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Young Thugs: Nostalgia

Artsmagic DVD // Unrated // October 26, 2004
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted October 12, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Takashi Miike has quickly become one of cult filmdoms rising figureheads. In just a decade his prolific output has already spawned several twisted, gritty, surreal, often insane, and black comic gems including Audition, Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, and both the Dead or Alive and Black Society trilogies, to name just a few. While his shocking genre concoctions definitely put him on the map, he has also shown a subtler delicate touch with film like The Bird People of China and Dead or Alive 2: Birds. Young Thugs: Nostalgia, which Miike has stated is his favorite film in his massive resume, is one such film, a gentle, comical, and effective coming of age tale that doesn't pander in its sentimentality.

The film follows Riichi, a ten year old Osaka boy growing up at the tail end of 1969. His father, Kotesu (Miike regular, Naoto Takenaka) and mother couldn't be more opposite. The two cannot even seem to share the same house. For instance, his irresponsible father shows up drunk with a stripper causing Riichi's workaholic, straight-laced mother to take off. Later, his father convinces her to come back, only to take off on some drunken escapade to who knows where. It just seems to be the cycle of their life, and Riichi is reflective of the two, on one hand thoughtful and caring, on the other, wild, impulsive, and rough.

The only calm figures in his life are his teacher and grandfather. The former of is a sweet and caring center, the latter a typical prideful grandfather, who, when Riichi comes home bloodied form a fight, proudly gathers the locales around him and regales them with the heroic tale of his fightin' grandson.

Young Thugs: Nostalgia doesn't have a three act structure. There isn't any grand after school lesson to be learned (thank god). It is just about growing up. Riichi and his buddies Gasu and Kotesu get into scrapes with Riichi's rival, Sada, flirt with running away, build a replica of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, and in general, just be kids in the sunny days of youth.

Part of that loose structure has to do with the film being adapted from a series of novels which detail Riichi growing up into a hoodlum. The film series begins with the older Riichi, with the second film (Innocnet Blood) detailing his teen years, and this, the last film, being about his childhood. However, though some of the snippets and brief glimpses of characters (like the girl who will one day be Riichi's girlfriend) make more sense in the grander context, it is clear that the movie was meant to be a collection of snapshots and a firm grasp of the grander story isn't necessary to enjoy Young Thugs: Nostalgia.

Takashi Miike's black humor and anarchists energy command the film. It feels fresh, young, and alive. Miike's goofiness, imagination, and vitality makes for fitting marriage with a story of youth and coming of age. The young cast is wonderful, from the stone-faced Kotetsu, to the meek Gasu, and our lead, the perpetually bruised and scraped Riichi.

Young Thugs: Nostalgia is a sad reminder of how watered down Hollywood youth films have become since the politically correct nineties. As a kid, I grew up with the The Goonies and Karate Kid, but I also had The Bad News Bears and Stand By Me, which realistically treated kids as the foul-mouthed and more worldly tykes they can often be. I went to a sheltered Christian school, but I could still relate more to The Bears than I could The Apple Dumpling Gang. It is nearly impossible to imagine a Hollywood kid film today where the kids are cussing, beer guzzling, or the slightest bit wisned. Overprotective parents would burn down the theater. Luckily, films like Young Thugs: Nostalgia paint a more realistic picture. Riichi still has some childhood innocence (he is young enough to be pre-sexual- not to say he isn't curious) but because of his family life, he has a temper, mischievousness, and maturity that keeps him from being some doe-eyed middle schooler.

The DVD: Artsmagic. Another decent release from the company, whose previous Miike-related releases were The Black Society trilogy, Sabu, and Full Metal Yakuza . Artsmagic are releasing both Miike Young Thug films (Nostalgia and Innocent Blood) which serve as prequels for the first film, simply titled Young Thugs.

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Being products of the "v-cinema" (Japanese direct-to-video) market, the Young Thugs films have some low budget irks. The transfer shows a nice image, with okay color levels, contrast, and sharpness details. In terms of color and sharpness, everything could be slightly more vibrant and the image tends to be a tad bright and soft. Minor edge enhancement and compression is noticeable in a few scenes but not to a degree that it seriously hampers viewing enjoyment. At the very least, the image doesn't have the muddy quality that plagues many Miike v-cinema era DVD transfers, and, having seen all of those releases, I was surprised at how good Nostalgia looked.

Sound: Japanese language, Dolby 2.0 Stereo or 5.1 Surround tracks with optional English subtitles. Pretty standard affair. Dialogue is nice and clean and centered. The music score and fx noise are settled in the rear and side speakers, though not with much stereo fx. Subtitle translation appears quite good with no glaring errors.

Extras: Bio/Filmographies— Takashi Miike Interview (14:44) Good interview with Miike going over basic stuff about the film, like his intention to capture the "small but memorable incidents of youth."— Original Trailer and Video Sleeve Art— Osaka People (9:38) Very interesting travelogue segment detailing facts about Okaska culture, dialect, and local features.

Conclusion: While Miike's films have been making their way onto US shores in increasing numbers, Young Thugs: Nostalgia is a film that didn't even manage, to my knowledge, a bootleg release. So, this release is highly welcome, especially since it turns out to be a superior piece of film making. While it isn't the genre bloodbath he is known for, it is a real charmer.

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Highly Recommended

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