Fighting Delinquents Review
When Seijun Suzuki was still friends with Nikkatsu he made a lot of movies, which did well for them. In 1960 they were so happy that they let him use colour film stock and then after seeing Fighting Delinquents Nikkatsu executives probably turned to each other and said “Oh shit, what have we done?” They carried on with him regardless for a while, but by this point he was already cementing his reputation as an unorthodox director.
Based upon an original story by Hara Kenzaburo, Fighting Delinquents takes place on Awaji Island, situated off the coast of Kobe, and tells the story of Matsudaira Sadao (Wada Koji) - a seventeen year old orphan who works for Mr. Soma, the boss of a billboard company. When Soma is killed by a hit and run driver, Sadao and his friends - including Soma’s daughter Miyo (Nezu Ryoko) - are offered a payoff by a man named Odaira (Utsumi Toppa), who works for Nanjo (Kindo Hiroshi), boss of Far East Tourism. Enraged by this, Sadao tracks down Nanjo and tells him that he won’t accept his offer, and that the truth will come out about Nanjo’s involvement.
Meanwhile, an elderly gentleman by the name of Izeki Sanshiro (Takashina Kaku) has been searching for Sadao for quite some time. When he eventually locates him he tells the boy that he is the counsel and retainer of the Matsudaira clan and that Sadao is its rightful heir. He insists that that Sadao leave his friends behind and join him in meeting his mother, but when Sadao arrives he realises that he’s been deceived. He in fact meets Lady Ikuyo (Hosokawa Chikako) - the clan matriarch. His friends encourage him to leave, citing a better life as a reason. He does so, and eventually he becomes wrapped up in his new life, making friends with Izeki’s daughter Kazuko (Shimizu Mayumi) and Lady Ikuyo’s brother Mizoguchi Kanjuro (Ozawa Eitaro). But Mizoguchi is a bit of a scheming rat and soon enough his ties with the Yakuza are made apparent when he begins to inform of Sadao’s plan to build a youth hostel for foreigners. Elsewhere, Sadao’s mother (Higashi Emiko) waits silently in the background, but unfortunately she happens to be part of boss Nanjo’s life.
It could be said that perhaps Fighting Delinquents was a defining moment in the career of a then 37 year old Seijun Suzuki. The sudden change of palette gave Suzuki an opportunity to express himself in unusual ways, even ensuring that he could turn the most routine script into celluloid of great artistic merit. That would later be his undoing toward the end of the sixties as far as Nikkatsu was concerned, but we’ll save such discussion for another time. Fighting Delinquents provided something of a breeding ground for Suzuki; it exhibits familiar hallmarks, but clearly teeters on wanting more. Far from being a showcase in line with some of his more surreal works it does however show a flair for the “abnormal” from time to time. In setting up contrasts between the young and old, as Japan heads toward a new age, Suzuki makes distinct elaborations, whereby he uses light and colour to signify burgeoning changes and social attitudes. Now Suzuki has gone on record in the past by saying that he never intends to reach out to his audience with blatant social commentaries, but regardless, perhaps inadvertently, he succeeds on a level that not even could he could begin to conceive - and it’s all so well timed of course. With heavy emphasis being placed on western influences and pop culture, he address social divides, not only between Japan and the U.S., but also between particular generations who cling on to their much valued traditions. In doing so at times he transforms this fairly rudimentary looking picture into a boundlessly energetic piece of work: in what would become a long standing tradition of his he uses swathes of colour, intriguing camera warps, quick-cutting narrative techniques, music, singing and dancing to either divide or bring together his characters for the greater good of his vision. In many respects Suzuki seems to treat Fighting Delinquents as a kind of play thing; like a child with a new toy he eagerly fiddles about and sees just how far he can go with it. A stand-out moment during the “Little Transistor Chick” scene shows him ignoring logic: he sees some kaleidoscopic colours and simply uses them in highlighting a conversation, switching colour tints to wring out as much eye-candied drama as possible. A Completely random gesture it appears, but an unmistakable character trait all the same.
These moments though are too few between and underneath it all Fighting Delinquents is considerably formulaic in terms of how its narrative plays out; there’s barely an ounce of originality in the handling of a young orphaned teenager who wants to make a better life for himself and those around, while plot twists are all too forthcoming, and once more stock Yakuza types are used as obvious foils. It is often fun though, and it uses humour to subtle effect, while illustrating the importance of family values, which culminates with a rather wholesome, if not melodramatic finale - oh, but not before climactic sequence, in which Sadao takes on several Yakuza in a fist fight, which seems to echo one or two John Wayne movies. But the cast is uniformly good, given the circumstances in which they appear. This film was primarily designed as a vehicle for heartthrob Wada Koji, who would also provide a couple of songs, and to his credit he does a fine job as one of the few characters in the film that actually has any scruples and a real sense of honour, with plenty of slithering and snivelling folk fleeting in and out of the picture. And Wada pretty much owns the piece, with a large majority of secondary and tertiary players being given very little room to breathe, aside from Ozawa Eitaro, Higashi Emiko and Hosokawa Chikau who get a few good scenes to work with.
Yume Pictures gets quite a scoop by being the first company to release Fighting Delinquents on DVD. I have to say that I really like what Yume has done with the sleeve work. They’ve essentially used the original Japanese poster art for their Seijun Suzuki titles and added some text here and there. They certainly look striking though, and I wish more distributors would use original art in some form for their releases.
Sadly, Fighting Delinquents is given quite a troubled transferred. Shot in 2.35:1 it’s presented with its original aspect ratio intact, but it has been denied anamorphic treatment and is another NTSC-PAL job. And things generally get worse: the film doesn’t appear to have undergone any remastering, showing some wear and tear throughout; furthermore it’s a little soft and washed out (which kinda goes against Suzuki’s vibrant style) and is literally thick with aliasing which shows up dramatically on clothing and various surfaces such as tables and buildings. Dot crawl mars the opening credits more so than anywhere else, while blacks and contrasts levels are passable. It’s certainly watchable, but films of this importance deserve far better treatment.
The Japanese mono is a little better and provides pretty much what we can expect for a film of its age. There’s some minor background noise, but dialogue is consistently clear, if a little tinny at times, while Seitaro Ohmori’s tantalising and eclectic score is given plenty of life.
Optional English subtitles are included and very good they are too, featuring opening credit and song translations as well. Timing is good and there are no errors to report.
Extra features are few. On the reverse side of the DVD cover is an essay from Suzuki expert Tony Rayns, who has also supplied some fine audio commentaries in the past for Eureka. He offers some nice insights and facts about the film, such as the opening theme song being a first draft of the theme used in Suzuki’s later Tokyo Drifter. On the disc itself are two lots of trailer reels: one for Yume’s Seijun Suzuki Collection and the other for their Yasuzo Masumura films.
Seijun Suzuki’s first colour feature is a lightweight affair, but the director does manage to succeed in raising it beyond expectations with some unabashed and memorable experimental techniques. Regardless of its predictable plot it’s still a film worth checking out for those curious in seeing how Suzuki would later expand upon his unique ideas.
Last updated: 08/06/2018 15:55:55