What if Yojimbo were set during the time that it was filmed?
Available in Canada, the United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 92 minutes.
Well, that is an interesting choice for the credits to be in color. Anyways, these people are crowded outside a hotel because there are two dead people inside and the police are investigating.
The chief detective is reading what appears to be a note from the woman, Tamiko, to her mother. She wrote that she had fallen in love with a married man and the only way for the two of them to be together was double suicide. He and another detective agree that the man was lucky to have found a woman who loved him that much. Except he is dead, so not quite that lucky.
The chief wonder what the man did for a living and…uh…the heck?
Anyways, a third detective finds the man’s ID.
Oh, the dead man was a detective. Takeshita Koichi. What could this signi
OH JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!
All right. I guess that this is a full-color film. Fine.
Anyways, a group of youths are just hanging around, loitering in the middle of the street and blocking traffic. When one guy in a white hat tries to walk through them, he pushes one of the women aside. The guys try to retaliate, but he thrashes all who come for him. And then he resumes walking, going to a pachinko parlor and assaulting another guy.
Eventually, the man ends up in what I guess is a 1960s version of a hostess club, owned by Nomoto Enterprises. The waiter asks him if he wants any special girl, he…uh…points up? The waiter does not understand, so the man forcefully grabs him and says to bring the best. And eventually, the man ends up with eight women. Look how happy he is.
Suddenly, the movie reveals that the mirror next to them is…uh…
What? Doesn’t one side have to be dark in order for those mirrors to work that way? Aaaanyways, the owner of this club is pleased that this man has already spent 70,000.
The club owner is not quite so pleased when an employee comes in and says that some stranger beat up Ken. The owner says to just pay off Ken and forget it, but his right-hand man suggests that the stranger could be from a rival gang, the Sanko mob. Again, the owner says to forget it, and that the Sanko are no major threat. He has Ken come in and points to the guy with the eight women. Is that the guy who attacked him? He is.
Just after the man pours a bucket of ice down the dress of one of the women, three guys approach him and take him elsewhere so that they can settle the bill. It turns out that, beyond those loose bills that he was throwing around, he claims that he does not have the money. So, they take him down to the office.
With an underling pointing a gun at the mystery man, the owner tells him that the room is soundproof, so that no one outside would know if he got shot. The owner then asks why he has been messing around on Nomoto turf. The mystery man says that he simply felt like it. At that point, the gunman assaults the mystery man, but mystery man gets the drop on him and takes the gun. And assaults the former gunman in retaliation.
The owner offers to double whatever the mystery man’s employer is paying him. So, the mystery man demands a million yen up front. And another 200,000 each month. The owner accepts and offers to introduce the mystery man to the boss. The mystery man is confused, having assumed that the owner was the boss.
So, the mystery man gets taken to the Nomoto Residence. He is brought into the main meeting room where a bigwig with a cat throws a knife at him and a henchman points a pistol at him.
After seeing that the mystery man had also been pointing a pistol at him, the henchman gleefully introduces himself as Minami. And now the mystery man finally gives his name: Mizuno Joji, or Jo for short. He still demands to meet the boss. The bigwig with the cat reveals that he is Nomoto, and then he reprimands his men for behaving so disrespectfully to a newcomer…as if he had not been throwing knives.
Eventually, everyone clears out of the room except for Jo, Minami, Nomoto, and the club owner. I guess that Jo and Minami get to know each other, with Minami admitting that alcohol and women are his weaknesses. Jo reveals that he is staying at an expensive hotel, but having no money, he had planned to stiff them on the bill. Nomoto offers to pick up the tab and tells Minami to take care of Jo. Nomoto goes over to the club owner and agrees that Jo could be useful.
The next day, Minami takes Jo to a hotel run by Nomoto and Jo checks in there. Minami asks what’s in the suitcase, so Jo opens it to show…another case…which has guns in it. Minami is impressed and tries to take one, but Jo stops him. Minami walks away moping as Jo assembles one of the guns. Eventually, he turns back around and barks out his assignment, which is to show Jo around the city before going to a job. So, Jo tosses the gun to Minami, who breaks out into a huge grin and then almost starts to cry. Actually, maybe he does cry.
Minami takes Jo for a walk around the city before taking him to the job, a shake-down of a realtors’ office. Jo shows the realtor a deed and demands that he to make out a check for 3 million yen. When the realtor dismisses him, Jo does this.
Now, the realtor agrees to write the check. Just then, about seven guys from the Sanko mob arrive. Apparently, this place is under their protection. Jo manages to prevent three of them from coming in the front door, but a fourth guy kicks open the window and points a gun at him. The realtor rips up the deed as the rest of the gangsters break down Jo’s barricade. The gangsters start to beat on Jo, but oops.
Yep. No one accounted for Minami and his beloved new toy. Jo punches a couple of his assailants and then demands that the realtor pay the 3 million in cash.
And now we get to an extended scene back in the Nomoto residence where a woman, most likely a sex worker, is begging her boss for drugs. He eventually drops a packet on the floor for her to pick up. She takes it and runs off right as Jo arrives.
Jo runs up to the meeting room where Nomoto and the club owner are…were they there the whole time? Anyways, they ask Jo how the job went and in comes Minami with the gun and the cash, raving about Jo’s tactical brilliance regarding the balcony plan. He demands that all of his jobs from now on have him partnered with Jo.
Also, the club owner claims to have checked out Jo and says that he is clean. Great. So, he is on the payroll. Nomoto gives him a stack of cash. Jo leaves. Minami wants to hang out with him, but Jo says that he has to go to a memorial service for an old friend.
Oh…it looks like a memorial for a cop. Oh! It’s Takeshita. From the introduction.
Jo shows up and introduces himself to Mrs. Takeshita. He offers his condolences and tells her that her husband was very kind to him a long time ago. She lets him in so that he can pay his respects. Afterwards she invites him to stay and eat, but he says that he has to go. Perhaps all of those cops intimidate him.
Also, Jo starts to walk one way down the streets, but quickly turns around and runs in the other direction to dodge a detective who was on his way to the memorial.
Okay, so I am not entirely sure what is happening here, but Jo finds a card on a car promoting Club Aoi, which I assume is a hostess club. I think that he was looking for a business card for the number so that he could schedule an appointment with a woman who works there. He then takes a cab with a woman to his hotel. He shows her a newspaper clipping about the double suicide and asks if the woman in the paper had worked at her club. Apparently not. He gives her some money and tells her to exit out the back way, as they were probably being followed.
Jo takes a shower in his hotel room and emerges to find…is that the woman from the office of the hostess club? Anyways, she is pointing a gun at him. And, apparently, she had been there even before he had arrived. Putting the gun down, she asks him to find and kill a woman. Who? Well, after talking cute for a bit, she tells him to kill the Nomoto’s sixth mistress.
The woman, Keiko, tells Jo that the dead girl with the detective was one of Nomoto’s call girls, who had a cover as a clerk. The sixth mistress is in charge of the call girls. No one has seen her and Nomoto does not talk about her. But Keiko is sure about her. And the sixth mistress is the only one whom she cannot control.
Keiko offers Jo half of what she gets. And if Jo refuses, she will…uh…accuse him of rape, which will make Nomoto so insanely jealous that he will kill Jo. Okay, right. Goddamn Japanese New Wave. But, Jo asks, what if he finds sixth mistress more attractive or she offers him more mon-oh, the scene ends there.
The next day, Jo calls up the Murasaki Club, which offers lovely young ladies. He makes an appointment for one to come to his hotel room that evening. Wait, is he still at the other…well, whatever. He then tests his shotgun. One barrel seems to work fine, but the other one is stuck. Oops.
The evening comes and Jo walks out of the hotel only for a car to chase him into the parking lot, where someone puts a gun to his back. Another guy frisks him. They tell him that their boss wants to see him. Jo says not right now…or at least not like this. The guy with the gun puts it against Jo’s jaw, but Jo asks if he is really going to shoot his gun so close to apartments and, more importantly, cops? They throw him into the car, but Jo jumps out the other side to where he had thrown his jacket on the ground…and, more importantly, his shotgun. The guy tries to throw that apartment and cops line back at him, and…uh…Jo simply says that that’s his line…uh…yeah. So, he gets the guys to drop their guns and THEN take him to their boss.
So, the Jo has the gangsters take him to their boss, Onedara, at a movie theater that appears to be showing an old gangster flick. After some back and forth, Onedara offers Jo double what Nomoto is paying. Jo orders the other gangsters out of the room so that they can negotiate in private. One of the gangsters uses that opportunity to try to shoot Jo in the back, but he doesn’t. Meanwhile, Onedara offers 50% what Nomoto has been paying. I am not sure if he can deliver on that, since the Sanko operation seems to be a little grimier and more run-down than Nomoto’s, but whatever. In any case, Jo says that he wants both what Sanko would pay and what Nomoto is paying. He tells Onedara that Nomoto is buying guns to crush Sanko Enterprises, and offers to act as a spy for him. Onedara accepts.
I did call this a modern version of Yojimbo at the top, but that is not quite accurate. Sure, Mizuno Joji can come across like a force of nature pretending to work for two rival criminal gangs in order to further pit them against each other. Still, Jo is not simply a strange wanderer, though no one seems to know him. He is somewhat connected to the goings on. He turns out to have an objective beyond ridding a village of riff-raff. He actually shows some level of concern for a few characters, not so much standing above them like a gleefully malevolent god. Also, he is not so much a super-badass as much as he is a regular badass who tends to think things out a step or two ahead of everyone else and can improvise fairly quickly when things do not quite work out.
Born Suzuki Seitarō, Seijun Suzuki had been directing movies for seven years before this, but Youth of the Beast is considered the start of him really coming into his own. Sure, it is yet another sleazy b-movie Yakuza flick with a slight noir undertone or whatnot. But there are hints of the idiosyncratic style that would become his brand. There are the characters with extremely specific quirks, like the childlike Minami. There are details that scream out Chekov’s Gun. There is tapping at the fourth-wall, like Jo scolding the gangster for copying his line and the scenes at Onedara’s featuring gangster movies being played. There are…some…rather bizarre character choices. There are some odd choices in regards to framing action. And then there is this:
That is not a dissolve from one shot to another. That is one shot placed on top of a longer shot. Is it supposed to represent a hallucination? Who knows?
The studio where he worked would become increasingly annoyed with his weirdness over the next four years until it dismissed him. For sure, this is far from his strangest film, let alone his most well-regarded, but it has been considered the first real turning point in his career, when he was starting to become himself. Apparently, the title was just a nonsensical attempt to jump on the bandwagon of movies having the word “Youth” in their titles, despite the main character being played by a 30-year-old. Still, while critics ignored the movie, it did get the attention of student audiences, who were drawn to the odd stylings and I guess would stay with him as he got stranger.
Apparently, this was supposed to be an “adult” picture, but the studio balked at that and supposedly even cut out a scene with nudity. Or something like that. I can guess where that scene may have been, but I am not sure if they did a particularly good job at cutting, since I did see boobage at some point and a few of those movie posters at the theater were a little suspect. Well, I don’t know if it was able to run as a family film, but it got the youths. Whatever. It is still sleazy enough.
This movie takes what could be a rather familiar storyline and injects just enough strangeness to be noticeable. For sure, Suzuki would go further as the years progressed, but this was his jumping-off point. And for a jumping-off point, it is quite fun.
WTF ASIA 205: A Lifetime Treasure (Hong Kong: 2019, approx. 95 minutes)
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Available in Canada, the United States, and perhaps a few other countries.
WTF ASIA 206: The Star Next Door (South Korea: 2017, approx. 98 minutes)
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Available in Australia, Canada, the United States, and perhaps a few other countries.