I have been planning to end The Vagrant Cantos this spring after I had finished my 100th post.
For the past several months I’ve been watching Japanese films. I started with the classics, Roshomon, The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, but soon found myself searching for more modern, post-war films. As I drifted through HULU, Netflix, YouTube and IMDB, I came across a genre of film called Japanese or Nikkatsu Noir.
I’m almost at the end of my commitment to The Vagrant Cantos. I was going to write 100 pieces and then stop. It was an experiment in self-discipline and exploration. I’ve enjoyed the work, my style has, thankfully, changed; I’ve learned to experiment and also I’ve found out that it takes some courage to keep putting this crap up and taking the heat for some of my observations and opinions. Don’t care. It’s been worth it.
After entry number 100 I was going to quit, devote time to short stories and obsessively edit the novels I’ve written. Since I’m really enjoying film for the first time in decades, I’ve decided I’m going to continue the blog, but I’m changing the focus (and possibly the name of the blog) from rant, humor, sarcasm, fucking off, improvisation, commentary and outrage to the occasional film or literary review which will include, I’m sure, criticism, rage, opinion, intolerance and judgment. I’d like to communicate my enjoyment of these films and, if possible, to entice others to watch.
Many years ago my friends accused me of having my own cable channel. Whenever I’d recommend a film, they would watch it and then they’d ask, “What the hell is wrong with you?” I’ve heard that a lot. Doesn’t bother me any longer. Watch, don’t watch; read, don’t read. Enjoy if you can. I know I will.
I can’t get enough of Nikkatsu Noir. Nikkatsu Studios produced Japanese films after World War II that were patterned after American film noir. The films, referred to as Nikkatsu Noir, are choppy and sometimes too stylized, but the stark black and white photography, the cultural differences, the weird plots and the odd, often extraordinary soundtracks are enough to keep one’s attention. The films, for me, are addictive.
Crazed Fruit (1955), starring Yujiro Ishihara (The Japanese Elvis) and Mei Kitahara, is the tale of two brothers who are tempted by an alluring young woman; soon they begin to compete, lie and scheme to win her affections. The ten or so main characters in the film are all in their early twenties and were children during the war. Now, in the mid-1950’s, they are disenchanted, bored, and sexually agitated. Their rebellion may be linked to the violence and deprivation that they experienced in their formative years. Also, Crazed Fruit was made only a few years the United States had dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Along with hundreds of other films, Crazed Fruit made it clear to the rest of the world that Japan may have lost the war but they were far from beaten. Recovery was well under way.
The erotic scenes in Crazed Fruit are fairly chaste but the movie is surprisingly modern in its depiction of a sexually active, liberated, existentialist post-war generation.
Mei Kitahara as Eri, the shadowy, mysterious beauty who may be a prostitute, or simply an innocent girl on vacation, is beguiling as the focus of male lust. Eri is a free woman and it is clear that she’s in control of her choices. She initiates sexual encounters and is more sophisticated, and about ten to twenty years more advanced, than roles offered to women in the U.S. at the time.
The macho posturing and attempts at tough-guy dialogue are clumsy and humorous but there is an unexpected confidence and psychological refinement in the production. Once I decided to accept fake backgrounds and awkward eye contact, I was hooked and fully involved.
For those who are curious about little known but cool films, developments in cinematography, historical commentary and cultural evolution, beach vacation movies, sibling rivalry, moaning squawking saxophone music, rudimentary waterskiing, the ukulele as sexual metaphor and a seriously massive assortment of the coolest post-war shirts ever exhibited in one place, this is a film that is rewarding, delightfully confusing, and mildly hallucinogenic.