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It's hardly original to portray a callous young generation that has rejected all tradition and lives in violent hedonism without any moral compass. But when a society has undergone an upheaval, that old story starts to ring especially true. Shintaro Ishihara became somewhat of a star in postwar Japan with a series of short stories that explored precisely this subject. Some of them were quickly made into films, of which Crazed Fruit is one. Its shock value may have diminished over the years, but it still has a powerful dark sensuality that hasn't dated at all.
Ishihara's writing tends toward a Mishima-like discursive style, but this film is terse and believable. Two brothers, the sons of some shady businessman or other, arrive at their summer home. They spend the days in idleness, lounging around in their house or their boat, and hanging out with their drinking, gambling friends. The friends like to flaunt their modernity and disdain for tradition in conversation. But the film finds the right note for these dialogues -- the boys talk like arrogant, pseudo-intellectual young men, not like philosophically inclined writers. They talk in order to demonstrate their swagger, without putting too much thought into the content. I actually wish that the relations between the boys were a little more developed in the film, since it catches this atmosphere of bravado so well.
The distinctions between the brothers are what one would expect from this story. The older brother is an accomplished rake and debaucher, and likes to brag about his conquests to everyone within earshot. The younger brother is naive and inexperienced, but wants to emulate his brother's cool image. But the film's depiction of these standard character types captures a few details that make them much more real. First of all, the brothers are not the chiseled movie-star types that represent Decadent Youth in French and Italian films of that time. The younger brother is handsome, but in an ordinary way, and has the boyish, sullen awkwardness of someone who just started thinking about girls instead of sports. The older brother is fairly plain in appearance, and relies entirely on his confident sneer to impress girls. But his confidence is largely an act, and when something happens that he doesn't know how to deal with, the sneer vanishes and he looks lost. It becomes clear -- much clearer than in, say, Antonioni's L'Avventura -- that these youths are not really ready for the cool and independent lifestyle that they claim for themselves.
Of course, the story needs a beautiful girl. As expected, the younger brother falls for her, but it turns out that she has a dark secret, and so on, and everything ends badly. But the film's portrayal of the girl is also interesting. In keeping with the archetype, she is older than the boy, and much more experienced. But she's not the cold, selfish, androgynous seductress of the French New Wave. She's very girlish and feminine, without the ideological exhibitionism of the boys. She is unhappy, but does not ostentatiously display her unhappiness to her lovers, unlike the New Wave heroines. Her unhappiness is not thought out at all -- she's just very confused, and ready to fall in love with anyone who shows her the least affection. It's clear that she is not intentionally deceiving the younger brother, that she really loves him. When the older brother goes after her, she feels that it's wrong and objects, but she is drawn to him anyway, despite herself.
That's the endearing thing about Ishihara's work -- his characters are nihilistic and arrogant on the surface, but deep down, they're all sentimental romantics. The cool, cynical older brother decides to play around with the girl, but quickly finds himself in over his head. The younger brother wants to be cool and cynical, but instead falls in what he thinks is true love. The girl seems like a knowing, mysterious vamp, but is actually sweet and vulnerable. She's not really any wiser than the boys.
The ending is suitably gloomy, but it's the one unsatisfying part of the film. I could see the young man bottling up his anger and hating the girl and his brother, but still, she's his first love and he can't imagine life without her -- I'd think he'd probably just break under the pressure and ignominiously crawl after her, desperately begging for affection. But, well, Ishihara was not a subtle writer, and he wanted chaos to befall his overreaching, prematurely adult characters. And there was the shock value to consider. Then again, any other ending would have probably been just as unsatisfying. In reality, this kind of story could have no ending, just a very long, painful and tedious decline. This way, at least it reflects the film's overall dark tone.
But that tone is very affecting. The scene where the younger brother takes the girl to a secluded grotto after the party is brimming with passion. There is a yearning feeling throughout the film, and it's especially strong when the setting appears casual. Like when the boy goes looking for the older brother, and finds him and his friends in a house with lazy, half-dressed girls. That languid indolence, in that radiant sunshine, is overwhelmingly intoxicating to a young man who on one hand has too much free time, and on the other hand is not confident or cynical enough to enter the world he idolizes. With the film's luxuriant setting and energetic pacing, the story becomes a forceful evocation of hungry, insecure desire.