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The Criterion Collection presents
Youth of the Beast (Yaju no seishun) (1963)

Henchman: You got some grudge against Nomoto Enterprises?
Jo: I just felt like doing it.

- unknown, Joe Shishido

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: January 10, 2005

Stars: Joe Shishido
Other Stars: Misako Watanabe, Tamio Kawaji, Ichiro Kijima, Mizuho Suzuki, Shoji Kobayashi, Kinzo Shin, Eiji Go
Director: Seijun Suzuki

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, brief nudity, some language)
Run Time: 01h:31m:38s
Release Date: January 11, 2005
UPC: 037429203323
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BB+B- C+

DVD Review

After you've seen a few yakuza films, they tend to blend into one another. This highly successful, dime-a-dozen genre was the mainstay of Japanese B-cinema for years—cheap to write and produce. A life of crime is an easy sell at the box office. Thankfully, a refreshing take on the train of nihilistic criminality comes along every so often, infusing some new energy into an otherwise tired formula. Seijun Suzuki's career at Nikkatsu is legendary, culminating in the "incomprehensibility" of his later yakuza films, such as 1967's Branded to Kill. Daring originality and no-holds-barred experimentation is the tone of choice, sacrificing neatly tied off plot lines for narrative energy and momentum.

Baby-faced Jo (Joe Shishido) looks like any other yakuza thug, brandishing weapons, money and women without consideration for the conventions of society. In a swanky nightclub, he is surrounded by young ladies, but his attentions are fixed on one who chooses to ignore his feathers. In response, he pours a bucket of ice down her dress, only to be escorted to a back office. Jo is in fact broke, and unable to pay his multi-thousand yen tab, but club owner and crime boss Nomoto (Shoji Kobayashi) is impressed by the young man's gall, and promptly recruits him (only after Jo threatens his life). So begins his life of crime and his struggle to leave the red, but Jo's motivations go beyond simple monetary gains.

A murder suicide has just taken place. A police detective, Koichi Takeshita (Ichiro Kijima), and a young call girl are found dead. Takeshita was Jo's old partner, before he was discharged from police service for embezzlement and other dastardly deeds. Nomoto knows this, keeping a close eye on Jo's activities—he suspects a rat. His suspicions are not misplaced, but rather misguided. After Jo forces his swift gun and lightning fists on Nomoto's rival gang, he is clandestinely playing both sides, arranging the pieces for an all-out gang war that will hopefully destroy two crime lords. This is not a bold move to power—a yakuza convention that is all but expected—but a clever effort to reveal the identity of his partner's killer.

It took me a bit to decipher that summary. Suzuki's films are notoriously difficult to follow at times, lambasting the viewer with a flurry of names, details and connections that seem to be missing some connecting phrases, as though the scenes that contained them were deemed extraneous. Suzuki does not seem to be overly concerned with intelligibility, but the energy and momentum of his story, which moves along with great vigor, and bold style. Though not as visually outlandish and hallucinatory as some of his other entries, this is a jazzy, spunky ride that entertains, but caused me to pause and collect my clues more than once.

Regardless, this film remains a visual feast, utilizing some wildly creative devices. The film opens in black and white, akin to the look of Pleasantville—an unpleasant murder scene is peppered with the color of a lone flower, offsetting the grayscale. We are then thrust in to a colorful world of youthful abandon, full of interesting images: the aforementioned nightclub plays out from behind a pane of one-way glass; the rival gang's office sits adjacent to a movie theater, providing a huge moving backdrop to typical exposition; Jo must fight his way out of a jam while hung upside down from a chandelier; an aerosol can becomes a blowtorch to a boss' hair; a prostitute is brutally beaten by the sadistic Boss Nomoto (who looks like a typical businessman, complete with rimmed glasses) amidst a clearly fabricated exterior set, which looks like some kind of yellowish alien landscape.

Gone is the usually flat plot of gang vs. gang. True, those elements are in place, but more complexity is at work through Jo, a man on fire who risks his limbs for justice (or revenge, depending on your point of view). This Man With No Name take is a fresh angle for the genre, and thankfully avoids a glorification of crime. This is nothing extraordinary—Suzuki has certainly made better films, but the energy and originality is undeniable.

But I still don't know what the title means.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Criterion's transfer looks very good, exhibiting bold colors and deep blacks. I noticed some slight edge enhancement, but nothing distracting. Detail is good, despite a smattering of fine grain that persists throughout the film.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The Japanese mono is free of hiss, but sounds thin and harsh at times—to be expected.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Insert with an essay by Howard Hampton
Extras Review: Extras are sparse on this disc. The meat is a pair of interviews with Seijun Suzuki (04m:51s) and Joe Shishido (07m:56s). Suzuki is a lively old fellow and discusses some of the film's creative stylistic devices; even he doesn't know what the title means! Shishido shares his memories about the picture, discusses his other films, and his preferences as an actor. These are fine little bits.

Finally, and insert with an informative essay by Howard Hampton and the film's theatrical trailer (04m:16s, anamorphic) is included. Any trailer that begins with "those bastards messed up my life!" commands my attention.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Seijun Suzuki's refreshing take on a tired genre thrills with fine visuals, replacing complete intelligibility with bold energy. There is still enough story to go one here, but it's the ride that's important. Criterion's effort is sparse, yet solid. Recommended for genre fans and daring cinephiles alike.


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