Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Just a Lonely Teenager in Crime

Some choose the gangster life, some are gently pressed into it by well-meaning neighbours, the latter being the case for Jiro, the hapless protagonist of 1962's Teenage Yakuza (ハイチイーンやくざ). Director Seijun Suzuki turns this simple, highly improbable tale into a captivating burst of kinetic filmmaking, taking a moralistic screenplay by Mamoru Okusono and Nozomu Yoshimura and turning it into a weird, slightly embarrassing slice of human experience.

After Jiro (Tamio Kawachi) and his friend win a fight with three other boys in the street, Jiro finds himself being asked to work as security and bodyguard for a few local shops. The ukulele playing, hyperactive teen daughter of one shop owner vigorously puts together a sort of fan club for Jiro and other shop owners start giving him kick backs and before he knows it he's something like a yakuza.

This all happens over Jiro's protests but he does gradually start to enjoy the attention despite the grim disapproval of his mother and sister. But the real problems begin when real yakuza find out about this upstart moving in on their territory.

There's an existential commentary present in the film as Jiro is helplessly pushed through a lifestyle commonly seen as a consummately self-serving vocation. He doesn't really initiate anything for himself until the climax when he tries to convince his friend, who's chosen to be a yakuza with disastrous results, to leave the life so they can go back to being friends and innocent teens. The ultimate result is slightly absurd in a way that emphasises the unlikelihood of the whole premise.

Another of Suzuki's less distinguished films he churned out for the studio, it nonetheless features his trademark talent for expressive pacing and moving compositions and is always fun to watch. Teenage Yakuza is available on Amazon Prime.

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