‘Youth of the Beast’ – Yakuza cinema out of control on Criterion Channel

Youth of the Beast (Japan, 1963), Seijun Suzuki’s delirious take on pulp gangster films blows the lid off the genre with mad energy and stylistic excess.

It opens in somber B&W with a single color element—a pink flower laying on the floor— and explodes into bright color, blaring music, and random violence. From there Suzuki twists a cliché riddled revenge plot lifted from Akira Kurasawa’s Yojimbo (which also inspired Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars) into a wild yakuza explosion.

Chipmunk-cheeked Suzuki regular Jo Shishido hides behind dark glasses as the brutal thug Jo, who auditions for the Nomota mob boss by beating up underlings in his own nightclub. Quickly establishing himself as the outfit’s most ruthless debt collector and enforcer, he visits a rival gang (headquartered in a loft overlooking a movie house) and before long is playing the two against one another.

The tangled plot also involving the Nomota honcho’s gay brother, a scheme against his sixth wife, and the mysterious Takeshita School of Knitting, all set at a barreling pace and spiced with jagged narrative leaps, avant-garde riffs and glowing colorscapes that would make Douglas Sirk jealous. Suzuki has the audience watch a mob beating from behind soundproof glass while a go-go dancer shimmies in the foreground and in one bizarre scene he sends a raging wind whipping an amber-hued desert into a surreal dust storm just outside the picture window of the Nomota boss’s living room window as he blithlely flogs his mistress.

Suzuki’s cinematic madness finds its culmination in Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Branded to Kill (1967).

In Japanese with English subtitles

Add to My List on Criterion Channel

It’s part of the “Directed by Seijun Suzuki” collection

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Youth of the Beast (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]

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The Criterion DVD features original trailer and a 6-page fold-out insert with an essay by film critic Howard Hampton.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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