Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on September 15, 2011
I recently signed up for a temporary “Plus” account with Hulu.com so I could sample some of the rare Japanese films that Criterion has made available there. Earlier this year Criterion signed an exclusive deal with Hulu much to the dismay of many Netflix users. Netflix still carries some Criterion films but at Hulu you can now stream many Criterion titles that have never been released on DVD. According to Criterion’s initial statement on Facebook their partnership with Hulu, “gives viewers a chance to explore our library, sample films they might want to buy, discover films they never knew they would want, and see films so rare that they would never see the light of day in disc editions.” Naturally this intrigued me and when I learned that Seijun Suzuki’s hard-to-see film EVERYTHING GOES WRONG (also known as Subete ga kurutteru; 1960) was available to watch at Hulu I decided to take advantage of their 7-day trial membership offer.
According to Chris D.’s Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film and Mark Schilling’s No Borders No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema, EVERYTHING GOES WRONG was Suzuki’s 17th film. The hard working director gained a reputation for making stylish crime pictures with noir influences that appealed to Japanese youth eager for a new kind of cinema that reflected their own frustrations and fears. So it’s only natural that Nikkatsu would ask Suzuki to help them revive the popular “Sun Tribe” genre with EVERYTHING GOES WRONG. The so-called “Sun Tribe” was a youth subculture in Japan (much like the “Greasers” in the US or the “Teddy Boys” in England) that often borrowed their style from the Hawaiian Islands. They liked to lighten their hair, wear Hawaiian shirts and enjoyed parties on the beach but they also listened to jazz and admired the American hot rod culture. Sun Tribe films became popular in Japan during the mid 1950s after the release of films like SEASON OF THE SUN (1956), CRAZED FRUIT (1956) and PUNISHMENT ROOM (1956). These youth-orientated movies were influenced by American films such as Nicholas Ray’s THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1949) and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1956) as well as juvenile delinquent B-Movies distributed by companies such as API (American Pictures International) and produced by the likes of Roger Corman, which featured fast cars, faster women and catchy rock ‘n’ roll tunes. The Sun Tribe films scandalized Japan and widespread panic about their influence on Japanese teenagers caused studios to stop making them. But in 1960 Nikkatsu Studio decided to revive the genre and began producing movies like Suzuki’s EVERYTHING GOES WRONG as well as THE WARPED ONES (1960).
EVERYTHING GOES WRONG opens with footage from inside a theater showing what appears to be a Japanese WW2 propaganda film titled FIGHT TIL THE LAST DROP OF BLOOD. But we soon discover that Suzuki is using this faux war film made up of stock news footage to establish his movie’s underlying theme about the long-term effects of war while indirectly thumbing his nose at the Japanese film industry. It’s these kind of bold social gestures combined with the director’s uninhibited directing methods that earned Suzuki a notorious reputation at Nikkatsu. But it also gained him a wide base of young fans that appreciated his rebellious spirit and could relate to the alienation expressed in his films. After the disorientating opening of EVERYTHING GOES WRONG we’re introduced to group of troubled youths that roam the streets of Tokyo like a pack of wild dogs. The group includes petty thieves, rapists and various other delinquents including a troubled young man called, Jiro Sugita (Tamio Kawachi). Jiro lives alone with his mother (Tomoko Naraoka) while mourning the loss of his father who was killed by a Japanese tank in WW2. The irony and tragedy of his father’s death weighs heavily on Jiro who has become increasingly frustrated by his mother’s devotion to a married businessman, Keigo Nanbara (Shinsuke Ashida). Jiro’s torn between the possibility of becoming a career criminal or a company man himself, which seems to be the only future that awaits him if he stays in school and keeps his grades up. Jiro is pursued by a sassy and determined girl named Toshimi Tani (Yoshiko Yatsu/ Yoshiku Nezu/Ryoko Fukutsu – I’ve seen the actresses’ name translated three different ways and I can’t be certain which spelling is correct). She’s friendly with another girl called Etsuko (Shinako Nakagawa) who is desperate to get an abortion after she discovers that she’s pregnant with the child of her selfish live-in lover. The lives of all these troubled souls eventually collide in Suzuki’s relentless melodrama turning it into one of the director’s more sensitive and nihilistic films.
EVERYTHING GOES WRONG is one of the more interesting youthful movies to emerge from the Japanese New Wave. Seijun Suzuki’s early films are too often dismissed by critics who refer to them as uninspired “program pictures” and overlook their abundant style and signature themes. Much like early Hollywood, heavy-handed studio executives ran the Japanese film industry but rambunctious directors like Suzuki were able to mark the films they worked on with their distinctive take on the routine material they were given to interpret. His ability to indirectly tackle important social and economic issues facing Japan such as the effects of poverty, prostitution and unplanned pregnancy with a pop art sensibility is noteworthy. And Suzuki’s use of natural exteriors and extended tracking shots mirror what was happening in French cinema at the same time. For example, it’s impossible to watch EVERYTHING GOES WRONG without being reminded of Jean-Luc Godard’s critically renowned BREATHLESS (co-written by François Truffaut), which was released the same year. But unlike Godard’s film, which never lets you forget you’re watching a homage to other films, Suzuki’s EVERYTHING GOES WRONG is less self-conscious about its influences and more interested in social upheaval, but I find it just as pointed and powerful. Throughout Suzuki’s oeuvre the director continually accentuates the frustrations of his country’s disillusioned and disenfranchised youth while ushering in a new kind of Japanese cinema.
One of the film’s many highlights is a minute long tracking shot reminiscent of the magnificent opening in Orson Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL (1958). About an hour into the film Suzuki’s camera (guided by cinematographer Izumi Hagiwara) follows Keigo Nanbara out of a bar while he desperately searches for Jiro who has stolen a car and run off with his girlfriend. The camera cuts to young Etsuko as she wearily walks the street in distress over her unexpected pregnancy. After we see Etsuko stumble down some subway stairs Suzuki’s camera slowly moves up and away, and from an apparent crane shot overlooking the crowded streets of Tokyo, we see Keigo Nanbara come into frame again just as Jiro and his girlfriend drive by in their stolen sports car. This inspired moment unfolds quickly and you might miss it if you blink but it impressed me so much that I found myself in awe of Suzuki’s skills. Another director could have used a moment like that to open or close their film with a loud “Look at me!” but for Suzuki it’s just one more creative detail that transforms the movie’s simple narrative. This is a film that’s loaded with memorable directing choices and visual eye-candy. EVERYTHING GOES WRONG also boasts an incredible jazz infused soundtrack by composer Keitarō Miho that literally drives the plot, punctuating the script’s incredible highs and desperate lows. Simply put, this is great filmmaking.
The only way that you can currently see EVERYTHING GOES WRONG is at Hulu. Hulu’s streaming service is easy to use and as should be evident from the images I’ve included, the film looked terrific and was presented in widescreen with legible white subtitles. Hopefully Criterion will release another batch of Seijun Suzuki movies on DVD soon because his early films are still in desperate need of reevaluation. And film fans like myself can’t get enough of the director’s amazing body of work.
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