Tuesday, May 22, 2018

When a Boy's Fancy Turns to Fighting!

When a boy can't have sex or masturbate, what else can he do but fight? 1966's Fighting Elegy (けんかえれじい) is the story of an earnest Catholic lad desperately picking fights all over town. It's part of an effort to curb all the nervous energy that seems to build up after he vows not to pleasure himself. Set in 1935 on the eve of Japan's war with China, Seijun Suzuki directs this film with an appropriately breakneck pace, hitting a perfect mix of comedy and drama.

Kiroku (Hideki Takahashi) is a delinquent staying at a Catholic boarding house where he's fallen in love with the beautiful, spiritually pure daughter of the landlady, Michiko (Junko Asano).

In the middle of the film, Suzuki puts together one scene that neatly describes the premise--Michiko playing piano with her rapturous face turned upward, her back to Kiroku sitting rigidly, trying to contain himself, sweating profusely. In voice over narration he vows never, ever to masturbate, after which he rushes outside where Suzuki leaves the camera exposure high so we can barely see him beating up two other boys through the blinding haze of white. Then he comes back to the room where he can sit somewhat more comfortably behind the still contentedly playing Michiko.

Kiroku joins a gang--he fights with a rival gang, he fights with the members of his own gang until he becomes leader. He's transferred to another school where he insults the whole town to everyone he meets, leading to an extended fight scene in a garden where an elderly couple look on astonished. He refuses to wear shoes during military drills.

Some moments are surprisingly, weirdly sweet, like a scene where Kiroku, alone on a hillside street, screams Michiko's name but stops at every syllable to grab the sound from the air and put it to his lips. He never resents her or Catholicism or his gang--he never seems angry, he just . . . wants . . . to . . . fight. All the time.

The film ends a bit abruptly, Suzuki having intended to continue the story in a sequel which was never made. The studio fired him for making the experimental classic, Branded to Kill, before he had the chance. Maybe in a way it's appropriate to have just this first part of a story, bursting with energy left unfulfilled.

Twitter Sonnet #1116

Examined stones reveal a science stopped.
Descending like a kerchief, ice appeared.
The gauzy petals cling to shoes to hop.
Transmission veins create the real and weird.
Exchanging hats, a pair of birds relate.
A parrot copped a turtle's secret thought.
A fleet of bottles could at home await.
A single board succumbed to phantom rot.
A softened shell revealed a mussel fit.
Prepared for poison, healthy cops arrive.
The evidence was cotton in the kit.
The Earth was only spinning for the hive.
A hasty face reported eyes or nose.
A careful foot displays its wrinkled toes.

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