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The Criterion Collection presents
Fighting Elegy (Kenka erejii) (1966)

"I fight to vent my desires!"
- Kiroku (Hideki Takahashi)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: January 10, 2005

Stars: Hidecki Takahashi, Junko Asano
Other Stars: Yusuke Kawazu, Mitsuo Kataoka, Chikako Miyagi, Isao Tamagawa, Keisuke noro, Hiroshi Midorigawa Seijiro Onda
Director: Seijun Suzuki

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, some sexual content)
Run Time: 01h:26m:06s
Release Date: January 11, 2005
UPC: 037429202722
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-BB- D+

DVD Review

Known for his visually creative and energetic B-films, director Seijun Suzuki takes a welcome departure from his frequently yakuza-laden material in the joyous, raucous abandon of Fighting Elegy. These is still a movie for the youngsters, full of the kinds of concerns and thoughts that plague the young mind, but Suzuki has turned his hallucinatory spouts of criminality into a grayscale examination of testosterone gone awry. Part two of a Suzuki double shot from Criterion this week (see also Youth of the Beast), this is a welcome change of pace from Nikkatsu's legendary "incomprehensible" director.

It is the 1930s, a time of great change and upheaval on a governmental and personal scale. Kiroku (Hideki Takahashi) is attending a strict middle school, one that aims to groom the young impressionable boys for military service. He is living in a boarding house with a devout Catholic family, including the young, fetching Michiko (Junko Asano). The thought of her very presence sends Kiroku in a virtual spasm of awkwardness, stirring up desires and thoughts that rack him with guilt. He prays that God will forgive his lustful longings, and joins a local gang to redirect his pent up urges. After a brutal training session at the hands of Turtle (Yusuke Kawazu), Kiroku is primed. Fighting, not self-gratification is his release now, and his rage is everlasting.

Kiroku's newfound, violent ways cause quite a stir in his hometown, causing him to be expelled. He moves to a nearby prefecture and begins the process all over again: lust for Michiko causes that unsightly bloodflow, but rebellion against his militaristic headmasters, a good dust up with a local gang, and a few good wounds in between assuages all. But what of Michiko? She too longs for Kiroku's presence, but he is too blinded by his thirst for violence to realize her reciprocation. She wants nothing more that to help him overcome his sinful ways, but not in the way Kiroku may desire. Piano lessons and simple friendship are not enough, and the rampage continues. Will Kiroku's shuffling of vices save his sanity, or is he poised to lose it all?

Though more intelligible than Suzuki's other breakneck entries, Fighting Elegy remains detailed in its style, action, and plot. These are the kinds of films that benefit from multiple viewings—it's simply impossible to spot all the nuances on the first ride. I thought this film was an utter blast. There's no other way to describe it. Using an over-the-top, comedic tone throughout, Suzuki guides his cast of 20-something "teenagers" to great heights, capturing the awkward glances, motions and desires of adolescence. Hideki Takahashi's body language is pitch-perfect throughout. Forced to shoot in black and white for financial reasons, the grayscale palette gives a welcome vintage feel to this period picture, but its timeless qualities endure.

There are plenty of brutal fights to please the youthful audiences, no doubt. These melees are less about who wins and more about the rage and passions of youth, peppered with some interesting, creative devices: opposite sides of the 'scope frame are matted off as a teacher chastises his students, and the class responds; a wide shot cuts to extreme close ups of school elders when certain phrases of national pride are uttered; Kiroku climbs a wooden tower to observe a fight below—a clear homage to Kurosawa's Yojimbo. Despite the dazzling energy of these scenes, the heart of the matter is found in the quieter moments—those that spell out the struggles of youth with delicacy and occasionally all-out laughter.

At the same time, this film is suprisingly moral, preaching a message of anti-imperialism that attempted to break through the postwar disillusionment of 1960s Japan. The end of the film details the rebellion prompted by Kita Ikki, a revolutionary who called for a fascist Japan and caused the death of government leaders in 1936. The cogs of the Fascist factory are hard at work in the schools, and Kiroku is unwittingly rebelling against the very authority that leads to blood in the Pacific. Religion, love, and life are cast aside for the military-industrial complex. Kiroku is not about to stand for that.

You'll have to fight him for it.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Though made after Youth of the Beast, this film is in rougher shape. The black-and-white 2.35:1 image looks somewhat hazy at times, despite deep blacks. Fine grain is evident, and the image has a soft appearance. Close-ups show good detail. This is still a very good transfer, but I suspect Criterion didn't have the best elements to work with.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono Japanese audio is clear and hiss free, but occasionally harsh. The interesting mandolin score comes through nicely.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Insert with an essay by Tony Rayns
Extras Review: The only extras are the film's trailer (02m:34s, anamorphic) and an insert with a helpful essay by Tony Rayns. Disappointing. I'd love to hear a commentary.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Seijun Suzuki's energetic opus of the desires and releases of youth is a humorous, raucous brawl of violence. There are some great themes to mull through here, placed amidst an important chapter in Japanese history. Criterion's effort is light on extras, but still worth fighting for.

Highly recommended.


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