Reviewed by Chris MaGee
During the 1960’s Japan was in the throws of an industrial and economic reconstruction. After the devastation of World War Two the population tried to forget their defeat in the Pacific by focusing all their attention on winning a spot at the global round table. Spurred on by an influx of cash and resources from the U.S. occupying force in the 1950’s the reconstruction of the country was further sped up by the Japanese government lowering interest rates to increase spending. Huge amounts of money were allotted for the building of rail lines, subway systems, highways, and airports. This was the decade of the 1965 world Olympics, “lifetime employment”, and the opening of the Shinkansen. Much of this growth was made possible by the hard work of hundreds of thousands of Japanese workers, many of them abandoning their homes in the countryside for the promise of good salaries and steady work in the cities, but by the beginning of the 1970’s many of these workers, the “Golden Eggs” of the Japanese post-war economic miracle were left to watch the growth of their country from the sidelines. It’s these people that Kinji Fukasaku chose to show us in his first independent production after leaving Toei, 1970’s “If You Were Young: Rage”.
Things start out as a tribute to the boundless optimism and enthusiasm of Japan and its post-war generation. Asao and Kikuo aren’t blood brothers, but they just might as well be. They are best friends and have worked side by side for years, building Tokyo back from the ground up. Along with three of their buddies they pool their money to buy a dump truck which they dub “Independence Number 1”. One truck could mean more work, being their own bosses, and who knows… it could translate into two trucks, or three, or a whole fleet. These are men who have a dream and from the first few opening frames it seems that these two young men have permanent smiles attached to their faces. It doesn’t seem to matter that they both share a tragic past: when they were still boys they both lost their fathers in a coal mining accident, which left orphaned Kikuo living with Asao and his mother who had to resort to prostitution to feed them. It also doesn’t matter that their three buddies all fell on hard times and couldn’t share in this new life: one got a bar hostess pregnant and landed himself in a loveless marriage, another died in a labour riot while working as a scab, and the third ends up in prison for murder after killing a warehouse guard in a botched robbery attempt.
Soon, though, the boundless optimism turns to despair when their jailed friend escapes from prison only six months before his sentence is up. While the police search for him Kikuo and Asao take his mother and sister under their wing. Both men fall in love with the sister and the cracks begin to show in their friendship. Fukasaku begins to do what he does best and rachets up the pressure until these two old friends are nearly torn apart. It certainly doesn’t help when their escaped convict friend lands on their doorstep, bleeding from a gunshot wound and spinning a story about a sadistic prison guard who would have killed him had he not escaped. It turns out though that his story is far from the truth.
As I mentioned before, this is not “Battles Without Honour and Humanity”, but fans will find those familiar Fukasaku touches that they love so much: the skewed camera angles and freeze frame effects, the underdog storyline, and the eventual eruption of rage from the main players… so much so that “Rage” was tacked onto the North American title, the original simply being “If You Were Young”. For many years thought to be Fukasaku’s great lost film it is finally available on DVD, so get out there and give it a look.