Seijun Suzuki's Youth of the Beast is a vicious little bastard of a movie, a two-fisted tale of Technicolor testosterone that swings to a mad vibe of jazz, violence, and revenge. Set in the seedy underworld of Yakuza gang wars, Suzuki's 1963 film is a testament to style and excess; the movie is a striking kaleidoscope of music, color, and attitude. There is a story here, and a compelling one at that, but it is more than a little bit obfuscated by its explosive sense of presentation.
And that in itself presents what is probably considered by many to be the movie's major flaw.Youth of the Beast is unapologetically an exercise in attitude and cinematic flair, at the expense of narrative clarity and streamlined delineation of plot. I disagree with the assessment that plot is "difficult to follow" or, perhaps even worse, "inconsequential"; while the sizzle is the clearly the star of the show, there's more than enough steak here to satisfy the most carnivorous of cinephiles. Underneath all of the magnificent scene compositions, bravura camera angles, gonzo representations of sex and violence, and stylish bursts of color and scene is a fairly straightforward and compelling revenge story.
Shaking up the status quo of the yakuza scene is a tough scrapper named Jo (Joe Shishido). He hits the streets with a vengeance, roughing up random gang members, pounding faces with his fists, and smacking goons around - pretty much just for the hell of it. These random outbursts of violence eventually lead him to the inner lair of the Nomoto gang, led by boss Hideo Nomoto (Tamio Kawaji). Impressed by Jo's brashness and ability to get things done with little more than two fists, a gun, and a truckload of attitude, Nomoto recruits Jo almost immediately. Yet in a Yojimbo-like plot turn, Jo also begins working for a rival gang, working both sides against the middle in order to further his own agenda. Jo is a former cop, hunting down those responsible for the murder of his former partner, who was found dead with a call-girl in an apparent double-suicide. Smelling a frame-up, he infiltrates the underworld with a searing, frenzied vengeance, determined to avenge his former partner's death.
Youth of the Beast is something of a film noir filtered through Technicolor vibrancy, jazzed up with a bouncy score and drenched with hallucinatory imagery and flourishes of cinematic excess. At ninety-minutes in length, the film neither seems too abrupt nor overstays it welcome. Without an inch of flab or superfluous filler, Youth of the Beast flies at a breakneck pace, moving like lightning while at the same time taking the time to explore its characters and storyline. But while the story is certainly more than compelling enough (especially the slam-bang resolution of the murder mystery, which still has me maliciously grinning from ear-to-tear as I type this), it is the vibe in which Suzuki infuses his crime drama that makes Youth of the Beast so infinitely memorable. The glorification of the non sequitur has never been so breezy and alluringly portrayed on film, before or since.
Youth of the Beastis presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and has been anamorphically enhanced for your
widescreen-viewing enjoyment. The magical elves at Criterion have struck a
brand-new transfer for this DVD derived from the original camera negative and
restored to near-cinematic perfection. This transfer is gorgeous, saturated with
glorious Technicolor hues and free of excessive debris and print wear. This
transfer is crystal clear and sharp, only limited by the age of the source
material. There is no noticeable compression noise, pixellation, or
edge-enhancement. Contrasts are sharp and black-levels exhibit fine depth.
There's a little weakness in shadow detail but evidence of such is localized to
perhaps two scenes. Criterion has provided a knockout presentation of one of
cinema's most visually innovative
The extras on this disc include the film's theatrical trailer and 14-minutes of interviews with director Seijun Suzuki and actor Joe Shishido. The interviews, filmed in 2001, are fairly interesting and provide for some brief but fascinating insights into the film's production.
Replete with drugs, sex, violence, and gang warfare, Youth of the Beast is a beast of film in itself, a stylish jazz-club bar fight during which you don't know exactly who you're fighting against, but it makes for some awesome spectacle. Criterion's presentation of Suzuki's punch-drunk crime thriller demonstrates the company's lifelong commitment to showing classic films in the best possible manner - the movie simply looks spectacular. While the extras are slight, the quality of the film and its sparkling transfer both make this DVD an easy recommendation.