KYONETSU NO KISETSU (1960), originally released in America under the exploitative title THE WEIRD LOVEMAKERS, was the directorial debut of the Malaysia-born Koreyoshi Kurahara (1927-2002). I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting; this Nikkatsu production was distributed here in the States by Radley Metzger's Audubon Productions, usually an avatar of good taste though their ad campaigns could be sensationalistically exploitative, but it's certainly more than I was expecting.
Shown on the Dish Network/VOOM channel World Cinema HD with its Japanese title subtitled as THE WARPED ONES (which, to my senses, suggests a comedy), the film turns out to be an important rediscovery on many fronts. It is directed by Kurahara with a freewheeling, gleefully hedonistic verve that reminded me of nothing less than Joseph H. Lewis' GUN CRAZY, with Yoshio Mamiya's B&W scope cinematography alternating between the carefully composed and the recklessly hand-held. It's also a story of young adult delinquency that has some conscious ties to earlier Western works like GUN CRAZY, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and Godard's BREATHLESS but these pale in contrast to how much the film anticipates Stanley Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Scored by Toshiro Mayuzumi (STREET OF SHAME, WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS, THE INSECT WOMAN), it is also -- perhaps above all -- one of the great jazz films, and possibly the best illustration the cinema has ever given us of the jazz buff. It's the only film I've ever seen that makes jazz seem scarier than the darkest heavy metal, that makes jazz seem dangerous.
It's the story of two petty thieves, jazz-loving Akira (Tamio Kawaji) and Masaru (Eiji Go), who use their hooker friend Fumiko (Noriko Matsumoto) to separate various horny tourists from their wallets. Caught in the act and arrested at a Tokyo jazz bar, Akira and Masuru find an opportunity for revenge soon after their release from jail, assaulting the arresting officer and abducting his girlfriend Yuki (Yuko Chishiro). They take her to a secluded nearby beach, where Akira rapes Yuki within an inch of her life while Masuru and Fumiko become better acquainted in the surf. As the episodic story continues, the three principals are shown living together, with Masaru determining to join a local yakuza gang, against Akira's leering advice. Akira is also tracked down by Yuki, who informs him that she is pregnant with his child.
Akira disrupts a contemporary art exhibition.
Akira, played by Kawaji with the face-rubbing mannerisms of Brando and the tortured swagger of James Dean, is a more extreme character than was seen in most Western cinema up to this time. He steals cars and motorbikes without shame, eats like a pig, drinks incessantly, and greets every woman he meets with "Wanna get laid?" He's not at all likeable, but he is fascinating -- especially when he's in the grip of something he understands, like a cathartic jazz solo. The film seems to acknowledge and ponder this dichotomy with a pair of complementary scenes; in one, a drunken Akira disrupts an art gallery exhibition, smearing his hands over valuable paintings, turning displayed abstract works upside down, and replacing the phony, lite jazz being played on a jukebox with the Real Thing.
In a later scene, Akira goes to taunt Yuki at her cottage, where he finds her entertaining a group of local artists. Akira does everything he can to alienate these people, whom he regards as the flesh-and-blood equivalent of contemptible lite jazz, but they turn the tables on him and treat him as a remarkable art object in his own right, analyzing and approving his contempt for society to his face, and bidding against one another to obtain him as a model. Much as the exhibit sequence looks forward to Alex's (Malcolm McDowell's) invasive assaults on various Pop and Op Art domiciles in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, this sequence of artists deconstructing Akira seems to anticipate Alex's deconstruction by his admiring, cynical government. It should be noted that Akira sleeps next to... no, not an engaving of Beethoven's stony face... a framed copy of Ornette Coleman's THE SHAPE OF JAZZ TO COME. Even the jazz club where Akira broods between petty crimes foreshadows the Korova Milk Bar: the walls painted black and festishized with portraits of the great jazz masters, their names painted in delirious white strokes like the Milk Bar's adverts of Vellocet and Drencrom. Kubrick simply had to have seen it.
In an unexpected turn of events, the pregnant Yuki prevails upon Fumiko for her help. Since her pregnancy became known to her boyfriend, their relationship has not been the same; he acts superior to her and treats her as someone tainted. So she pleads with Fumiko to seduce him, to destroy his pride as hers has been destroyed, so that they might rediscover their love for one another on levelled ground.
I won't go into the ironic finale, but the 75m film certainly builds to an evil boil and sustains its mood extremely well. I don't know if Quentin Tarantino is familiar with this movie -- which is apparently available in some form from Something Weird Video, probably the dubbed Audubon version (World Cinema HD showed the film in Japanese with subtitles that pulled no punches in the strong language department) -- but these characters seemed to me very much like antecedents of his most hellbent characters, and the whole feel of the film a convincing annex of his universe.
Under whatever title, Kurahara's film is much too important to be so obscure. The same goes for another Audubon import, Tinto Brass's NEROSUBIANCO, which Radley Metzger retitled THE ARTFUL PENETRATION OF BARBARA. (Yes, Virginia -- theaters actually used to show movies with titles like THE ARTFUL PENETRATION OF BARBARA and THE WEIRD LOVEMAKERS, though they won't admit to this in your History class.)