Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Crazed Fruit 狂った果実 (1956)

Crazed Fruit is a very risky film in terms of what was considered acceptable for Japanese cinema. It follows the sexual bullfight of two privileged brothers competing for an older, married woman (who is actually married to a foreigner, an American, which fuels the anti-American sentiment supported by the author, Shintaro Ishihara). The older brother, Natsuhisa, is played by Shintaro Ishihara's real brother, Yujiro Ishihara, who went on to become a famous actor and recording artist. Natsuhisa is brash and remorseless, unlike his younger brother, Haruji, who is also filled with the same primordial desire, but displays a sort of innocence which progressively diminishes. The siren that the brothers compete for, who echoes memories of Helen of Troy, Eri, is played by Mie Kitahara, who later married her co-star, Yujiro Ishihara. Eri soon becomes the odalisque of the two brothers, acting as the receptacle for their phallic nature. Without ruining the plot, I will leave the finale vague, but I most note another performer in this tale of juvenile fury. Frank, played by the Belgian-Japanese, Masumi Okada, is a very memorable character. He is the de facto leader of this affluent tribe and he has a striking appearance on film. He seems more at home in the Rat Pack with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin than in a Japanese film, but he fits in well with this group despite his diverse background.

This film is very important for anyone looking to make sense of the film movement in Japan known as 'Nuberu Bagu' (romji for the French term, Nouvelle Vague). The slowly crumbling, Nikkatsu corporation produced this film in an attempt to appeal to a new, young audience which previously received no representation in Japanese cinema. Nikkatsu wasn't the first studio to appeal to a youth audience. Kon Ichikawa's Punishment Room was also released in 1956 to the reception of much controversy. This new literary and cinematic genre depicting lustful, rich and violent youth was known as the Taiyozoku (literally Sun Tribe). Sun Tribe referred to young people who had the money and the time to leisurely enjoy the sun, such outdoor activities as boating and water skiing. However, this culture of recreation was not a representative of reality, for even by 1959, 1 out of every 131 Japanese citizens owned automobiles. This more reflects the lifestyle of the author and harbinger of the Taiyozoku genre, Shintaro Ishihara (current mayor of Tokyo), who wrote the story/screenplay for this film, as well as the stories which inspired Kon Ichikawa's Punishment Room and the short story and film version of Season of the Sun.

The production of the film is quite extraordinary as well, shot in 17 days with a low budget, it is surprising how well-arranged all the shots are. Ko Nakahira (who was mentored by the rebellious director, Yuzo Kawashima, who was also a great influence on Shohei Imamura) masterfully displays lessons learned from French auteurs such as Jean Renoir. This is definitely obvious in the very impressionistic final sequence. Despite my adoration of this motion picture, this may be Ko Nakahira's only great work, besides maybe 2 or 3 other modern pictures for Nikkatsu. He suffered from alcohol abuse and was not able to free himself from the conveyor belt conventionalism present at Nikkatsu. Eventually, he had to expatriate to China, and use a pseudonym to make films for the Shaw Brothers. It is sad because this film had a such an outstanding ripple effect in Japan. The great financial success of Crazed Fruit spawned many other Taiyozoku films, and inspired the Japanese New Wave towards its epoch. To paraphrase Nagisa Oshima (who was greatly inspired by this debut effort), "the sound of the motorboats and the ripping of the woman's skirt heralded the sound of a new Japanese cinema."

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