Fans of “Battle Royale” will find some nascent themes in this early film by co-writer/director Kinji Fukasaku.
Made shortly after “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, Fukasaku was engaged by his Japanese studio to adapt ideas from a popular TV series, “Wakamono Tachi.” As he explains in the archived interview (conducted shortly before his death, in 2003), Japan's climate was rather bleak; rising unemployment and crime, old economic engines being replaced by more technological-based models, and growing despair among a confused youth. Trust in friends and family were the only anchors youths could rely on, and Fukasaku felt “If You Were Young: Rage” would provide the ideal conduit to give hope to Japan's younger filmgoing audience.
What the studio didn't like, though, was his infusion of despair; they wanted lighthearted adventures, while Fukasaku wanted more realism, which explains the film's really oddball tonal shifts from carefree joy to near-nihilism at pivotal junctures. There's some obvious cultural differences in handling the film's themes that also make the movie so fascinating for Western audiences: Fukasaku has his actors play their emotions at low-volume or extreme highs, with strong, vocalizations in their moments of naïve joy and dour tragedy; even under the reigns of a fresh-faced American director, the middle ground would've been the dominant emotional platform.
In the included interview, Fukasaku also compares themes explored in 1970 to his epic “Battle Royale”; a film where he explored nastier consequences, as betrayal has become a daily fact of life for Japan's youth. (The terrorist element of the sequel was his next target, and his comments on the new global threat help explain the similarly oddball tone of “Battle Royale 2.”)
HVE uses a gorgeous widescreen print, showcasing Takamoto Ezure's superb compositions and stylish colour design. Fukasaku went a little New Wave in the editing department, using flash cuts and freeze frames, but they're perfectly in tune with the emotional explosions of his sympathetic cast. The tonal shift from light comedy to tragedy works, however, largely because Fukasaku uses even the briefest of scenes to convey the bonding and corruption of the group's friendship. Exploited to operatic extremes in “Battle Royale,” “If You Were Young: Rage” reveals Kinji Fukasaku as genuinely unique filmmaker who's finally getting his limelight in the West.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan
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