Released in 1960, Nagisa Oshima’s cutting critique of Japanese outsider youth culture was an unexpected success upon its original release, amid controversy and criticism over its content. Viewed now in its glorious 4K scan restoration by Shochiku, it is an enjoyable, if flawed, experience.
It is the story of high-school girl Makoto (Miyuki Kuwano), who we first see being advanced on by a sleazy middle-aged man. She is saved from being sexually assaulted by Kiyoshi (Yusuke Kawazu), a university student. As their unconventional romance blossoms, so too does their alienation from the society around them, running a corrupt business that involves using Makoto to lead men on, only for Kiyoshi to appear and demand payment to keep them from going to the police.
Clearly this isn’t an ideal way to build a relationship and it is by no means a traditional love story. It does make for an interesting dynamic for our two leads. At least, it would do but for an underwhelming performance by Kawano. Whilst Kawazu perfectly plays the disillusioned and rebellious student on the cusp of either prison, gang warfare or death, his female counterpart struggles with the dynamics that the role demands.
In a memorable early scene, soon after Kiyoshi saves Makoto, he takes her to the local docklands, forces himself on her, then threatens to drown her. It’s an uncomfortable scene to watch due to the nature of the content, but her efforts to make it look like she’s struggling to swim let the scene down. It’s also not very convincing that she is either desperate to avoid his advances, nor is the contrast to her giving in particularly stark.
This is all filmed in a brilliantly bold colour wash by Ôshima, which creates an unusual but impressive contrast to the wholly depressing content of the film. The negativity contained in the social commentary surrounding outsider youths became a staple of Ôshima’s later films. Whilst it isn’t a masterpiece, it is not without merit.
The package offered by Eureka and Masters of Cinema makes this release another great value for money Blu-ray. The transfer is top class and the booklet and extensive discussion with scholar Tony Rayns give a massive insight into the film. It’s rather like a short film study course on the film. If you can find an equivalent for around £10 then you’re doing well.
青春残酷物語 / Cruel Story of Youth is available on Blu-ray now.