B&W, 1958, 99 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Starring Sachiko Hidari, Akira Kobayashi, Ruriko Asaoka

Color, 1961, 84 mins. 35 secs.
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Starring Kôji Wada, Mayumi Shimizu, Nobuo Kaneko, Hiroshi Hijikata, Shin Morikawa, Arihiro Fujimura

B&W, 1962, 71 mins. 57 secs.
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Starring Tamio Kawaji, Noriko Matsumoto, Keiko Sugiyama

B&W, 1963, 95 mins. 5 secs.
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Starring Ken Yamauchi, Masako Izumi, Midori Tashiro, Yoko Ozono, Chiharu Kuri, Emiko Azuma

B&W, 1965, 96 mins. 59 secs.
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Starring Ken Yamauchi, Yumiko Nogawa, Masako Izumi, Jun Tatara, Kotoe Hatsui, Masahiko Tanimura
Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/B/0 HD/NTSC/PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Though he now holds a place as one of Japan's most significant directors, Seijun Suzuki is much more than the wild reputation he earned with a string of stylish Nikkatsu films among the dozens he cranked out over a decade with the studio. Among his early works, crime sagas like Youth of the Beast and Underworld Beauty have been long available and gave the impression that he was most comfortable with gun play and sexy thrills; however, he's much more than that as seen in the first of two Arrow Video sets devoted to his early work. In this first release, five rarely-seen (in English) films have been collected to show the breadth of his Nikkatsu productions devoted to the rapidly growing teen market that was keeping movie theaters thriving in the 1960s.

In The Boy Who Came Back, the first film on disc one of the Blu-ray and DVD double-disc set, tensions run high among the neighborhood youth when Nobuo (Kobayashi) rolls back in from juvenile detention. His sister is especially agitated to have him back home, but his social worker, Keiko (Hidari), has confidence she can integrate him back into society and find him a suitable job. However, romantic and peer pressure complications ensue that don't sit too well with the young man's already hot and sometimes violent temper. A really odd one, this is basically a troubled teen melodrama with some musical interludes, a few noir-inspired scenes filled with glittering surfaces and flashing neon, and lots and lots of angst. You get some bad boy bikers, swanky nightclubs, and an interesting tension in our main character who seems to be constantly tiptoeing between redemption and destruction, not to mention the interesting twist that it's as much about Hidari as well.

The Boy Who Came Back The Boy Who Came Back The Boy Who Came Back The Boy Who Came Back The Boy Who Came Back

Next up is the exhaustingly titled The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass, which switches over to vivid color for the story of backpacking teenager Shintaro Funaki (Gate of Flesh's Wada) and his adventures in the Japanese mountains. First he hitches a ride with a traveling band of music and carnival performers called the Kinyo Imai Traveling Magic Show, then ends up his first night stuck between them and some local gangsters (including two guys named Jeep and Full Moon) when he tries hawking his stash of ladies' undies at an outdoor fair. The troupe's magic show is mostly subsidized by the real local attraction, stripper Akemi, and soon everyone is jumbled together in what turns out to be a very memorable stopover. Among the brightest and most cheerful Suzuki films around, this one has a tone closer to Frank Capra by way of '60s live-action Disney despite the gangster elements (which are about as genteel as yakuza can get). Wada is fine in what amounts to a one-note Candide type of role, while the supporting cast gets all the colorful material including some fun stage acts (love the berserk jazz cello player!) and a big brawl scene that shows off how stylized Suzuki would soon become. Definitely a highlight of the set and likely to be the favorite of many viewers.

The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass

Then i's back to monochrome again for Teenage Yakuza, whose title is a bit of a misnomer since it's actually about an adolescent Jiro (Kawaji) and his comic scuffles with his pals with a subplot about some small-time yakuza muscling local folks around in town. His efforts to fend off the criminals get him branded as a troublemaker instead, which makes him a pariah in the local coffeehouse dance culture. More musical numbers, lots of fun shots of youth culture outside the epicenter of Tokyo, and sleek scope photography make this one a mild diversion (barely over an hour long) more concerned with social interactions and the price of extortion rather than traditional action or melodrama. It also goes for something of a West Side Story vibe at times with gangs of teens rumbling in open lots, all to the accompaniment of some funky bongo drums.

Teenage Yakuza Teenage Yakuza Teenage Yakuza Teenage Yakuza Teenage Yakuza

Things get a lot more upscale and literary on disc two with The Incorrigible, a period piece set in the Kajima Basin at the turn of the twentieth century as Togo (Yamauchi), "the incorrigible," has been expelled from school in Kobe and is traveling to a new life with his disappointed mother. He thinks they're heading to Tokyo, but with her husband away indefinitely, mom is planning on dumping him in the countryside with a family friend and his young son where his wild behavior will hopefully be tamed. Instead he ends up butting heads with at Toyooka Middle School with the frighteningly rigid group of seniors called the Public Morals Unit that punishes anyone who steps out of line. Even the headmaster (who welcomes Togo by promising to "knock you down and build you back up" by holding him back a year) falls in line with the strict morality brigade, which causes an even bigger problem when Togo finds a chance at love with classmate Emiko (Izumi) that goes way beyond infractions like smoking or keeping a photo of the opposite sex. It's impossible to watch this film without considering how Suzuki's own increasingly rebellious style would get him in hot water with the studio that had served as his home, with Togo's sometimes humorous manipulation of the anti-intellectual seniors who try to stop him from reading Strindberg. There's even some stick fighting thrown in near the end, too, just to shake things up a bit.

The Incorrigible The Incorrigible The Incorrigible The Incorrigible The Incorrigible

Fifth and final in the set is Born Under Crossed Stars which, as with The Incorrigible, is based on a novel by the now obscure Tôkô Kon, set a few decades earlier in Japan's past, has another quasi-fascist student group (this time called the Discipline Committee), and features the same two lead actors. This time the comedy that informed about half of that prior film takes over here almost entirely with a much edgier tone as well. Milk delivery has become a recent development in Kobe, and young Jukichi (Yamauchi) is trying to make a living while juggling his studies and love life at Yao Junior High School. Two possible options for love are available, bookworm and fellow Tolstoy reader Suzuko (Izumi) and perpetual flirt Taneko (Nogawa), but consorting with girls is punished with violence (even if it's just with a relative). Meanwhile even his milk deliveries find him compromising his initially firm moral code. Easily the most Suzuki-esque title in the set, this one starts off sort of normally but soon goes nuts with things like a martial arts fight intercut with shots of (real) cockfighting, a horny blind couple, a surprisingly lingering (for '65) shot of urine, stylized flashbacks, impressionistic nudity, and lots of whipping camera movements. It's quite raucous at times despite the overall elegance of the scope photography and careful lighting, and when you consider that America was getting teen comedies like Beach Blanket Bingo the same year, it's pretty wild seeing things like a teenage girl grinding her crotch on our hero's knee.

The Incorrigible The Incorrigible The Incorrigible The Incorrigible The Incorrigible

Never released on DVD anywhere in the world before 2018, all five films also make their English-friendly debuts here and fill in a fascinating early gap in the director's career. Each one features a solid transfer without significant issues; the first two titles have occasional age-related flaws like a messy splice or single frame of damage here and there, but it's hard to imagine these looking any better than they do here. The LPCM Japanese mono soundtracks are all perfectly good for relatively simple mixes, with optional English subtitles provided. On the extras side, the first disc features trailers for The Boy Who Came Back and Mountain Pass plus galleries for all three features, while the second has a useful appraisal of all of the films by Tony Rayns (39m39s) with plenty of tidbits about the actors that will definitely give you a stronger appreciation for even some of the minor faces popping up. Born Under Crossed Stars also comes with a thorough new audio commentary by Jasper Sharp (who provides extensive liner notes for the packaging as well) with tons of information about every actor on view, the visual and thematic ideas Suzuki would soon work into his better known films outside of his famous gangster outings, and the film's placement as an apex of sorts for the youth films contained in this set. Trailers and galleries are included for both features as well.

Reviewed on February 28, 2018.