Crazed Fruit (Kurutta Kajitsu)

Crazed Fruit
Director: Ko Nakahira
Screenplay: Shintaro Ishihara (based on his novel)
Stars: Yujiro Ishihara (Natsuhisa), Masahiko Tsugawa (Haruji), Mie Kitahara (Eri), Masumi Okada (Frank), Harold Conway (American businessman)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1956
Country: Japan
Crazed Fruit Criterion Collection DVD
Crazed FruitIn the United States, the 1950s was the decade of the juvenile delinquent film. Although there were antecedents, the cycle was really kick-started by 1955’s The Blackboard Jungle, which scandalized audiences not only with its depiction of rough, switchblade-wielding youth bucking authority, but also with its reckless use of “Rock Around the Clock” over the opening credits. The JD cycle was solidified later that year with Rebel Without a Cause, which turned James Dean into a matinee idol of teenage ennui.

As it so happens, at about that same time a similar cinematic cycle was beginning on the other side of the world in Japan, which was just a few years out of Allied occupation and was trying to reassert itself as a world power. These taiyozoku, or “Sun Tribe” films, depicted a class of Japanese youth who were wealthy, restless, and staunchly opposed to the kind of rigorous formality and tradition that defined their elders. While juvenile delinquents in the U.S. were invariably associated with the lower classes, their jabs at authority explained by their dire socioeconomic position, the antiheroes of the taiyozoku were listless because they were wealthy and free -- they had too much money and too much time on their hands.

The movie that started it all was Crazed Fruit (Kurutta Kajitsu), a sun-drenched teenage melodrama based on a scandalous and popular novel by Shintaro Ishihara, who was the preeminent voice of the Sun Tribe (the first four movies in the cycle were all based on his works). It tells the story of two brothers, Natsuhisa (Yujiro Ishihara, the younger brother of the film’s author) and Haruji (Masahiko Tsugawa), who are linked by little more than their bloodline. Whereas the older Natsuhisa is extroverted, bold, jaded, and sexually experienced, the younger Haruji is shy, idealistic, and largely inexperienced in all matters sexual. During a summer spent by the ocean, they both end up falling for the same girl, an intoxicating and mysterious beauty named Eri (Mie Kitahara, impossible cute despite a terrible haircut).

Thus, the story is your basic love triangle, inflated with the potentially combustible elements of brotherly jealousy and troubled youth teetering on the edge of an ever-widening generation gap. There is little that is original in the story per se, and one can argue that its violent ending stretches the point of credulity, forcing the association of shattered innocence with homicidal psychosis. However, since the film is a tawdry melodrama at heart, it’s not too hard to accept its more over-the-top elements.

The film is anchored well by the three central performers, all of whom were relative unknowns at the time. They’re each playing a type -- the cynical older brother, the idealistic innocent, and the mysterious object of their affection -- but Yujiro Ishihara, Masahiko Tsugawa, and Mie Kitahara convince us of their characters’ humanity above and beyond the obvious. They also invest their scenes together with a great deal of sensuality, which caused the film no end of troubles with the Japanese censors. Although relatively tame by today’s standards, the film’s simple and honest depiction of casually sexually active teenagers was enough to mobilize numerous protestors (this aspect of the film was surely what encouraged American importers to screen it in the U.S. under the exploitative title Juvenile Jungle).

Crazed Fruit was directed by Ko Nakahira, a contract director at the Nikkatsu studio who was all of 30 at the time and had only one other feature film under his belt. Filled with imagery borrowed from the burgeoning French nouvelle vague, he turned Crazed Fruit into an aesthetically exhilarating experiment, rather than the routine program picture the studio probably envisioned (curiously, Nakahira would go on to a prolific, but hardly profound film career). With its shock cuts, extreme close-ups, associative imagery, and a willfully salacious score that mixes jazz and Hawaiian music with virtuous aplomb, Crazed Fruit was like nothing anyone in Japan had seen before, at least from one their own. If the film doesn’t seem quite so groundbreaking today, it is only because its style and themes have been driven into the ground by countless others, most of which fail to live up to Crazed Fruit’s heady mixture of sex, restlessness, and good ol’ fashioned teenage rage.

Crazed Fruit Criterion Collection DVD

Aspect Ratio1.33:1
AudioJapanese Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • Audio commentary by Japanese-film scholar Donald Richie
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Essays by film critic Chuck Stephens and film scholar Michael Raine
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment
    Release DateJune 28, 2005

    The new high-definition transfer was made from a 35mm print struck from the original negative. Digital clean-up has removed most of the dirt and blemishes, although it is fairly clear that the print wasn’t in excellent condition to begin with; however, the only time there is any distracting damage is one (probably stock footage) shot of a Ferris Wheel that shows numerous blotches. Otherwise, the image is clean and clear. The black-and-white imagery is sharp and well-detailed throughout.

    The original monaural soundtrack sounds very good, with virtually no ambient hiss. The funky musical score by Masaru Sato and Toru Takemitsu has good vibrancy throughout.

    Japanese-film scholar Donald Richie offers an indispensable screen-specific audio commentary for those (like me) who were largely unaware of both this film and the whole “Sun Tribe” cycle. Richie discusses the film in its historical and sociological contexts, expounding on everything from the importance of water skiing in postwar Japan to Nakahira’s aesthetic borrowings from French filmmaking. The only other supplement on the disc is the tawdry original theatrical trailer, although the insert booklet contains a pair of first-rate essays by film scholars Chuck Stephens and Michael Raine.

    Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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