Masters Of Cinema #96 - Youth Of The Beast - Blu-ray Review

'reveals itself in a satisfyingly slow manner, allowing you to pretty much guess the first twist, whilst holding back its best to the final moments'

A surprisingly contemporary affair, which improves the less you know about it, Seijun Suzuki's 1963 Youth Of The Beast stakes Japanese cinema's claim of authorship on many of today's common Cop Thriller tropes. Twisting around eventually to reveal layers similar to something like The Departed - itself based on Infernal Affairs, another piece of Far Eastern cinema - Suzuki's tale of Yakuza in crisis proves a compelling watch, choc full of recognisable archetypes and satisfying if now familiar plot movements.

We begin with hoodlum Jo Mizuno (Jô Shishido), introduced to us beating someone up on the street for no reason, before attempting the same in a pachinko parlour. Eventually causing enough havoc to attract the attentions of the local Yakuza, Jo finds himself caught up in a pitched battle between gangs and in the internal battle within the first group he comes across. Turning politician, Jo spends the rest of the film turning the gang's actions to his advantage, whilst pursuing an agenda of his own.

The plot reveals itself in a satisfyingly slow manner, allowing you to pretty much guess the first twist, whilst holding back its best to the final moments. The gangs are painted as corporate entities: bureaucrats who Mizuno can play off each other with small manipulations and subtle planted ideas. There's a naivety to the gangsters that lets Jo twist them around his finger, something which plays into the reading that the film is at least partially concerned with the burgeoning youth of 1960s Japan. On at least three occasions, Jo is caught by one of other of the groups, at one point tortured with a knife under the fingernails, but on both occasions he manages to talk his way into release.

Youth Of The Beast's genre success comes not just from Suzuki's knowledge of the tropes his film moves within, but also from the film's willingness to invent upon these and/or to poke fun at them. 'You won't believe this, but alcohol and women are my weaknesses', says one gangster, with a knowing nod to his characterisation down the ages, in one hundred different films. Suzuki's punchline is the character's near-demise, whilst trying to charm a femme fatale, under the influence of alcohol.

The film does feature a kineticism indicative of its period, where Japanese cinema felt less confined (look for the handful of scenes in black and white, with splashes of red). Though it suits Suzuki's camera, and palette, you still can't help but feel that the stillness and contemplation of someone like Ozu would have heightened the drama. But then, in all fairness to Youth Of The Beast, rarely is that not the case when discussing cinema of any origin.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Youth Of The Beast is released in the UK on Monday 27th October 2014

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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