Monday, 31 May 2010

CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH (JAPAN/1960/NAGISA ÔSHIMA)

Makoto is a coquettish student who believes that her feminine wiles are enough to get her through life. When she is threatened sexually by a driver with whom she had hitchhiked, another student named Kiyoshi comes to her rescue, throwing the man off and warning him that he could destroy his reputation. Makoto is convinced that she has finally found her prince charming and the pair spend time together, but as Kiyoshi starts to blow hot and cold, it becomes clear that he is as questionable a character as her attacker. A hard-up student, Kiyoshi makes scraps of cash by sleeping with older women and leasing his room to couples, and when Makoto’s attacker offers a bribe to prevent them heading to the police station, his money-grabbing instinct takes over.

As in a few of Nagisa Ôshima’s films, the issue at the heart of Cruel Story Of Youth is the commodification of human beings. Makoto is an incredibly naïve and vulnerable character, and because of this, it is painful to witness her story arc, but she is difficult to sympathise with given that she has essentially created her circumstances. Ôshima does a superb job of narrating the woes of adolescence, even as the story gets decidedly adult. A sequence wherein Kiyoshi refuses to save Makoto from drowning unless she does everything he says is particularly memorable and sums the film up succinctly. Raw, sexual and dangerous, Cruel Story Of Youth is a still relevant evocation of the rebellious teenage spirit.





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