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on 24 August 2009
This was Nagisa Oshima's second film. He is more known for Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence [DVD] [1983] and the notorious but outstandingThe Realm Of The Senses [DVD] [1991].

Naked Youth takes the boy from the wrong side of the tracks meets girl from good loving background and places it firmly in the new emerging Japan of the 1950s. The Second World War saw social norm in all nations overturned in the aftermath. In the US it is probably Rebel Without A Cause that was the most serious film to approach the subject.

Oshima certainly portrays a narcissistic view of the central couple that seems to both confront and conform to the Japan of the time. There is very little in the way of hope but one great moment of redemption comes when the street-punk Kiyoshi goes to see Makoto in the surgery after she has had an abortion. He brings with him two apples. He eats the green one and leaves the rosy red one for her. The viewer is taken back to a quick shot of the crucifixion on a stained glass window at Makoto's school. The apples seem to represent those from the Adam and Eve story. But also the green suggests that although Kiyoshi may be street wise he is less ripe (mature) than Makoto who has led a sheltered life up until their meeting.

For me this is the genius of Oshima and it is what makes him the greatest of Japanese film makers and one of the greatest of all time anywhere. He sometimes reminds me of Goddard (though Goddard never quite pushed social mores to the limits, even with Ave Maria) but whereas Goddard challenged through a mechanical manner, with new technical approaches, Oshima confronts the viewer head on.

There seems to be many influences in this film, mainly from the USA but at the end of the day the viewer will be of the original voice of the cinematic master.
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Japan staggered into student upheavel in the 50's after early feelings of 40's amphetamine fuelled supremacy, hitting a post depressive collective comedown after 45. The depression was all encompassing as the real world closed in on the fake self belief of deluded Emperor worshipers. The feeling of being cheated tore the country apart between those who thought the war should have been prosecuted with more virulence and those who saw through the facade.

The film starts with students protesting against the world around them. Then it decides to take a detour into the lives of young people stretching their legs into the adult world.

A tale of living dreams instead of feeling middle age regret is the constant battle. Middle Age men preying on the beauty of the young. Those who have the wealth never feeling enough and wanting the allure of youth. Young people alienated from the world feeding on the neediness of the wealthy. It is an eternal trap, a symbiosis unravelling as a thread throughout until it finally ends.

In between we are led down the pathways of rape, abortion, beatings, prostitution, gang violence and theft. Shot in the developing worlds of Japan the scenic backdrop of a country on the move provides a sterile beauty of an industrial bleakness. It captures an essential quotient of Japan. The neon world of cell like claustrophobic bedsits exist in a counterpoint to the wide expansive industrial wastelands.

Oshima's realism disguised as cynicism portrays a reality of young people's hustle beamed back to them. No wonder the film was funded and has become a cinematic classic. It tapped into a 60's zeitgeist. It should by now, be seen as a museum piece in post 21stC capitalism. Unfortunately it still pictures a social reality beamed back to young people. The main difference? The aesthetic style was much sharper, well defined and beautiful in the 1960's.

So much for cinematic, artistic, cultural emotional progress.
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