Monday, January 28, 2019

From Gangster to Knight

The teenage son of a yakuza boss returns from America when his father dies and inherits the syndicate. But young Matsubara is only disgusted by the family business, preferring instead to become the de facto leader of a school club called the Tokyo Knights (東京騎士隊) in this sweet and slightly campy 1961 Seijun Suzuki action film.

Matsubara (Koji Wada) starts attending a Catholic school shortly after his father's funeral and becomes acquainted with some of the weird students and faculty, including a goofy American music professor (George Ruika). He seems to feel particularly attached to the students, despite upbraiding them for their lack of discipline, and feeling frustrated trying to instruct one would-be singer who inexplicably always talks like she's been inhaling helium.

Matsubara is informed of the Tokyo Knights by one of its less effectual leaders. Matsubara watches as the kid vainly stands protectively before the lovely Yuriko (Mayumi Shimizu), imagining a group of boys approaching mean trouble. Fortunately they just brush right past the two.

For some reason, though, Matsubara excels at everything, including martial arts, and proves it in nicely blocked action sequences throughout the film. In one of the stranger sequences, Matsubara sneaks into the club of a rival boss disguised in demon mask and cape and steals everyone's cuff links. Wada maintains a serious demeanour throughout and there's a vague connexion between the cuff links and his father's possible murder but Suzuki wisely avoids too much explanation and just lets the intense weirdness of the scene casually play out.

The climax is a very nice demonstration of creative lighting techniques and blocking. Set in a quarry in full daylight, Suzuki nonetheless employs artificial lighting, creating really cool, subtle effects to emphasise the significance of particular gunshots or punches.

Tokyo Knights is available on Amazon Prime.

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