THE INCORRIGIBLE (1963)
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Expelled bad boy Togo is sent from Kobe city to the countryside to attend school and learn some manners but in his resistance to conform to society’s standards, he falls in love with a beautiful local girl.
Shying away from the Yakuza theme, the fourth film in Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years Vol. 1 collection THE INCORRIGIBLE focuses on a young delinquent who unexpectedly finds a future in the place he’s been banished to.
Despite being a bright, young man, Togo Konno (Ken Yamauchi) finds himself leading a rebellious life. Being expelled from his school in Kobe, Togo becomes too much to handle for his mother and, with his father away at sea, she decides the only way she can set her son on the right path is to send him to the rural village of Toyooka where a school headmaster has kindly agreed to take in Togo and straighten him out. Dressed in his hakama, Togo sticks out like a sore thumb and he’s not too fond of fitting in either. His disregard for rules and conforming make him a prime target for the school’s Public Morals Unit; a band of senior high school students who enforce rules and codes of conduct they deem should be adhered to with physical violence as a punishment. One of their strict rules is that girls and boys should not mix nor spend time with one another so when Togo falls for the doctor’s daughter, Emiko Okumura (Masako Izumi), he must be careful not to be publicly seen, especially when a member of the Public Morals Unit fancies her too.
Relationships seem so taboo in Japanese films of this era and I can only assume that this accurately reflected the culture back then. Respect and honour is a huge part of Japan and their movies, so I would guess that during the more conservative time, that both sexes mixing prior to high school graduation would have been seen as something depraved or immoral. For Togo though, nothing is immoral with loving a girl and instantly wants to know more about Emiko, a girl he admires from afar. He even goes to the lengths of buying and reading Strindberg’s The Red Room after discovering Emiko has purchased the book too from the local bookseller. His passion to bond over literature – another thing the Public Morals Unit disapproves of – strikes a chord with Emiko and quickly the two hit it off. However, with the outside world quick to banish any teenage romance, the two have to keep their love for each other under wraps as best they can with a little help from Emiko’s best friend, Yoshi (Midori Tashiro).
THE INCORRIGIBLE is a charming coming-of-age movie which highlights the struggles of two youngsters who blossom in a repressed society where it’s fine for the local doctor to be fondling the nurses but not for his daughter to be seeing a boy. Togo’s attitude towards this life is one fuelled with unruly passion and a will to write his own path instead of conforming to others. I think it’s this what interests Emiko though the two know they are on borrowed time as their relationship flourishes and it becomes harder and harder to wander around the village without the residents noticing their liaisons.
Whilst much of the story is serious in nature, it is without a helping of humour as we see Togo’s supposed sexual discovery in a flashback where he recounts his tale of sexual awakening with a geisha – not that she wanted paying though. Compared to the other boys his age and even those in the year above, Togo is more aware of the world, emotions and life than his rural peers. His take on the world even inspires one of the seniors to break away from the Public Morals Unit and pursue his own love interest – the farmer’s daughter.
Heartwarming yet emotional, THE INCORRIGIBLE is a drama chock full of attitude that isn’t afraid of pulling on the heart strings.
The film is available as part of the Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years Vol. 1 collection