Sunday, June 1, 2008

Teenagers on Trial, Japanese style

Late in April, TCM aired a day of 1950s movies about disillusioned teens and the resulting deliquencies. The decade and a half following World War II was one of upheaval in a lot of places, not just the US. Thanks in part to changing cultural norms, and the New Wave of filmmaking, other countries had their own "troubled teen" movies, too. TCM is airing one such movie overnight tonight as part of its TCM Imports slot: 1960's Cruel Story of Youth, June 2 at 2:00 AM ET.

This movie, looking at Japanese teens in trouble, starts with a young woman who gets in trouble when she accepts a ride home from an older man one night. He has more ideas than just taking her home. When he tries to go past first base, she is saved by a young college man on his motorbike, who threatens the older man; hes give the young woman some money if only she'll keep quiet about what happened. She's been having trouble at home, so she fals in love with this young man and eventually moves in with him. (Later, we see why there's trouble at home for her: her father was part of the World War II generation but is now nebbish; her allegedly good older sister is in fact working for a doctor who performs back-alley abortions.) Anyhow, our college student antihero doesn't treat his girlfriend all that well, but together, they have an idea: since they got money out of the first older man who propositioned her, why not use that as a way to make money in general?

In a terribly nihilistic move, the two proceed to pimp her out, but are in reality running an extortion racket. That racket runs well, until an older man with nothing to lose reports them to the police. But that's not the only problem for them; the young man's college friends want her as well, and are willing to fight over this and the extortion racket.

Cruel Story of Youth has one big benefit, which is that unlike most of the "troubled teen" movies from the US, which were low budget black-and-white affairs, it was filmed in color. Part of the social upheaval of Japan in the 1950s and 1960s is that it was becoming an economic powerhouse, with Tokyo becoming a glitzy city with perhaps more neon signs than Las Vegas. This glitziness is one of the things for which color is actually a big advantage, and it's an excellent artifact to have a movie like Cruel Story of Youth displaying Tokyo as it was in 1960.

Cruel Story of Youth is available on DVD, but DVDs of foreign films are generally pricier than those of Hollywood movies simply because there's generally less interest in them. Although some may find the story a bit tedious, especially having to pay attention to the subtitles, it is quite interesting, and visually well worth the effort, too.

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