TEENAGE YAKUZA (1962)
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
A student accidentally finds himself as the protector of his community when he stands up against the K-Club Yakuza gang that are terrorising and extorting money from the town’s businesses.
TEENAGE YAKUZA is the third film in Arrow Video’s Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years Vol. 1 collection and follows the story of two teenage boys, Jiro and Yoshio, who are targeted by young hoodlums belonging to Mr Kobayashi’s youth Yakuza gang, K-Club. After a brawl involving the two, Yoshio is badly injured by one of the Yakuza members, leaving him a cripple, however instead of being angry at his aggressors, he’s talked into joining the Yakuza gang that maimed him. Well, you’ve heard of that old saying, “if you can’t beat them, join them” and that’s exactly what Yoshio decides to do.
Bewildered by his friend’s choice to join the Yakuza, Jiro attempts to get on with his studies and part-time job but when the Yakuza gang up their game by threatening the local businesses, it’s Jiro who stands up to them. Beating them all single-handedly, Jiro finds himself as the town’s protector with businesses happy to give him stock and money as a goodwill for his good deeds in keeping the streets and shops free of the Yakuza but where does this put his relationship with former best friend, Yoshio?
Back to a more serious tone following the cheerful circus antics of Wind-of-Youth Group, TEENAGE YAKUZA pits the two sides against one another with a friendship on the line. Can good (Jiro) triumph the evil of the K-Club who’ll do anything they can to extort money out of the hardworking business owners? It certainly seems an uphill task when the fear of the young Yakuza gang seems to sweep through the tight-knit community. Frightened of having their businesses smashed up and forced to feed the bellies of Kobayashi’s gang free of charge, the business owners aren’t exactly fond of the K-Club but feel they have no choice but to submit to the young hooligans. Good-hearted Jiro is simply caught up in it all after a lucky win at the races turns his and Yoshio’s luck into something sour. A weak-willed Yoshio seems too caught up in his own loss that instead of being angry with the K-Club who attacked him, he vents his anger at the one person who cares about him more than anything in the world: Jiro.
A true test of friendship, TEENAGE YAKUZA is more than just a youth crime film. It shows the lengths that one person will go to to keep hold of a relationship they hold so dear even if one party is too bitter to appreciate it. This plays out in its back and forth between the two parties with Jiro being the only person in the entire town to stay true to himself. The way in which opinion changes throughout the town is frustrating to watch, both as a viewer and for Jiro, as you feel like screaming at the screen to knock some sense into these people who seem too easy to break. Instead, they make out like Jiro is the one who needs to see the error of his ways even though is it they themselves who are guilty of placing their trust in the wrong people: the yakuza.
The film’s plot is fairly straightforward, as it seems to be in most of these movies by Suzuki, though curiously the film opts for an immature approach rather than a serious one, as though it’s being seen through the eyes of one of the lead characters. This is perfectly displayed with the arrival of K-Club, where the whole town turns into some sort of playground with even the adults acting like children caught up in high school rivalries. Just like in any playground up and down the country, there’s the girl who cries “FIGHT!” to draw onlookers to the neighbourhood brawl; a girl who’s fickle opinion of Jiro depends on whether he’s winning against the Yakuza or not.
Whilst an enjoyable film for the most part, I found the pacing to be a bit disruptive when compared with Suzuki’s earlier films. A case of sudden editing has the story flitting from one location to the next with no fluid narrative transitions which ultimately stifles the flow and momentum of the story being told. It still remains a comprehensive piece but just one that seems to stumble rather than glide through its screenplay.
Though a weaker entry compared to the other instalments in the Suzuki series, TEENAGE YAKUZA still retains the youthful enthusiasm seen in his other early movies. The heart and positive message remains the same with love and belief triumphing any obstacle that may try to block its path.
Part of the Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years Vol. 1 Collection