Monday, August 2, 2010

Yajû no seishun (The Brute aka Youth of the Beast) (1963)

This movie has like three different titles, but I'm going by Youth of the Beast because that's what Criterion calls it on their release. My first foray into Seijun Suzuki's acclaimed yakuza films, it stars the chipmunk-cheeked Jo Shishido as Jo Mizuno, a ballsy assassin-for-hire who walks into each of the city's two biggest mob headquarters and makes himself a double agent. He accepts two huge salaries to work for both, and uses his fast-acquired position to learn more about an escort service run by one mob family and a mysterious mistress, with everything connecting to a recent double suicide that may be more than it appears. I promise the plot isn't confusing, just hard to sum up without spoilers or a hundred names.

With a twisty plot, fist-fighting action, and some sharp suits, Youth of the Beast oozes gangster style and fun times. It's very well-filmed, incorporating a few eye-catching set-ups (the room enclosed by two-way mirrors especially comes to mind) and engaging fight and chase scenes. The story is interesting, if a little overdramatic, with an appropriately hardened and tortured lead character in Jo Mizuno. There are a lot of characters, introduced very quickly and often all together, which caused me some confusion at certain moments but generally it's a good mix of yakuza politics and revenge tale with a bit of mystery thrown in.

Jo Shishido is oddly mesmerizing with his cosmetically-altered puffy cheeks and gruff demeanor, and while his character remains stand-offish and sort of mean throughout most of the film, he is also sympathetic despite his under-handed methods. He is surrounded by a host of supporting mobsters both goofy and menacing, but manages to keep his cool throughout and anchors the film with his performance.

Youth of the Beast is the kind of fun, well-plotted, and engaging movie that I don't have all that much to say about. It's very good, but didn't do anything particularly special or memorable except introduce me to a director whose films I'll certainly be seeking out- mainly Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill, which sound a lot weirder and more experimental. Exciting.


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