Crazed Fruit (1956)

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*. In 1956 this material shocked people. It maintains a kind of decadent frisson, but doesn’t really throw the switch until the end.
*. Donald Richie’s commentary suggests that it sowed the seeds of violence in Japanese cinema, later reaped in a whirlwind by Miike. I don’t see much of a connection, though I suppose today’s disaffected youth identify with the stronger stuff.
*. It’s hard to believe you’re looking at Japan just after the end of WW2. What evidence, physical or psychological, is there of what had happened just ten years earlier? Everyone seems so affluent and carefree (if jaded and dissolute). Are these the fruits of Japan’s post-war economic miracle? If so, it seems a bastard product, not to mention one determined to completely disown its parentage. This is a film almost entirely without grown-ups.
*. In some ways it’s all a fantasy. Very few people could afford to live like the gang of bored young men we see here do. The sun tribe were a creation of the time’s collective unconscious, just like so many portrayals of teen rebellion.
*. The “Sun Tribe” school was a term made-up by the media, though the gang describe themselves as members here, taking “boredom” as their credo. The product label didn’t last long. In the overheated prose of Chuck Stephens’s Criterion essay, it was “a momentary revolution no more lasting than a case of summer love.” Actually about five years.
*. It was also Japan’s version of nouvelle vague, the product of film students and cineastes (Nakahira was only 30 when given this job, and sometimes wore a beret while directing). The signature difference of the new wave, as it was in France, was editing. More cuts, made more abruptly. The invisible art made visible.

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*. I don’t know Japanese, but: When the gang see the bombshell (Eri) that Haruji has brought to their party their reaction is that they have been “Beaten by a complete innocent.” Is “innocent” the word to use? Don’t they mean something like “rookie,” or even “virgin”?
*. Masuhiko Tsugawa was well cast as the malevolent, brooding killer, complete with a hairstyle that makes him look like the son of Henry Spencer. And yet this is odd, because he should be a somewhat sympathetic figure. He is the “innocent,” seduced by a more sophisticated, older woman and then betrayed by his brother. Why then do I feel, even before the conclusion, that he is a dangerous psychopath?
*. Is Eri a femme fatale? I think so. She admits she got things backward, marrying first and wanting to have a good time later. She seduces both brothers, in ways particular to each, knowing their pressure points and weaknesses. She takes the lead, sets the time and place of their assignations. Then, finally, as with most femme fatales, her plans go awry.
*. I like how in the final part, as Haruji circles the sailboat, the camera progressively cuts in tighter to the faces of Eri and Natsuhisa. It’s by-the-book filmmaking, but Ko Nakihara was someone who had read the books.
*. Richie emphasizes the author Ishihara’s conservatism, especially as evidenced in the ending, which shows us the wages of sin. But I’m not sure the ending is so clear cut as this. Is the ending sincere in its sense of moral punishment? Is the creepy Haruji vindicated? That’s not the way I feel. But then I’m looking at it from the perspective of a very different time and culture.
*. What a sad fate suffered by director Ko Nakihara. To become an in-house company man for Nikkatsu, then shuffling off to China where he re-made Crazed Fruit for Shaw Brothers (under the title Summer Heat). He died at the age of 52.

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