characters will betray everyone, but just when and how they will do so. The mix of everyone looking out for themselves while things keep hitting the worst of all possible universes for outcomes suggests the cruel object isn’t the gun, but life itself for those who choose to live by it and anyone caught in the crossfire.
Joji Togawa is fresh out of the joint, but before he even has a chance to breathe, he’s being scoped out by a yakuza boss to run and armored car heist. Togawa is what he is, and ends up agreeing, though he’s big on saying how this is his one last job. So we know things aren’t going to end well. Togawa meets his team with his old friend, Shirai (Yuji Odaka), it includes Okada (Shobun Inoue) – a former boxer, and Teramoto, a big mouth junkie (and whose girl, Keiko (Minako Kazuki), tags along). Another member is rejected immediately when it’s revealed he easily spills his guts when threatened.
The target is an armored car full of 127 million yen in racetrack money, and guarded by motorcycle cops. The plan to snag the car goes off with only a few minor hitches, but that’s when things hit the fan and fall apart at the same time. The team is betrayed from without and within, leading to the survivors behind holed up while a swarm of yakuza blast their guns at them. The scope of the crime is enough that the entire country is looking for them, and there is nowhere for Togawa to hide. Even attempts to fight against the yakuza hunting them ends worse than things were before. Yakuza Boss Matsumoto’s (Hiroshi Nihonyanagi) son is kidnapped, but the other yakuza care more about the money than the boss’s son’s life.
The only way out is to flee the country, Togawa calling in a favor of Takizawa (Tamio Kawaji), who loved Togawa’s sister before she was crippled in an accident (and still loves her). Togawa’s sister sits in a home for the disabled, and despite her pleas for her brother to be good, she knows he’s gone and done something bad again.
A Colt Is My Passport
aka 拳銃は俺のパスポート aka Koruto wa Ore no Pasupoto
Based on the novel by Shinji Fujiwara
Screenplay by Hideichi Nagahara and Nobuo Yamada
Directed by Takashi Nomura
Shuji Kamimura (Joe Shishido) and his protege/sidekick Shun Shiozaki (Jerry Fujio) are contract killers who are brought in to eliminate a yakuza boss by a rival family. Things go downhill after they complete the mission, getting captured, escaping, and becoming holed up in a hotel while their employer is incentivized to betray them. While in hiding, hotel worker Mina (Chitose Kobayashi) falls for Shuji and dreams of escaping her trapped existence with him, but can they make it out as the jaws of their pursuers closes in?
Director Takashi Nomura is relatively unknown in the west, A Colt is My Passport seems to be his only film that has had a subtitled release. Sort of a shame, because Colt shows a lot of creative flare that manages to use visuals to show important bits of the story without spoonfeeding it to us. Nomura seems to be a fan of Westerns, incorporating elements such as a whistling/harmonica-filled soundtrack (which also has the normal hip jazz sounds of other Nikkatsu noir flicks) and a final showdown in a dusty landfill that is the spitting image of a desolate Western desert landscape.
There is a neat sequence detailing yakuza boss Shimazu’s (Kanjuro Arashi) daily routine and how everything is on a schedule and everything is bulletproof, shown to Shuji and Shun by the man who hired them to kill Shimazu. Later we go through the daily routine again, with camera pans showing no one is tailing Shimazu that day. We see Shuji has already picked when and where he will strike and it setting it up.
Kamimura and Shiozaki end up hiding out at a hotel picked for them by the boss who hired them, Tsugawa (Asao Uchida). It becomes clear from the dialogue that this is not the first time the hotel has been used to hide people, and some of those people have met gruesome fates. Hotel employee Mina was in love with one such man, who was shot by a killer named Senzaki, someone she also used to date and is one of the many goons looking for Kamimura and Shiozaki. Mina’s ability to pick bad boyfriends strikes again with her love for Shuji Kamimura, she seems more in love with the idea of escaping with someone that she sees as noble than actually being in love. And Shuji does play fair, even as he’s being betrayed. He drugs Shun so when they are attacked he won’t suffer. But Kamimura is just too good to be easily taken out, and Mina has an escape plan by ship thanks to crew members that frequent the hotel restaurant.
Categories: Bad, Movie Reviews Tags: Akio Miyabe, Asao Uchida, Chitose Kobayashi, Hideaki Esumi, Hideichi Nagahara, Japan, Jerry Fujio, Joe Shishido, Jun Hongo, Kanjuro Arashi, Nobuo Yamada, Ryotaro Sugi, Shinji Fujiwara, Shoki Fukae, Takamaru Sasaki, Takashi Nomura, Toyoko Takechi, Zeko Nakamura, Zenji Yamada
aka 錆びたナイフ aka Sabita Naifu
Written by Shintaro Ishihara
Directed by Toshio Masuda
Yukihiko Tachibana (Yujiro Ishihara) is released from prison and trying to go straight, after spending time for killing the man who raped and murdered his girlfriend. But the crime of what happened to her still haunts him. Meanwhile, the cops look for witnesses to murders committed by the local yakuza boss, something Tachibana unwittingly became during his time as a thug. But when he and fellow witness Makoto Terada (Akira Kobayashi) get approached by the cops, they get pulled back into the underworld, and soon there will be a whole lot more murders as the yakuza moves to silence everyone and Tachibana discovers his girl was attacked by more people when she was killed.
The debut picture of future hitmaker Toshio Masuda, Rusty Knife weaves a believable web of police seeking justice through the courts, yakuza bribing and murdering their way clear, and the people caught in the middle. It’s only really handicapped by the too obvious reveal of who the real villain is, his character existing entirely to be a big reveal and contributing little else. The Nikkatsu action format still had a few kinks to work out, but the overall style is coming along nicely.
Mie Kitahara clocks in another appearance alongside frequent costar and future husband Yujiro Ishihara as Keiko Nishida, a daughter of a politician who killed himself, until information comes to light that it was staged and he was murdered. Tachibana and Terada are two of the witnesses to the staging, but despite knowing Nishida, he doesn’t realize it was her father he saw being killed until much later. Unfortunately, she seems largely an extraneous character, only sharing a few scenes with Ishihara. While it is nice from a world building stand point, it becomes a negative ding in the film on the emotional front.