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Kinji Fukasaku collection

 
 
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If You Were Young: Rage
cast: Tetsuo Ishidate, Gin Maeda, Choichiro Kawarazaki, Hideki Hayashi, and Ryonosuke Minegishi

director: Kinji Fukasaku

90 minutes (15) 1970
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail


RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Few in the west know the name of Kinji Fukasaku, and of those who do few have a real overview of the director's style, if a style he had at all as a director. One might have to see the late Fukasaku's entire catalogue and still not connect the dots, pin down common themes or identify a through thread. Better known for his blistering shocker Battle Royale, and previously with the high schlock, space station monster movie The Green Slime ("Is it something in your head/ will you believe it when you're dead" - went the lyrics on the pop psychedelic title track), a couple of labels took interest and began rummaging through a real pick 'n' mix of genres, resulting in the occasional release of Fukasaku's yakuzi gangster and teen angst fare. Tartan, in their continuing devotionals to the directors who contributed to the critical success of the label, including too much time on Takashi Miike, have finally returned to Fukasaku. Given that Fukasaku died before he could complete the sequel to Battle Royale, it could said that there was not that urgency to pay direct tribute to the director and it was clearly more rewarding for relations to focus on the living. Five years after his death this return to the very early work of Fukasaku was clearly a genuine tribute. It is a bit late in the day for the company, given that the DVD will now find its way out onto shelves in the wake of the collapse of the releaser Tartan.

If You Were Young: Rage, made in 1970, is a drama about five disparate youths who take an entrepreneurial leap into private enterprise, toiling hard and pooling together their wages in order to raise enough to buy their own truck. Come the time to buy that vehicle one is dead, another in prison, and a third has slipped back into the psychological slum, a demanding wife and child in tow now, and a mock protective stance distancing him from any risk taking, financial or otherwise: personal safety of premiere importance. Kikuo (Tetsuo Ishidate) and Asao (Gin Maedo) take on the vehicle. Kikuo and Asao brought a long-standing friendship to the group, fermented in an orphan setting.

They naively try to extend their great friendship to this wider circle, the paying back of the debt of gratitude leading to circumstances that will eat into and destroy the Kikuo/ Asao relationship. The premise is ironic given to how it correspondents to one of the elements that might possibly have contributed to Tartan's downfall. How do you repay a dead man? How do you include a second man who has excluded himself and wants his percentage of the business back at the same time that repayments are being made on the loan that was taken out in order to complete the purchase of the vehicle? How dangerous might it get bringing the relatives of the imprisoned colleague into the equation, a mother and a sister living on a pittance? Unable to help him in the moment, they could pay him back through kindnesses to his next of kin. They mistakenly convince the mother and sister that there is a good in the brother that the sister initially finds impossible to see. It will backfire on them all when that regained trust will then become abused again when he breaks from prison adding to the conflict and endangering their lives. Kikuo and Asao are already fighting over the girl. One more will die and all remaining friendships ruptured irreparably.

The 'golden egg' gang of five formed out of the remnants of a workforce receiving their redundancy packages are introduced in flashback and at a point in the present also when the young men are enthusiastic, ebullient and idealistic. Apart they have been weak, the group friendship steeling them into something workable, positive, a real force and a hope. One of the number takes a job riven with bad karma but dies following a switch of allegiance to protect the protesters at a rally when the brigade he is part of savagely suppresses them with batons. The death of the popular young man sends a confusing cascade of messages and there is not the time to mentally unpick them. The survivors' positivity is diffused and the cracks start. To some extent it strengthens Kikuo and Asao in their resolve. They appear to grow up, but the splintered vestiges of youth remain and the dream turns to shards with them.

The pace of the film is quick. There are flashbacks, the narrative jumps backwards and forwards repeatedly, in and out of colour. Hand-held cameras are used and the film is as unsettled as the young people featured. It is reminiscent of the busy exploitation films that came out of the UK at the turn of the 1970s, Pete Walker and Robert Hartford-Davies dramas uncertain of how many component parts violent, social and sexual to incorporate for maximum effect. Fukasaku adds a socio-political aspect to the exploitation mix. It is never dull, but the technique is too unsettling for the viewer. The flashbacks keep characters in the frame, even after they are dead or would chronologically be out of the picture, but the relationships and our identification with them is too befuddling as the viewer struggles to keep emotional continuity with them over the different points in the timeline. This could all level out over repeat viewings but I am not compelled to immediately return. The finale leaves you disappointed with all the characters, at their failure, not so much in becoming self-sufficient and the owners of a business but in the collapse of friendships. You feel there is no future and without hope there is nothing to go back to the very beginning for.
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