- Original title
- Kutabare Gurentai
- Japanese title
- Alternative title
- Death to Punks
- Go to Hell Bastards!
- Go to Hell Hoodlums!
- Running time
- 80 minutes
- 10 August 2010
I will try to avoid the hard and after all naïve task of saying something new, whatever has not been said when introducing Seijun Suzuki. Not to fall victim to the clichés repeated in most reviews of his films, I propose to get straight into a non-exhaustive analysis of one of his more modest but no less interesting films: Fighting Delinquents.
There are several reasons that justify consideration of Seijun Suzuki as a great filmmaker. One of these is his ability to turn to his own advantage the narrative guidelines of a producer-dictated generic framework, such that his creative needs prevail. This is something for which many great masters of celluloid have been praised: Budd Boetticher achieved this very goal within the patterns of western, and Jacques Tourneur within those of horror and film-noir. Like Suzuki, these men were directors who mainly worked on B-series productions and preferred it that way in order to keep wider room for experimentation. Just like them, Suzuki was sly enough to convey his intellectual proposals by means of the genre dictated to him.
This genre, in the case of Fighting Delinquents, can be referred to with the label Nikkatsu action, since it is part of those films that targeted a generation of Japanese youngsters eager for modernity, adrenaline, non-conformism, and pop music. Many of these films also affiliate with the more specific field of the yakuza film, however here the yakuza appear only as secondary characters.
Suzuki's first colour feature, Fighting Delinquents offers a remarkable amount of the above-mentioned elements. At the same time it is the exposition of a deeper theme by means of a simple and commercially attractive plot: Sadao, a young construction worker, believes himself to be an orphan and in spite of his youthful tempestuousness he is nonetheless a model of honesty and moral integrity: he introduces himself by crashing into the office of a company president in order to claim the indemnity that he owes the foreman's daughter because he caused the man's death by dangerous driving.
Shortly after this altercation, Sadao learns that he actually is the only heir of a noble and rich family from Awaji Island. A messenger tries to convince him by all means to accept the inheritance, but Sadao's moral integrity prevents him from leaving his friends and he refuses to accept this sudden ticket to fortune and high society. When the messenger realizes that the young man is immune to the material temptations such an offer carries, he manages to persuade him with the promise that he will be reunited with his mother.
Pressured by his buddies' enthusiasm, Sadao gives in and leaves for Awaji, where he is welcomed by his aristocratic grandmother. The obaasan ("granny", as he defiantly calls her) is shocked by her grandson's disarming sincerity, a far cry from the hypocritical manners inherent in any high society member. When Sadao finds out that the promise to join his mother was just a trick to attract him to the island, he devotes all his efforts to finding her himself. At the same time spends the family fortune on building a public park and an western-style youth hostel on lands owned by the family. However, he is unaware that a shady speculator has plans to appropriate these lands, and that the businessman's girlfriend is none other than Sadao's mother.
The theme that really underlies Fighting Delinquents is that of the struggle between the old and the new. However, Suzuki doesn't offer a fatalistic vision of such struggle in which one of the two elements dominates and annihilates the other. On the contrary, he presents it as a wholesome struggle from which a bipolar tension must emerge that creates an equilibrium. The old is constituted by the figures of both grandmother and mother, though at the same time they oppose themselves as the former represents the noble and the latter the plebeian. Sadao represents the new, whose aim is at all times to convince his grandmother to readmit his mother into the family, and he sets himself up as the bridge between the two. He's the catalyst of a new order of coexistence in which the old integrates with the new and the new with the old, the same way the noble blood of his deceased father coexists with that of his working-class mother in Sadao's own veins. Thus he will profess the same amount of love toward both his grandmother and mother, and his duty will be to not only persuade the former to drop her antiquated aristocratic criteria, but also and especially the latter, on whom he will spring the sentence which synthesizes the script: "Class difference is old fashioned".
The horse, a symbol par excellence of the noble, will be the means of transport of a youngster who listens to pop music and doesn't hesitate to reconvert the clan's old private lands into a public service. By means of such crossed symbols Suzuki strips away the division between the new and the old, the noble and the plebeian, until he reaches a cathartic final hotchpotch which bluntly expresses Sadao's success: a final sequence where everybody dances a Japanese dance, some with traditional dresses, some wearing western suits, and all of them mixed up in a human jumble. Suzuki's optimistic and colourful vision of modernity establishes a valuable counterpoint to the more nostalgic and sometimes distrustful tone with which predecessors like Yasujiro Ozu approached the issue of Japan's westernisation.
As we reach that final human whirlpool we realise too that the series of images depicting real whirlpools at sea at the beginning of the film were not arbitrary, but a symbolic advance of its thesis, the same as many other similar visual winks throughout the picture. Nor can it be a coincidence that Nanjo, the yakuza antagonist, dies when he is swallowed up by one of these whirlpools: the power resulting from the conjunction of the worlds of Sadao's grandmother and his mother eliminates the pernicious influences for which there is no place in the new harmonic order: greed, wickedness, corruption, and everything Nanjo represents.
Further comments could be made about Suzuki's daring experimentations with colour. The use of colour filters foreshadows the masterly final sequence of Tattooed Life (Irezumi Ichidai, 1965), where they would be employed with a more defiant audacity, prominence and bravery, without a rational justification in the story line. Also remarkable is the director's appetite for image distortion effects, techniques that date back to the German expressionists but which here constitute the beginning of a defiance against the studio's conservatism - the same desire for defiance that in 1967 would inflate like an enormous balloon and burst with the release of Branded to Kill, which, as it is well known, meant his expulsion from Nikkatsu and a decade of cinematographic ostracism (this is precisely the thing I promised to avoid at the beginning of this review, but it now strikes me as unavoidable).
What is clear, in conclusion, is that Fighting Delinquents is a film any lover of the Suzukian universe must visit in order to witness the germination of his rebellious cinema, his efforts to innovate, and his subtle optimization of the generic framework.