Drama, Japanese Cinema, Romance

Cruel Story Of Youth (1960)

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Kiyoshi and Mokoto walk into town. Screenshot by me.

I love Japanese cinema so much.My favourite decades of Japanese cinema are the 1940’s and 1950’s. The great Kenji Mizoguchi is my favourite Japanese film director.

I have long wanted to check out some of the Japanese New Wave films(these films began to appear in the late 50’s and went on into the 70’s).Of these New Wave films, Cruel Story Of Youth is the one that I have been most desperate to see for quite a while now. Last night I finally got to watch it, and all I can say is wow! It wasn’t what I expected at all, and it has an ending that comes out of nowhere packing quite a punch in the process.

I’m so used to seeing the rather static cinematography present in classic era Japanese films, that I really wasn’t sure about how this film visually flicks between moments in the couples life very quickly. As the film went on I became much more used to this style and quite enjoyed it actually, even though I strongly feel that the use of static shots allows you to focus more intently on the actors during scenes.  

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Kiyoshi and Mokoto ride around on a motorbike. Screenshot by me.

The film has an almost documentary look about it which adds a great amount of realism to what we see unfolding on screen.The film was also shot in colour and on location. The impressive cinematography is by Takashi Kawamata. This film is also about as far away from the visual style of classic era Japanese directors as you can get. 

The director of Cruel Story Of Youth is Nagisa Oshima, he was one of the most revolutionary film directors in Japanese film history, and his films would often feature content that was guaranteed to shock audiences. He would later go on to make the sexually explicit In The Realm Of The Senses.  

Cruel Story Of Youth focuses on the rebellious teenagers of the swinging sixties who are going against the traditions, restrictions and sexual repression endured by their parents and grandparents. The Japan we see in Oshima’s film is a country where people are now very open about what they feel, think and desire. The film even depicts students protesting against the real life Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.  

The film is also very violent and it depicts gang violence and even violence in the relationship of the main couple. The film also shows us characters who are doing what they have to in order to get by in life, even if what they are doing is in actuality criminal and morally wrong. Everyone has it tough in some way in this film, with women in particular getting the roughest treatment of all. Female characters are quite often shown being used by men and not being valued for who they are as individuals, and not having their feelings considered by men, these aspects of the film do make for difficult viewing. 

The film begins with teenage Makoto (Miyuki Kawano, an actress whose work I am now desperate to see more of)accepting a lift at night with a middle aged man. The driver takes them to a hotel, and when Makoto tries to run away from him he attempts to molest her. She is rescued by passing tough guy, Kiyoshi (Yusuke Kawazu)who beats the man up and takes her away from him.

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Kiyoshi and Makoto at the beach. Screenshot by me.

Makoto and Kiyoshi meet up a few days later and it is clear to us that he fancies her, but that she is inexperienced sexually and just wants to be around him as a friend.

The pair take a motorboat ride out on a river, and while resting on some floating logs tied together in a bay, their relationship becomes physical. I was quite taken aback by this shocking sequence because it quite is sadistic and because Kiyoshi forces himself on Makoto! Despite this scene though it is undeniable that there is undoubtedly some sort of connection between the two characters, and despite this incident they genuinely do fall for one another.

The pair move in together and the rest of the film depicts their relationship and how they try and get by on little money. To make some money they decide to reconstruct the way they first met, and Makoto will ask for lifts from older men and then Kiyoshi will beat them up and take their money. The pair also have to deal with a violent gang who Kiyoshi has got on the wrong side of. 

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The sisters have a talk. Screenshot by me.

Makoto and Kiyoshi’s relationship is both passionate and mutually destructive. It is painful and fascinating to watch their relationship change and develop as the film goes on.I quite like how we also get to see that Makoto’s older (and less rebellious) sister, Yuki (Yoshiko Kuga)once went through what her sister is going through now, and how she wisely tells her this relationship is no good and won’t last.  The sisters sadly become estranged as Makoto falls more and more for Kiyoshi much to the dismay of Yuki. 

The film features material that was very risque for audiences of the time. The film contains sexual violence, abortion, sex outside of marriage, gang violence, extortion, robbery and murder. I found the content of this film to be very shocking even when compared with what we see on our screens today, so I can only imagine how much this must have stunned the audiences who saw this back in 1960. 

Yusuke and Miyuki are two of the most natural and expressive actors I’ve ever seen and they both do a terrific job of conveying the passion, the rage, the vulnerability and the awkwardness of their respective characters. 

Yusuke is so intense and he very skillfully conveys how Kiyoshi is an angry young man consumed with a great rage, who is rebelling against everything and looking after himself first. Yusuke does a brilliant job of getting us to see just how much Kiyoshi is completely thrown when Makoto comes into his life, and how he develops genuine feelings for her and doesn’t really know how to deal with those feelings or with her constant presence in his life. 

Miyuki conveys the innocence, the gentle nature and the naivety of her character so well. I also like how she conveys the great emotional change this woman is going through and how she becomes stronger, more confident and rebellious as the film goes on. She shows us that Makoto is in love not only with Kiyoshi, but also with how he represents a freedom from rules and restrictions. 

My favourite scenes are the following.  Makoto practicing standing by the window and practicing smoking. The couple relaxing at the beach on a sunny day. Kiyoshi saving Makoto from the gang at the bar. Makoto getting questioned by her sister and dad. The evening motorbike ride ending at the beach. The ending. 

This is a very powerful and important film which depicted a generation rebelling against the traditions of its past. I’d love to get your thoughts on this film.

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