There's nothing quite so frustrating as a satire that totally doesn't work. "Fighting Elegy" is supposed to be some kind of brilliant attack on, I dunno, machismo or militarism or whatever, at least according to film critics and scholars. Funny, isn't it, that I interpreted this thing as a really poorly made and juvenile film about a bratty kid who gets into a lot of fistfights (rather like a Z-grade version of "Fight Club," which is also overrated).
Where do I start complaining about this film? The character development of our poorly acted protagonist is very minimal. We know that he's in love with a girl named Michiko, though we don't really know why, because he has zero chemistry with her. Because he can't have Michiko, our hero works out his frustrations by getting into a series of totally unconvincing - yet still rather violent and borderline sadistic - fights. The fights come with comedy sound effects, reminiscent of the Adam West Batman (THWACK! POW! ARRGH!) Every once in a while, the director tosses some Catholic imagery into the mix, like a crucifix with a big spotlight on it. What does all this mean? I'm afraid my poor brain was not up to the task of unpacking imagery of such, um, depth. I just thought it was pretentious.
Despite the fact that the film is quite short, it's repetitive and draggy, as the hero constantly gets into fights and then gets into trouble for having the fights. My interest was somewhat sustained by some good imagery - like the two "lovers" holding hands through a rip in a shoji screen - but a few good images do not a good film make. And, as is common with director Suzuki's pictures, the editing is so scatterbrained that I often had trouble following the action. (Shortly after making this film, Suzuki was sacked by his studio for making incomprehensible films. Some critics think this was a tragedy, but I'd have been tempted to fire the guy too.)
I suppose I'm being too hard on this movie, because it at least tries to be distinctive. But "Fighting Elegy" happens to belong to a sub-genre of cinema that I particularly dislike; it pretends to lampoon and condemn violence (I guess), but also seems to celebrate violence at the same time, and in the end I thought its message was garbled beyond comprehension. Honestly, I'm really not sure why Donald Richie, a usually razor-sharp critic of Japanese film, is so fond of Suzuki and his work; I much prefer the quiet dramatic force of an Ozu movie, or even the pop culture bliss of a Godzilla extravaganza, to a lurid and tacky film like this one.