Youth of the Beast
July 31, 2005
Youth of the Beast (1963) starts off in sobering black and white film stock as serious-looking police detectives investigate a double suicide. Cut suddenly to colour film stock of two girls laughing hysterically with frenetic jazz music crashing in. We’ve gone from a quiet home to the busy, noisy streets where people are fighting and there’s chaos everywhere. It’s a jarringly effective way to introduce this colourful world and its characters. Welcome to the cinema of Seijun Suzuki.
The story is the oldest chestnut in the world: two rival Yakuza gangs are at war with each other. Joji “Jo” Mizuno (Shishido) enters the city and proceeds to mess up a few guys from the Nomoto family. He is brought in to see the higher-ups in the organization and proves his prowess by easily besting the man’s henchmen. Impressed, the family hires Jo to do some work with them. Pretty soon he meets the boss, a cheerful fellow who’s very handy with throwing knives and has a habit of cradling a cat like he’s some sort of Bond villain. Soon, the rival gang catches wind of Jo’s presence and this triggers an all-out war as he plays both sides against each other a la Yojimbo (1961).
Jo is a disgraced ex-cop who carries around a trunk of weapons that El Mariachi would be proud of. He is trying to redeem himself by avenging the death of a fellow cop. So, he dives right into the city’s seedy underbelly and proceeds to tear things up like a two-fisted Sam Fuller anti-hero. He fits right in with these violent characters and their world. To get a man to pay, Jo casually lights a can of hairspray on fire and waves it over the man’s hair. This is indicative of the heightened sense of emotion that saturates Suzuki’s film. A female junkie is so hysterical for more drugs that she frantically rips the fabric right out of a chair.
This is a dangerous world that is depicted so thrillingly by Suzuki. This includes pulpy dialogue like, Jo’s threat when he presses a rifle barrel against a thug’s chin, “From this range, it’d be hard not to blow your face off.” Or another gem, when someone describes a woman’s disfigured face, “Her face looked like a venetian blind.” The filmmaker loves using jarring edits. It keeps the viewer off guard and on edge through the entire film. Suzuki also uses unusual camera angles, like filming a conversation between two characters looking up through a class floor. Another particularly inventive moment involves a gunfight with the protagonist hanging upside down! It is this unpredictability that makes Youth of the Beast so exciting to watch.
“Seijun! Joe!” are interviews with Suzuki and actor Joe Shishido. The filmmaker talks about why the settings in his movies are so colourful and stand apart from other Yakuza films of that time. Shishido talks about specific scenes and images from the movie that stick in his mind after all these years. He praises Suzuki for his creativity on the set.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.