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Crazed Fruit (Criterion Collection)

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Crazed Fruit ushered in a new era for Japanese cinema. Shot in 17 days (extravagant by Nikkatsu Studio standards), the film's strong language, intimations of casual sex, and complete disregard for authority, would unsettle an entire nation, while blazing a path for the likes of Seijun Suzuki and Nagisa Oshima. (Even François Truffaut was impressed.) It begins one leisurely summer as brothers Natsuhisa (Yujiro Ishihara) and Haruji (Oshima star Masahiko Tsugawa) sail, water-ski, and make "boredom their credo''--until both fall for the married Eri (Ishihara’s future wife, Mie Kitahara). In short order, boredom will be replaced by tragedy. Inventively lensed by Shigeyoshi Mine (Tokyo Drifter), Ko Nakahira's controversial debut was the centerpiece of a 1956 trio of taiyozoku, or "Sun Tribe," films about affluent youth written by novelist-turned-politician Shintaro Ishihara (Yujiro's brother). The suitably dark and jazzy score is by Kurosawa vets Masaru Sato (Yojimbo) and Toru Takemitsu (Ran). --Kathleen C. Fennessy

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 15 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Stylized, Over-the-Top Look at a Love Triangle Among Bored Youth July 23 2005
By Ed Uyeshima - Published on
Format: DVD
It's ironic that this movie has an establishing scene in the Kamakura train station, the same locale used by master director Yasujiro Ozu in his classic home dramas, "Late Spring" and "Early Summer". But that's where the similarity ends, as this jazz-infused, troubled-youth 1956 film is truly the antithesis of Ozu - tawdry, explicit and in-your-face. If you were to watch this movie solely on the basis of the campy trailer that comes with the Criterion Collection DVD, you would think you were going to watch something quite cheesy and exploitative similar to the cheapjack American teenage rebellion films of the period like "High School Confidential" and "The Beat Generation" - all raging hormones, James Dean wannabes, pervasive use of back projection, deep shadows and saucy saxophone riffs. To some degree, you would be right, but first-time director Kô Nakahira seems more inspired by French New Wave in his use of jump cuts and handheld camera shots. The stylistic touches and then-shocking sexual frankness do elevate this low-budget film but from my perspective, not really at the level that film scholar Donald Richie would have you believe in his informative commentary.

The story revolves around two restless brothers - older, predatory Natsuhisa and virginal, self-righteous Haruji - who battle over a mysterious girl named Eri, seemingly innocent and ideal at first but a more decadent character emerges as the plot unfolds. There are lots of scenes of bored, immoral youth with cash to burn and no aspirations beyond water skiing and getting drunk and laid. The love triangle inevitably leads to tragic, almost Baroque consequences in its brief, 86-minute running time with some surprisingly effective camera angles tightening the vise of the characters' illicit behavior. The performances seem rather derivative of American icons like Clift and Dean though effective within this context - Masahiko Tsugawa effortlessly brings out the teen angst in Haruji, Yujirô Ishihara portrays the jaded horn dog that Natsuhisa has become with abandon and a certain élan, and pretty Mie Kitahara does manage to elicit sympathy to a character that seems to reveal one moral weakness after another. I have to admit the over-the-top elements are what makes this film memorable - the great title, the foreboding clarinet solos and twangy Hawaiian guitars of Masaru Sato's and Toru Takemitsu's insinuating score; Masumi Okada as Frank, a half-white, half-Japanese observer of the brotherly unraveling (and by default, the film's moral conscience); and the extended and truly suspenseful circling boat sequence at the end. Definitely take a look if you want a peek at the nihilistic youth culture of mid-1950's Japan, certainly a universal theme during that period.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A movie that "wow-ed" me... Sept. 8 2006
By Thomas D. Feeps - Published on
Format: DVD
This review is for the Criterion Collection Edition:

I won't go into the plot, since that seems to have been covered fairly accurately and completely by others. I will say that within moments of watching the open scene with Haruji speeding along in his boat, the jazzy background music playing in the background, I was hooked. The movie is full of fascinating camera movements, music, and acting. The characters are selfish, decadent, and rebellious... and yet we somehow feel sympathetic for them, even before it leads to disaster.

I was certain I'd go searching for more films by Director Ko Nakahira, but according to the fantastic commentary by Donald Richie, after this commercially and critically successful film, he was forced to make standard dribble by the studios. That's a shame, because this is a film where he obviously took risks with the camera, dialogue, and sexual innnuendo. Richie's commentary helps the Western viewer put a lot of the movie into context, explaining Japanese social and film-making trends at the time as well the fate of the major actors. I was dying to know why the car was right hand-drive though, and he never answered that one!

The essays included in the Criterion set are also insightful for putting the movie into context, although none of this "context placing" material is necessary. Watch the movie and you'll find yourself feeling nostalgic for the late 50's in Japan--a time and place I doubt most knew about before.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Fruit Punch Aug. 14 2005
By Vince Perrin - Published on
Format: DVD
Before this movie, anti-social behavior, defiance of authority, family dysfunction, dissolute youth, unpunished violence, immorality and sexual promiscuity, even kissing, were not seen on Japanese screens. So in 1956 when it was released, just as James Dean was rebelling in America and the New Wave washing over Europe, "Crazed Fruit" became a cause celebre in Japan, filling theatres, creating a short-lived genre and influencing future filmmakers. Seen today, we may appreciate its "daring" attitudes, editing and cinematography while at the same time containing our impatience as all the familiarities play themselves out.

At a seaside resort, a jaded youth and his innocent brother lust after a young woman who is married to an older American and who is a human cypher. The brotherly triangle is resolved with two murders, but not before a really chilling sequence in which a speedboat repeatedly circles a sailboat. This story, a tad homoerotic and (unbeknownst) told in flashback, may be cliché but the details were new to Japanese audiences (water-skiing! sunbathing! pair dancing!) and owe much to European and American movies; note the homages to George Stevens' "A Place in the Sun" (water sports, sudden swooping close-ups, that radio on the dock.)

By issuing this DVD, The Criterion Collection rightly assigns the picture its proper place in the pantheon of world cinema. Film historian Donald Richie, in his informed commentary, maybe makes more of its relevance than the movie actually earns; a second viewing with Richie is oddly more rewarding than a first viewing without him. That's because period context is crucial to our interest. "Crazed Fruit" was a breakthrough in the evolution of Japanese filmmaking; thanks to it, the movies that came after were more complex, innovative and sophisticated.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Raw reality Aug. 16 2005
By D. Thomas Hardison - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Having lived in Japan for seven years, and taught at a fine University during that time, I saw many young people who were on the fringe of society....even now, and it was unnerving to see the total disregard for others in this film so early after the war. That attitude is still prevalent in Japan.

The fact that the attitude seems rather universal in Western societies, and increasingly all Asian societies as well, the young people grow into adulthood, keeping their adolescence.

It surely fosters the ME, ME, ME behavior and makes real human compassion difficult in light of this obsessive selfishness.

I cringe at some of the scenes in the film because it is such raw reality. Beautiful people doing not so beautiful things,

is a fascination for many people, so I think the film will be an interesting wake up call for our present time.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Japan's "Sun Tribe" Jan. 1 2006
By Zack Davisson - Published on
Format: DVD
The children of post-War Japan were a "lost generation." Having not known the suffering and hardships of their parents, and cut free from the rigid social codes that had dominated Japanese life for centuries, codes now abolished by the American occupiers, this "Sun Tribe" were an aimless, decedent bunch, lacking guidance or self-direction. Their world and their parent's world were just too different, a generation gap almost impossible to comprehend. On one side, war, desperate poverty and militarism, on the other Western freedoms, abundance and selfishness.

Nakahiran Kô's "Crazed Fruit" ("Kurutta kajitsu") was the first film to explore these children, projecting their lifestyle and discontent onto the screen for all to see. Based on famed author (and current governor of Tokyo) Ishihara Shintaro's story, the sex, rough language and blind selfishness (the ultimate crime under the previous generation's Confusion code) was like a bomb in the minds of the viewing public. A new genre was born, and other films followed in suit, like Oshima Nagisa's "Cruel Story of Youth." These films are the parents of "Battle Royale" and "Suicide Circle," which still peer into the discontent of modern Japanese youth-culture.

Aside form its political and societal ramifications, "Crazed Fruit" is just a good film. Raw and beautiful, the actors clench the story in their fists and squeeze the juice. A nice blend of the subtlety of which Japanese film is so famous, blended with an unusual dynamism and sharpness. The music is almost all Hawaiian ukulele, and there is a large presence of English-speaking Westerners, something almost unheard of in Japanese film. Both of these lending a strange atmosphere to the Japanese setting.

The Criterion DVD is splendid, with an improved subtitle track that makes good use of the slang and colloquialisms so important to the youth dialog. Donald Richie, the Dean of Japanese film, gives an insightful commentary, as always. The booklet, with two separate essays, helps put the film into perspective in Japanese society.