Made in the same year as his sci-fi schlockfest “The Green Slime,” director Kinji Fukasaku (“Battle Royale”) went for a seriously New Wave style to depict the rapid rise and fiery crash of four bosom buddies deeply involved in blackmailing schemes, aimed at criminal, governmental, and economic establishments.
Certainly when placed beside “If You Were Young: Rage,” Fukasaku seems to have a strong affinity for taking a rock-solid group of friends, and swinging their collective karma pendulum from episodes of almost infantile glee to murderous, operatic tragedy within a compact time frame. Like “If You Were Young: Rage” – the director's subsequent youth film – scenes of our not too likeable buddies frolicking on a beach are used to solidify our impressions of their friendship (and later sexual) bonds, and in recombining the images in stylized black & white and tinted flashbacks, the director hammers home the tragedy of their wasteful lives.
Hajimi Kaburagi's frequently psychedelic music score follows Fukasaku's playful mix of genre styles; pop-jazz fusion for confrontations with higher-placed criminals; a breezy pop theme for the group's halcyon days as mere ebullient punks; and a whistling theme, designed for the film's tragic twists, strongly recalling the operatic works of spaghetti western director Sergio Leone, and composer Ennio Morricone.
Fukasaku doesn't name specific influences in the lengthy archived interview, but articulates the events and images of his youth that formulated his rather grim outlook on life (which, according to the director, critics kept raising throughout his career). Making a name for himself with early Yakuza films, Fukasaku also explains his relationships with two of Japan's studios, noting the conventions imposed by Toei, and the greater freedom at Shochiku (the latter enabling the director to keep the film's appropriate finale).
Based on a novel by Shinji Fujiwara, “Blackmail Is My Life” was the director's own attempt to exploit the crime and juvenile unrest at the time, but the film's also a notable fusion of eclectic cinematic styles. Mixing freeze frames with full motion, tinting, colour removal, and using a kinetic editing style that goes beyond mere jump cuts, Fukasaku also constructs scenes in a no-frills, modernistic style, while infusing each shot with commercial finesse.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan
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