Cast & Crew
Al, a young Tokyo pickpocket devoted to pursuing a "cool" lifestyle, listens to modern jazz at the Bar Duet with his friend Yuki, a prostitute who caters to foreigners. Kashi, a newspaperman, and his fiancée, Fumiko, catch Al trying to pick a bar patron's pocket and turn him in to the police. While in jail Al becomes friendly with another youth, Masaru, and upon their release they go to live with Yuki, who becomes Masaru's mistress. On the beach one day, Al and Masaru meet Fumiko, and Al brutally rapes her in revenge for betraying him. Later Fumiko finds that she is pregnant, and asks Al for advice, since she is unable to face Kashi. To even the accounts, Al arranges for Yuki to have sex with Kashi, and Fumiko pays her fee. Yuki becomes pregnant by Kashi, and after Masaru is killed in a street fight, Yuki decides to go to an abortion clinic so that she can resume her trade. At the hospital, Al and Yuki meet Fumiko and Kashi, who are also there for an abortion. Al reveals to Kashi that Fumiko's child is Al's and that Kashi is the father of Yuki's child. The bewildered Fumiko and Kashi are then confronted with the cruel laughter of Al and Yuki.
The Weird Love Makers (1963) aka The Warped Ones (1960)
The story in The Warped Ones begins before we ever see a speaking character in the film. That is, we see the movie's true main characters first, famous American jazz musicians. They appear in a collage as jazz music fills the soundtrack, a collage soon revealed to be the graphic design at the top of a jazz bar that our speaking characters inhabit with devious intentions. Those two characters, Akira (Tamio Kawaji), and Fumiko (Noriko Matsumoto), are at the bar for two reasons: One, Akira loves jazz music and surrounds himself with it (infuses himself is probably more accurate) and two, they plan to roll a tourist for his money. Fumiko, a local prostitute, engages with a tourist at the bar, keeping him distracted long enough for Akira to lift his wallet. A crime reporter, Kashiwagi (Hiroyuki Nagato), rats them out to the police and the two get arrested, taken away in a screaming, violent frenzy until the opening credits finally appear and tell the story of Akira in reform school. There, he befriends another wild youth, Masaru (Eiji Go), and when the two are released, they immediately turn back to crime.
After stealing a car, they pick up Fumiko and an American john, drop them off at a hotel and wait around the corner for her to come out with his wallet. When she's back in the car, they joyride, Akira in the front, driving and listening to jazz, Masaru and Fumiko in the back, pushing and pulling, feeling each other out. That's when Akira spots Kashiwagi walking along the pier with his girlfriend, Yuki (Yuko Chishiro), and both he and Fumiko are ready for payback. Akira turns the car around, slams Kashiwagi with the driver side door, grabs Yuki, and speeds off. They head to the beach where Akira will take Yuki by force and Masaru and Fumiko will head to the ocean and begin a relationship doomed to failure in more ways than one. That this becomes the basis for a strange "Couples Movie" may be hard to believe but when Kashiwagi reenters the picture, it does. What starts as a bold look at the lives of criminal youth becomes a movie about relationships, though not the kind found in middle class suburbia.
Director Koreyoshi Kurahara, writer Nobuo Yamada, editor Akira Suzuki, cinematographer Yoshio Mamiya, and composer/arranger Toshiro Mayuzumi, worked together on The Warped Ones to create something quite different than found in the usual youth culture films of the fifties and sixties. It isn't really the story that drives the movie, it's how the movie is made that drives it. The jazz music, both composed and assembled by Mayuzumi, paces the film and delivers its mood while the camerawork of Mamiya and the editing of Suzuki, tie together the moods of the characters. There is a frantic and rushed energy to the film that places it squarely in the modern world. Very few movies, even today, have the kind of relentless drive as this one, and it's not by mistake. While shots in the movie may look haphazard and chaotic, they took quite a bit of planning and setup to get right. For instance, when the characters joyride along the pier, a series of shots occur that seem startling to viewers used to Hollywood cars sitting stationary in front of rear projection screens. The camera, from the front of the car looking at the driver, Akira, quickly swivels to show the view he sees and we suddenly see the front of the car. In other words, that initial setup, looking at Akira, would, we assume, come from another car in front filming the action. When the camera swivels, and there is no camera car there, we realize the cameraman must be on the hood of the car! This kind of setup runs throughout the film, as Kurahara went to great lengths to successfully translate a sense of chaos and freneticism to the screen.
The Warped Ones never caught on in the states like other international films exploring the subculture, like Breathless, and it may be, in part, because it is so much more daring than Breathless and so unforgiving of its characters and the audience for looking in. And it's one of the few films that somehow fashions itself along the lines of a musical piece, a jazz piece, without betraying cinema in the process. The film itself is an extended jazz piece, improvised but structured, freewheeling but disciplined. Above all, it is both engaging and alienating, a duality that challenges the viewer to either understand the director's intention (or think they do) or abandon it in favor of experiencing it as an abstract with no meaning at all. In one moment in the movie, Akira turns a splatter style painting upside down, changing the intent of the artist, subverting it to the viewer. The Warped Ones is that rare movie where its director, Koreyoshi Kurahara, invites its viewers to do the same.
Producers: Takeshi Yamamoto Director: Koreyoshi Kurahara Writers: Nobuo Yamada Music: Toshirô Mayuzumi Cinematography: Yoshio Mamiya Film Editor: Akira Suzuki Production Design: Kazuhiko Chiba Cast: Tamio Kawaji (Akira), Eiji Gô (Masaru), Noriko Matsumoto (Fumiko), Yuko Chishiro (Yuki), Hiroyuki Nagato (Kashiwagi)
By Greg Ferrara
The Weird Love Makers (1963) aka The Warped Ones (1960)
The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara - Eclipse Series 28 - Wild '60s Cinema from Japan
Kurahara's early pictures include a number of tense crime thrillers and movies about business intrigues. His Intimidation (Aru Kyouhaku) is a compact "office noir" about desperate characters. A lowly bank clerk (frequent Kurosawa player Akira Nishimura) has plenty of reasons to resent the manager (Nobuo Kaneko), once a friend and now a fraud recently promoted to the front office. The manager rose to power by stealing the clerk's sweetheart (the bank president's daughter) and has further humiliated him by seducing and abandoning his sister, who is now a prostitute. A mysterious blackmailer surfaces and demands that the manager rob his own bank, or face the exposure of his illegal business dealings. The manager decides to go through with the crime -- in a way that will direct the blame toward the clerk.
Showing a keen understanding of the claustrophobic appeal of noir thrillers, Kurahara stages his tale in cramped rooms, the bank vault at 4 a.m. and a gloomy cliff-side rendezvous. It's a story of crooked business ethics and the way relationships change: the manager treats the clerk like a servant, but still insists on calling him a friend. The multi-twist ending leads to a particularly chilling ironic finish.
Koreyoshi Kurahara's first film jobs were in a new youth genre called "Sun Tribe Films", about spoiled, ethics-challenged rich kids getting into trouble. Kurahara found his most extreme mode of expression with The Warped Ones (Kyonetsu no kisetsu, a picture that would have shocked the Hollywood of 1960 to its very foundations. Pickpocket and car thief Akira (Tamio Kawachi) is a hyperactive, violent rebel comparable to Alex of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Akira takes his vengeance on a reporter who turned him in by raping the reporter's artist girlfriend, Fumiko (Noriko Matsumoto). Things become complicated when the artist becomes obsessed with her attacker. Akira ignores Fumiko's emotional appeals but regularly breaks into her house. Meanwhile, Akira's roommate Masaru (Eiji Go) aspires to join a Yakuza gang, which he thinks will lead to riches and the chance to marry his girlfriend, the utterly amoral prostitute Yuki (Yukio Chishiro). Both women become pregnant. Disdaining the entire world around him, Akira bounds through streets hooting like a monkey and making mad faces at anybody he meets. He happens to barge in on a group of Fumiko's artist associates, who praise his rebellious attitude and anarchic beauty. Atypically, Akira retreats.
The director's camera sometimes seems detached from the law of gravity, as it swoops up to the blazing sky (a Kurahara motif). Like Anthony Burgess's Alex the Droog, Akira betrays a human sensitivity only when in the thrall of his beloved jazz, which he calls "black music". He explains at one point that "the whites stole it from the blacks, and we (the Japanese) imitate the whites. That makes us the worst of all." Akira is provoked to kill only when the desperate Fumiko yanks the phonograph needle from a jazz record to get his attention. Akira's black American soldier friend Gil (Chico Roland) stays Akira from slashing her with a broken bottle. The final scene is a terrifying collision of anarchic frozen frames. Kurahara's camera catches Akira seemingly laughing at God, declaring his total rejection of human values.
As a consistently successful director, Kurahara was in an enviable position at the trendy Nikkatsu Studios. His ostensible star vehicle I Hate but Love (Nikui an-chikusho is a teaming of Japan's leading heart-throb romantic couple of 1962, Yujiro Ishihara and Ruriko Asaoka. The result is a film of surprising emotional depth. Ishihara plays Daisaku, a character something like himself, a "media sensation" who began writing TV jingles and is now a movie star and television host. His sweetheart and manager of two years Noriko (Asaoka) arranges his busy schedule while awaiting a marriage proposal. They're honoring an early pledge to keep sex out of the picture, but that vow is wearing thin. Then Daisaku encounters a TV guest who defines love in an entirely different way: she has never met her lover. He is a charity doctor working far to the south, and she needs someone to drive a badly needed jeep 900 miles to his underfunded, isolated clinic. Daisaku is moved by her sincerity. He volunteers to do the driving, ignoring Noriko's protests and various lawsuits from his employers. The second part of the film is an extended road trip, with Noriko chasing Daisaku in his silver Jaguar. Against his will, his associates turn his errand to discover the nature of "true love" into a publicity stunt.
Excellent color cinematography (the transfer really sparkles) makes I Hate but Love an impressive road odyssey. The feuding lovers meet and separate on the long drive. Kurahara's direction isn't as frantic as with his previous film, but it's sufficiently eccentric to guarantee the drama's unpredictability. The attractive Daisaku and Noriko make a fine romantic couple. Incidentally, they confirm the notion that imperfect teeth are actually a plus factor for Japanese film idols of this era.
1964's Black Sun (Kuroi taiyo) is a strange buddy film that resembles a twisted hybrid of Stanley Kramer's Civil Rights lecture The Defiant Ones and Kurahara's The Warped Ones. Tamio Kawachi returns as a jazz-loving sneak thief and frequents the same be-bop bar papered with images of black American jazz greats. This time he's called Mei, though, and he's a much more sentimentalized character. Mei loves his dog (named Thelonius Monk) and only bothers people that show insufficient respect for his precious Max Roach albums. Mei encounters Gil (black actor Chico Roland, also from The Warped Ones), who has morphed into a crazed, wounded American GI on the lam from the MPs for killing another soldier.
The film's tone is all over the place. A realistic first act goes haywire when the odd couple escapes the cops by pretending to be street musicians -- Mei wears blackface and Gil whiteface as they cruise downtown Tokyo in a beat-up convertible. The prostitute Yuki (Yukio Chishiro) returns, but Mei is unable to employ her services as a translator. The goofy outlaw and the black gaijin spend most of the film at each other's throats, unable to properly communicate. Gil carries a (ludicrously oversized) submachine gun and is in constant pain from his leg wound.
We can't readily discern Kurahara's goals. The jazz fans force the uncomprehending Gil to dance around like a minstrel performer, after which Kurahara hits us with a still montage of marching Americans and Southern lynchings complete with screaming victims. Catching us by surprise is the revelation that Mei's love of American jazz is not a bridge to racial understanding, but a barrier. Gil is not musical and feels as oppressed by the jazzman stereotype as he is by the Army and the police. The final manhunt and absurd finish are impressively staged and filmed, but Black Sun is the first film in the collection that does not seem a complete success.
1966's Thirst for Love (Ai no kawaki) sees the versatile Kurahara fashioning a carefully judged adaptation of a novel by the legendary Yukio Mishima. A dysfunctional Japanese family is analyzed in terms familiar to fans of Tennessee Williams: unorthodox relationships and sexual obsessions run wild. Paterfamilias "Father" (Nobuo Nakamura) is a self-made man retired to a suburban estate near Osaka. Living with him are his underemployed son, his widowed daughter and her two children, and Etsuko (big star Ruriko Asaoka of I Hate But Love). The widow of another son, Etsuko has become Father's mistress, a relationship that they do not hide. But Etsuko is drawn to the young gardener Saburo (Tetsuo Ishidate), and is prone to sensual delusions, fainting spells and other fantasies. Etsuko was devoted to her husband but shortly before his death discovered that he was unfaithful; she has gravitated toward Father by default and lives in a state of sexual panic, desperate for her "real life" to finally begin. When Sabuko makes the young, immature maid Miyo (Chitose Kurenai) pregnant, Etsuko's ruthless side asserts itself, manipulating the younger people for her own purposes. But the outwardly servile Sabuko isn't as gutless as he looks.
Thirst for Love shimmers with sensual effects achieved through precise visuals; director Kurahara's pans to the sky, so erratic in the other films, are here quite restrained. Ruriko Asaoka's performance is riveting. (She also possesses an incredibly sensual upper lip.) Etsuko is a woman of intense, but elegant, sexuality. She is also a destructive force, as she doesn't mind distressing her relatives or abusing her superior position over Sabuko. We see Etsuko dig her fingers into Sabuko's back, and she later regards the drops of blood on her nails. The B&W film has soft, delicate images, with especially tactile close-ups. The director interrupts the flow several times for brief color shots lit by blazing orange sunsets. He also employs other odd techniques. Voiceovers and inter-titles intercede to tell us a character's feelings, or to restate unheard dialogue. One important dialogue exchange suddenly reverts to silent-movie technique, with twin columns of Japanese text popping on and off the screen. As might be expected of a story by Yukio Mishima, the symbolic conclusion is a violent tragedy. Yet Thirst for Love communicates honest insights about its characters - it is a fine traditional drama embellished by Kurahara's radical touches.
Once again Eclipse introduces an impressive slate of films by a remarkable director nearly unknown in America. The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara packs five features in separate slim cases. Each is given an excellent liner appraisal by contributing writer Chuck Stephens. Stephens tells us that the prolific Kurahara was both a creative and a commercial powerhouse, directing many popular star vehicles for Japanese screen idols. I remember his 1983 Antarctica getting a solid American run. Its story of a pair of abandoned sled dogs running hundreds of miles through the snow was, we are told, the most successful Japanese movie until Princess Mononoke.
The transfers of these Nikkatsu pictures are all flawless, with the color on I Hate but Love looking particularly good. These are wild, wild movies made at a time when American movies were nowhere near as liberated or adventurous. Frankly, most films now aren't as adventurous or as exciting.
For more information about The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara, visit The Criterion Collection. To order The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara - Eclipse Series 28 - Wild '60s Cinema from Japan
Released in Japan in 1960 under the title Kyonetsu no kisetsu. Also known as Wild Love-Makers and The Weird Lovemakers.