This is one of the Yakuza movies made during the height of Seijun Suzuki's run at Nikkatsu Studios. It's not as abstract as the later stuff but it's just as brilliant. It can't be stressed enough that though he made "entertainment films" he did it with a vengeance. I've seen four of his films so far, ranging from 1958 to 1967, and they're all strikingly original. From this period 'Tokyo Drifter' seems to get more press than 'Youth of the Beast' (both star Jo Shisido) but I'll take this one. The colors and the composition of the wide-screen images draw you in, while the violence and the narrative jags keep you guessing. Highly recommended both for both its artistry and its energy, if you like gangster movies here's one for you.The plot revolves around Jo, a tough ex-con with a mysterious past who shows up and deftly goes to work for rival Yakuza bosses. He immediately pits them against each other and starts raking in as much money as he can. However, it soon becomes clear that he has ulterior motives involving a string of call-girls operated by one of the bosses. Literally no one is safe when he starts clawing his way toward the center of the web.
Joji 'Jo' Mizuno is a tough guy who walks into the lives of two rival crime gangs, playing each against the other for his own financial benefit, both are eager to have him working for them, but both will ultimately regret their decision, when his real motives are revealed. A fascinating crime story based on the novel by Haruhiko Oyabu, that pulls you in instantly, a story that reveals itself only little by little. Suzuki's film is also a pleasure to the eye, the glorious use of colours gives the film a vibrancy that when combined with the demented jazzy score, gives the film an overall pop art feel. The characters are all cool as hell and immaculately well dressed, the Tokyo street scenes are a pleasure to see in full colour, certainly the best use of urban Tokyo I've seen since House of Bamboo. Overall this is a thoroughly entertaining crime flick with pulp overtones, it may not be strong on violence but its certainly not to be missed.
"Youth of the Beast" begins with what appears to be a double suicide--a cop and his mistress. However, this will play an important part in the film later. In the meantime, the ultra-cool Japanese actor, Jo Shishido, plays Jo Mizuno--a guy who is super-tough and wants to join one of the yakuza gangs. Hwever, he obviously has something up his sleeve, as he soon joins the rival gang--and soon he begins pitting them against each other. In many ways, this plays like a non-comedic version of Kurasawa's 1961 classic "Yojimbo"--as a crafty guy manages to gain the trust of both gangs in order to bring them down. The big question is why? Why does J constantly risk his life and what does this have to do with the two dead folks at the film's beginning? Because there are rival gangs and lots of betrayals, the film can get a bit confusing--especially at the end when everyone seems to be shooting everyone! These scum naturally don't wear uniforms so sometimes I did have a bit of trouble keeping track of who is who. Still, it is a very good gangster film--one that has plenty of action and the usual Shishido level of coolness. Well crafted and exciting--plus learning who was behind everything--that was a pretty fifty twist!
One of Suzuki's best films. The scenes behind the one-way glass in the nightclub make for some brilliant camera angles. Joe Shishido turns in another fine performance as a brutish thug with a secret agenda. If you are a fan of 60's era violent gangster type cinema don't pass this up!
I think one of the aspects of Youth of the Beast, the late genre- filmmaker master Seijun Suzuki's breakthrough, to take into account is that the story moves at a breathless pace. It's not that it is a story that is hard to follow - there are a good many characters to get to know, and after a black and white prologue (though at first I wasn't sure if it was a 'show-end-at-beginning' thing before going into full color for the majority of the film), we're put right into the physical space of this seemingly violent thug played by J? Shishido (also named Jo here, good call) - it's that Suzuki, I think, is not so much interested in the story as in how a film MOVES. After all, it is a movie, right? Let's get that motion picture moving and vibrant and with energy. This is like a shotgun blast of 60's crime cinema that makes us feel a lot of things through a lot of intense visual choreography of the frame and what is in it (i.e. the old Scorsese axiom, cinema being a matter of what's in the frame and what's out, is paramount to Suzuki)/Youth of the Beast is not necessarily the most remarkable film as far as the story goes, and I'm sure there have been other Yakuza films and other gangster thrillers that have similarities; in a sense this isn't unlike Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars/Red Harvest, though this time the main character has more of a motive than in that story. What's remarkable is the direction and how the tone is brutal and yet it's staged in some creative ways. There's times when you know a character is about to lunge at someone else, or that we get a piece of visual information like a knife being held under a table or somewhere else, before that character lunges and strikes. Other times it's more about how he'll pan the camera, like when the car full of the one crime family gets ambushed by another car (the music cue here is especially, terribly exhilarating, and the rest of the score has a wonderful jazz rhythm to it), and when we see those faces of the guys with their masks on and how he pushes in.Hell, even just how Suzuki uses color cinematography is impressive, all of those reds (the woman being whipped on the carpet), and how he'll have a backdrop like at the movie theater where the Yakuza do some of their business and a film screen projecting some movie or other is in the background of the frame. It feels like one of those moments where post-modernism is creeping in to Japanese cinema, and of course Suzuki would continue making such advances with Tokyo Drifter and particularly Branded to Kill. The movie is hard and rough, violent and the characters' motivations - well, I should say Jo, who is basically undercover playing one side and then another until it's an all-out war - are intense enough that the cast rises above what could be basic (even boiler-plate) B-movie pulp. I don't know how much input Suzuki had on the script, but he knows how to keep his actors moving and being interesting, whether it's Jo, who is the stand-out of the film, or his 'friend' who has a thing for the ladies. This is pulp Japanese cinematic excellence, all feeding off of a vision that is unique.