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A group of eccentric students decide to make a movie. But, when their star suddenly quits, this witty ensemble cast begins to live the film, including murder, deception and true love. Japan... See full summary »
Katsumi is a university student who has no respect for his hardworking parents, his professors, or even his friends. He helps one friend obtain a loan to finance a dance, by humiliating his... See full summary »
Set in the last few years of the shogun's rule, this period/ensemble movie depicts the lives of the young and the restless at a whorehouse. The protagonist is Saheiji, a resourceful, witty ... See full summary »
Okay so it was a band that ushered the title into the cultural lexicon, originally though it was a Japanese film about teen bikers. I'm not familiar with the band, instead I come to this in my quest for New Wave images, images that catch cinema unawares. Especially Japanese New Wave, which usually resonates closer to the heart of things.
Yasuzo Masumura brought the stuff to Japan, having probably been exposed to what was going on at the Left Bank while studying in Italy, and Oshima nourished the seed. From there it grew unexpected roots. In Europe it was about a simple rejection of old values, the old Europe of thinking and theater, and thinking in terms of it (a grand stage, subject/object duality, high purpose revealed by conflict).
In Japan the youthful energy tapped deeper though, into ancient soul. The rejection of traditional appearances, the peeling of all manner of charged ritual and rigorous formalism, strangely, perhaps inadvertently brought them to the essence of that old tradition. Asymmetry, deliberately broken balance, abstraction hinted at by imperfect forms, all these were discovered anew, with newfound immediacy.
The rejection here is emblematized by the biker gang, one of many called the Black Emperors. Looking at these teenagers goof around, they are a much tamer version of what the Hell's Angels were earlier, who it should be noted went on to real gang rapes and real murders but whose formation was after all cinematically inspired (The Wild One, with Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin).
But at core we find the same ideal-less nihilism; the same gratuitous appropriation of swastikas, the same tribal ceremony of male aggression (there is mention of the elders who founded the group, venerated as ancestral chiefs), the same massive rides meant to strike terror at the decent folks that Hunter Thompson describes in his book about the Angels. More importantly, the same alienation of jobless, aimless young people (here seen loafing in Shinjuku) with too much time and energy and nothing to create. Harmony Korine would love the sense of itinerant recklessness. Kenneth Anger the chrome fetish and boyish impertinence.
More poignantly yet, it's Western culture that provides the inspiration, the what-to-reject-for. They write Black Emperors in English instead of kanji, as though meant to equally offend good graces as the swastika between the two words in the logo (ironically a Buddhist symbol). They all smoke rigorously, like movie characters out of Godard. As the mother recites her mantras and counts her prayer beads, the son in the next room cranks up loud rock'n'roll beats on his turntable.
In music we find another suitable analogy to this. It's what punk rock was at the time, youthful expression as an abrasive middle finger aimed everywhere. This is an important film in what would eventually become a punk cinema, the No Wave as it were of Sogo Ishii and Tsukamoto, some Miike, that would no longer tap into an ancient soul and would have no burning reason to reject what it did with so much exuberance. I think one because of the other.
Some of these contrasts may be easy; a lesser, catchier documentary would purport to tell a story through them, build up to something.
But here? Here there is time inbetween. A sense of transience, of a now (often mundane, unmediated by cinema) without fear of past or anticipation of future. Or an emptiness of identity, waiting to be filled. Nothing comes out of this venture eventually, except that they venture out to vent again. The long procession of bikes lined up on the road ready to move off at the end, strangely looks like a kanji of headlights painted on a scroll of Zen calligraphy that points the 'middle road'. Something to meditate upon perhaps.
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