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Youth of the Beast: The Criterion Collection

Joji Mizuno (Joe Shishido) is the new thug in town, and he lets his presence be felt by acting excessively tough and not paying for anything. Quick on the draw, he rapidly impresses the yakuza bosses around him and ends up in a bidding war between two rivals. To split the difference, he works for one to spy for the other, and in doing so helps bring the two closer to war — especially when he engineers the theft of a cool ten million yen. But Joji has his own agenda: He used to be a cop and was sent to jail for the wrong reasons. Once released, he found out that the only man who cared about him was murdered and placed with a hooker (though the cops read it as a double suicide). To avenge his mentor — and maybe make good for the man's wife — Joji puts himself in the middle of a gang war he started, in order to unravel who did it. Youth of the Beast (1963) may seem like a movie made by a young filmmaker influenced by the French New Wave, but director Seijun Suzuki was 40 at the time and had already directed 30 films, having accrued his substantial résumé in seven years doing grindhouse B-movies. The training served him well — Beast is marked by a master's eye for action and color, and Suzuki gives the story a velocity that is marked by striking and exciting imagery. But it's stylish to a fault; the picture is more visceral than logical, especially when the plotting becomes secondary to the film's visual flourishes. It's a forgivable sin, solely for Suzuki's talent, even if it takes a couple of extra moments to be sure of what happened. This was Suzuki's second pairing with Shishido, a striking figure for his surgically enhanced cheeks that mark his odd on screen appeal. The duo worked four times together — most famously in 1967's Branded to Kill — and Shishido makes for a good thuglish lead. But the story does leave one question unanswered: What exactly does the plot have to do with (the) Youth of the Beast? The answer lies in the supplements: Absolutely nothing. Suzuki notes the title was chosen simply to sell it to a youth market. The Criterion Collection presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and in its original monaural soundtrack (DD 1.0). The disc features two interviews, both conducted in 2001, the first with director Seijun Suzuki (5 min.) where he discusses some of the signature sequences and where they came from, while the second features star Joe Shishido (8 min.) who reflects on the making of the film, his stardom, and the plastic surgery that gave him his chipmunk cheeks. Also included are the theatrical trailer and an essay by Howard Hampton. Keep-case.

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