It's ironic that this movie has an establishing scene in the Kamakura train station, the same locale used by master director Yasujiro Ozu in his classic home dramas, "Late Spring" and "Early Summer". But that's where the similarity ends, as this jazz-infused, troubled-youth 1956 film is truly the antithesis of Ozu - tawdry, explicit and in-your-face. If you were to watch this movie solely on the basis of the campy trailer that comes with the Criterion Collection DVD, you would think you were going to watch something quite cheesy and exploitative similar to the cheapjack American teenage rebellion films of the period like "High School Confidential" and "The Beat Generation" - all raging hormones, James Dean wannabes, pervasive use of back projection, deep shadows and saucy saxophone riffs. To some degree, you would be right, but first-time director Kô Nakahira seems more inspired by French New Wave in his use of jump cuts and handheld camera shots. The stylistic touches and then-shocking sexual frankness do elevate this low-budget film but from my perspective, not really at the level that film scholar Donald Richie would have you believe in his informative commentary.
The story revolves around two restless brothers - older, predatory Natsuhisa and virginal, self-righteous Haruji - who battle over a mysterious girl named Eri, seemingly innocent and ideal at first but a more decadent character emerges as the plot unfolds. There are lots of scenes of bored, immoral youth with cash to burn and no aspirations beyond water skiing and getting drunk and laid. The love triangle inevitably leads to tragic, almost Baroque consequences in its brief, 86-minute running time with some surprisingly effective camera angles tightening the vise of the characters' illicit behavior. The performances seem rather derivative of American icons like Clift and Dean though effective within this context - Masahiko Tsugawa effortlessly brings out the teen angst in Haruji, Yujirô Ishihara portrays the jaded horn dog that Natsuhisa has become with abandon and a certain élan, and pretty Mie Kitahara does manage to elicit sympathy to a character that seems to reveal one moral weakness after another. I have to admit the over-the-top elements are what makes this film memorable - the great title, the foreboding clarinet solos and twangy Hawaiian guitars of Masaru Sato's and Toru Takemitsu's insinuating score; Masumi Okada as Frank, a half-white, half-Japanese observer of the brotherly unraveling (and by default, the film's moral conscience); and the extended and truly suspenseful circling boat sequence at the end. Definitely take a look if you want a peek at the nihilistic youth culture of mid-1950's Japan, certainly a universal theme during that period.