Welcome to another entry of our feature “Eclipse Series Reviews”. Every first Thursday of every month we will take a film from the Criterion Collection’s Eclipse Series and give you our two cents worth on it. What is The Eclipse Series? It’s “a selection of lost, forgotten or overshadowed classics.” Why have this feature every first Thursday of each month? Well, why not?! So, without further ado, on with the review of The Warped Ones from the Eclipse Series 28: The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara.
Within the history of cinema one doesn’t have to search too hard in order to find an example of a well executed character study showcasing the defiant and reckless attitudes of youth. I like to call this sub-genre of character studies Youth-Gone-Wild films. Off the top of my head, films like Francois Truffaut‘s The 400 Blows (1959), Jean-Luc Godard‘s Band of Outsiders (1964), Larry Clark‘s Kids (1995) , and Stanley Kubricks‘s A Clockwork Orange (1971) spring to mind, as does Alan Clarke‘s Made in Britain (1982). Of the ones I just named, the latter two are probably the most similar to The Warped Ones, at least in terms of having an audience remain with the character(s) whose recklessness is fueled by numerous acts of viciousness. Come to think of it, both of these movies at least makes an attempt to show that somewhere deep within the film’s brutally bullish antagonist(s) lies a more innocent natured - or dare I say, human – being, however hidden that good-natured self may be. Koreyoshi Kurahara‘s The Warped Ones (1960) gives us no such glimpses, and is more or less a moraless film.
Marketed as a sexploitation picture upon it US release in 1963, essentially, this is a 75 minute character study of three of cinema’s most unruly and lewdest of personalities. From the get go, even before the opening credits appear, the tone is set both musically and visually to something one might find in a rebellious late 70s or early 80s film shrouded in punk ethos, e.g., Scum (1979), Repo Man (1984) or the above mentioned Made in Britain (1982). One of many differences here – aside from this being a Japanese film, of course – is in the music . Substitute the punk score for that of an equally energetic and anti-establishing Max Roach jazz one, and what you’re left with is a pitch perfect reflection of the out-of-control and unpredictable attitudes of Akira, Masaru, and Fumiko, the film’s three lewd leads.
What I found to be most interesting about this film was its ability to make me want to stay with these despicable characters who are the furthest thing from being likable, and are at times just downright annoying. Just how despicable are these three ruffians who occupy every frame of the film? In true anarchic fashion, they romp around town agenda-less causing acts of thievery, assault, harassment, and rape – you know, a typical Sunday stroll.
From a technical and esthetically pleasing point-of-view, I was unable to ever tear my eyes from any of the scenes, including the disturbing rape one, which by today’s standards I’m sure many will deem tame. I can assure you though, were it not for the thrill of constantly wondering where the smoothly shot handheld camera (not unlike that of the French New Wave movement starting to bud at the same time) was going to take me next, I don’t believe I would have been able to keep my eyes fixed on the rape taking place. Not to take away from the textual context of such a brutal scene, but if ever there was an example of the power to which technical adroitness can have, this is it.
But this film isn’t great simply for its innovative showcasing of unique and irredeemable characters. This is a moment-to-moment instinctual thrill ride whose remarkable ability to effectively convey feelings of hopelessness and invigoration left me in awe. Now that’s an accomplishment.