Monday, September 26, 2011

REVIEW: The Warped Ones

狂熱の季節 (Kyonetsu no kisetsu)

Released: 1960

Koreyoshi Kurahara

Tamio Kawachi
Eiji Go
Yuko Chishiro
Noriko Matsumoto
Chico Roland

Running time: 76 min.

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

The obvious comparison point for Koreyoshi Kurahara's frantic 1960 film "The Warped Ones" is Jean-Luc Godard's own little burst of energy "Breathless". The central characters of both films are rebelling against society at large and have no concern for law and order while the filmmakers throw you into their worlds via a slash and burn style of editing. Though Godard may have influenced a greater swath of future filmmakers, in my opinion Kurahara made a far more satisfying and consistently interesting piece of work. The energy of "The Warped Ones" never flags, it never wavers from its callous "heroes" straight line sprint away from societal conventions and it never feels overly stylized. It feels like a genuine account of the disaffected which uses the visual medium to reinforce how their world must have felt.

Chuck Stephens in his liner notes on the Eclipse edition of the film states that it is "filmed....just as its central character....feels". It doesn't take long to figure out that Akira - the leader of the gang of three disillusioned youngsters - is angry. Angry at anyone who talks over his beloved jazz music, angry at society's rules and simply angry at the world in general. When we meet his partner Fumiko at the start of the film, she's his co-conspirator in cons they run. While she flirts and comes on to wealthy businessmen, Akira seizes the opportunity to relieve them of their wallets. He gets caught in one such instance and, because he is still under 18, gets sent to juvenile detention. Fumiko turns to prostitution in order to bring in money and by the time Akira serves his time, she has what seems to be a stable of regular customers and approaches her job with an odd sense of detachment and amusement. Everything is a joke to her. The third member of this callous lot is Masaru (Eiji Go - younger brother to Jo Shishido), a typical short-sighted, act-on-impulse wanna-be gang member that Akira meets during his incarceration. He immediately falls for Fumiko who initially spurns his advances but soon caves in since he actually pays her some attention. A quick stop for a car theft and the trio is off and running.

After heading out to the beach, their first task becomes clear - spotting Kashiwagi (a conservative follow-the-rules reporter who set up Akira's capture), they run him down and kidnap his girlfriend. The entirety of this opening sequence - from the introduction of the characters through their reformatory days to their sun-drenched, sweat-soaked day in the sun - lasts about twenty minutes and there's barely a moment to pause except for the freeze frames during the titles (and even those have blurred stills due to the fighting and roughhousing in the jail cells). It's a perfect representation of how these three live their lives as they careen from one moment to the next with barely a thought for the consequences (no matter how serious) to anyone around them or to themselves. Fumiko and Masaru talk about building a future together, but their plan consists of Masaru joining the local Yakuza. She sees the immediate possibility of monetary gain and he sees the chance to be in a tough gang, but there's no consideration paid to the inherent danger.

The blown-out white of the bright sun beating down on Akira is stifling for him. It may indicate possible escape (as do the trains running past the small room shared by the three of them and the occasional loud airplane), but he doesn't seem to care to make an effort. His only respite (aside from jazz music in the car or at his favorite club) is breaking societal rules (from minor infractions like stealing people's daily milk bottles all the way to rape) and provoking the members of that society - particularly those who benefit from it. There's a great, unbroken 2-minute scene of Akira loping through an art gallery showing contempt for the people and the art at every chance. It ends with him trying to cool himself off by tearing into an ice cream cone after having just forced his beloved jazz onto the jukebox. It's a perfect summation of the film as it focuses on one of the alienated youth (born likely around the start of WW II) showing mocking contempt towards his elders and what they hold dear until his frustrations boil over and he seeks refuge. That constant strain is bound to warp someone.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.