Naked Youth: A Story of Cruelty

A scrappy, nihilistic Japanese film from 1960 about teenage delinquents, made by Nagisa Oshima – he of In The Realm of the Senses fame. Naked Youth is only his second feature, and I liked its energy and honesty a lot more. Angela Carter felt betrayed by the willful inexplicability of Senses, but here Oshima is disarmingly direct. His Bonnie & Clyde Romeo & Juliet say precisely what they mean, and what Oshima means through them. And as a result you get a very clear portrait of the times – where a younger generation strains not only against the conformity of their parents, but the idealism of their older siblings. Instead the central lovers believe in nothing but their desires, and even that is crushed out of them by the necessity of selling yourself to live.

Because the only way Kiyoshi, a violent student, can survive is by selling his high-school girlfriend Makoto. They meet when he saves her from being raped by a man driving her home from a jazz bar. The man pays them for not going to the police. Later they make money by engineering the same scenario – Makoto leads men on and then Kiyoshi assaults and robs them when they go too far. The beautiful Makoto admits to feeling uncomfortable being objectified and operationalised in this way. But Kiyoshi sells his beauty as well – sleeping with an older woman who employs him at a hotel. Both youths are rescued from prison not by each other, but by their older lovers. That experience teaches Kiyoshi what objectification means, and he dies trying to save Makoto from that fate.

The tragedy is that Makoto cannot escape Kiyoshi. The most arresting and memorable shot of the film is when Kiyoshi breaks Makoto and rapes her. Makoto agrees to a date because she is grateful for her rescue, and attracted to her rescuer. But after a fun ride on a speedboat, Kiyoshi throws her into the water. A long tracking shot follows Makoto as she tries not to drown, with Kiyoshi (head out of frame) walking calmly beside her, kicking her hands away from the bank. She has no choice but to give in. Stockholm Syndrome sets in and she falls in love with her captor, despite his cruelty (ironically, some of their sweetest scenes together are by the water). At the end of the film she is willing to prostitute herself again for him. When he refuses, she has no meaning or value left and kills herself.

That level of masochism feels like a pointed rebuke at the valorisation of female suffering in Ozu and Mizoguchi. But the same elegaic tone is inherited from the two masters – an older generation lost for words at the out-of-control desires, broiling rage, and uninhibited individualism of the 1960s. It's an arresting vision, far more so than (what I've seen of) the contemporaneous French 'New Wave' it is often compared with.


All-Star Superman

Realised I haven't written anything on the blog in a while. I have been participating in a few London Graphic Novel Network discussions, which have been a lot of fun. The convo on All-Star Superman was particularly interesting. My contribution is below – mainly fleshing out the stuff I wrote back in 2011, but interesting for spurring this take from David Allison over at the Mindless Ones...

Not sure if Morrison uses the analogy himself, but superheroes have been described as modern myths. Just realised while writing this that the Roger Lancelyn Green retellings of Robin Hood, King Arthur etc I read as a child rather nicely highlight the proto-superheroic nature of the source material – the same cast of characters in the same setting going off to have adventures and coming together in world-historical crossovers. My sense is that Morrison is in that myths and legends headspace. For example the second issue feels to me like a retelling of the Bluebeard fairy-tale (albeit with a benevolent twist). Likewise issue 5 seems to have a Dante's Inferno flex – Kent being shown around hell by a demented Virgil before being carted off by an scary S&M Beatrice (or maybe that's just me seeing things that aren't there).

The point of that simulation in issue 10 was to show that if Superman didn't exist we would have to invent him, and in fact have been inventing different versions of him (e.g. that panel of Nietzsche's Superman) throughout history. The premise being that people create their gods as symbols of what they themselves aspire to be (some more German philosophy about that here). My sense is that there's a religion to science move in the final issue – Lois believes that one day Superman will return, while Leo Quintum goes off to try and solve the problems of the universe on his own. Maybe Quintum isn't just Luthor (first time I've seen that theory and like it a lot!), but the Superman of the future. That is to say: the representation of our collective 21st century aspirations.