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Three young men from Aomori-- Harada, Matsumoto, and Osawa-- live together in a small room in Tokyo. They constantly bemoan their lack of money, lack of girlfriends, poor living conditions and boring lives. Riding home on a train one evening, they impulsively go to the beach instead. There they attack a couple, raping the woman, and forcing the man to have sex with her while they take pictures. The next day, they insult and belittle student demonstrators at the university where Matsumoto is supposedly studying to take entrance exams. In their apartment, they disturb their neighbors by singing late into the night, and then peep on the couple making love in the next room. Chieko Yoshinaga, an elementary school friend of the three who now works as a hostess in a Tokyo nightclub, pays the men a visit. They later rape her in her apartment. By chance, the three men meet a model whose nude pictures decorate their apartment. She invites them to her room and entertains them with whisky and sex...Written by
With a title apparently inspired by the 1950s American classic, Rebel Without a Cause, we have here a story of adolescent angst from another country and another decade: late 1960s Japan, Pink film-style, from Pink film maestro Kôji Wakamatsu.
Japanese critics appear to hold the film in high regard, since it is placed at position #146 on Kinema Junpo's 2009 list of Top 200 Japanese Films of All Time, right after Go, Go, Second Time Virgin (1969), another one of no fewer than eleven films directed by Wakamatsu in 1969. (Japanese Movie Database lists this film as a 1970 release, but Japanese Cinema Database gives it a release date of December 31, 1969.) Cultural and social intricacies are bound to elude me, but I am still surprised to see this film receiving such mainstream approval. It does have some of the touches that make Wakamatsu an interesting director, but the screenplay doesn't have the depth of feeling or leave a lasting impression as does Go, Go, Second Time Virgin.
The credits on the film list the screenwriter as "Izuru Deguchi", which is the pen-name that Masao Adachi often used when writing for Wakamatsu, sometimes with collaborators like Kazuo 'Gaira' Komizu. However, the Japanese Movie Database, as well as the English subtitles in the print of the film I saw, credit Toshitaka Sakabe for the screenplay. Sakabe is also listed in cast in some sources, and the similarity to the name "Toshimasa Sakaguchi", who played Matsumoto leads me to suspect that this actor was the screenwriter. In any case, this actor/writer seems to have participated in only this one film in his career.
Poppo and Tsukio in Go, Go, Second Time Virgin are genuinely abandoned by their families and society, and in truly desperate situations, but the ennui and anger of the three young men in Violence Without a Cause come across more as arrogance and feelings of entitlement. For example, instead of engaging in a little self-criticism to understand why they have no girlfriends, the three main characters simply blame women in general, and then attack them. Even if they are outsiders in Tokyo, they are there of their own choice. And after all the abuse they inflict on others throughout the film, the excuse they offer-- that society has mistreated them-- only feels like self-indulgence, self-pity, and phony. It's hard to tell here whether Wakamatsu is criticising his characters or whether he really believes they are victims. (Wakamatsu himself was from the rural North and must have felt as alienated when he first came to Tokyo as the three main characters.) Either way, it's not as satisfying or meaningful a feeling as that produced by Go, Go.
Wakamatsu's usual cinéma vérité-inspired style gives us some interesting looks at Japan in 1969-- Shinjuku station, and various Tokyo streets and student gatherings as they were at the time. Some of the film is shot guerilla-style, with the performers apparently asking random girls on the street to go out with them. This all adds some documentary interest to the film. It's also interesting to hear the young men using the term "pinku eiga" to describe the softcore films they view, and the genre to which this film belongs. The older term, "eroduction" was used in Donald Richie's contemporary essay on the genre, and was used by Peter Cowie, in his two "World Filmography" books covering 1967 and 1968, printed in 1977.
This being a Pink film, some touch of eroticism might be expected, but very little is to be found here. The actress in the first attack, on the beach, is nice to look at, but the violence of the scene serves as a wet blanket. Potentially the most erotically interesting scene is the one in which the trio peep on the neighbors. But the lovers are almost totally unseen here. This lengthy segment gives the audience an almost totally dark screen punctuated with brief flashes of light on a body part, accompanied by the sound of a woman moaning in pleasure. Cinematically it's rather interesting, and, giving us the peeper's POV, it's more realistic than an explicit nude scene would have been, but erotically it's just frustrating. The general atmosphere of misogyny and violence in the film is a turn-off, though a fairly common trait in Pink films of the era. To see how much worse this film could be, compare it with Naked Pursuit, another violent Pink film released the same year.
At a mere 71 minutes, it runs by quickly enough not to wear out its welcome. I recommend that fans of the genre give the film a look, though others will probably want to avoid it. It's by one of the masters of the genre, and has a lot his stylistic trademarks, though it shows him treading water rather than making any major artistic statements. The danger in making a film about bored, aimless, violent people, is of making a boring, aimlessly violent film, and, despite his typically interesting direction and camera-work, I don't think Wakamatsu has entirely avoided this pitfall in this film.
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