Monday, June 29, 2015

Crazed Fruit -- film group essay




In Old Eden Prairie

Very few people recall Eden Prairie’s beauty 45 years ago. Today, you might survey the suburb from a hill squashed and standardized by earthmovers and see a shallow valley brimful of houses, nice-looking homes to be sure, but, more or less, alike, variations, it seems, on two or three standard models, still no trees lining the streets any taller than the redwood fences enclosing the backyards. From that perspective, you would not know that the valley was once much deeper, a crater lined with breast-high grass with a little pond opening in its navel like an eye, tall cattails shadowing the water and red-winged blackbirds darting from perch to perch and, a little way up the slope, two brown ponies with shaggy manes playing on the hillside. In those days, the landscape was intricate with creeks and tiny waterfalls, strange gloomy marshes full of contorted trees and sumac-covered embankments. Tall hills rose to ridges covered with ancient trees and deep, icy lakes filled the potholes gouged by glaciers. Near the Minnesota river, the bluffs were dissected into ravines and an artesian well gushed water from the base of steep brushy hill and, above the coulees, the land was lush, curved, pillowy like a woman’s body.

At the center of this landscape, a deep and long lake, something like a fjord extended between sheer hillsides. At one end of lake, the water lost its way in a vast, labyrinth of marsh. On the freeway side of the lake the shore was shaped like the knuckles of fist, a bumpy series of outcroppings where mansions had been built. The other side of the lake was much less domesticated, a steep vertical landscape where dairy farms crowned the heights and the terrain too steep for pasture was staked for raspberries – it wasn’t clear if there were roads on the other side of the lake and, if so, how they were accessed. In those days, forty-five years ago, this body of water, Bryant Lake, had a forlorn abandoned aspect – a person rambling over the hills might find the ruins of a silo, an overgrown beach, a rich man’s compound built before the second world war shrouded in ivy and overgrown with thorns.

When I was in college, a friend of a friend invited me from time to time to parties held in those mansions overlooking the lake, the big houses built on the bare knuckle-shaped hills between the freeway and the finger of the lake. Wealthy contractors lived in those house, the men who had built the endless additions along Winnetka Road in New Hope or in Brooklyn Center. The contractors had college-aged children, although these kids didn’t attend the university and dropped out of High School in the 11th grade to drive graders and cement trucks in their fathers’ businesses, best to learn the trade on-the-job. The kids lived in the lower floors of the split-level mansions and had their own separate entries to the houses, their own garages annexed to the side of the buildings where they kept their sports cars and motorcycles. When you attended a party at the contractor’s mansion, you entered the house through a back door and stayed below grade in a series of rooms roaring with rock and roll music and hazy with marijuana smoke. There were white freezers full of deer meat and salmon yanked from lakes in northern Manitoba, the heads of stags and bears looking down bleary-eyed on the revelry, not one but a half-dozen pool tables, shaggy carpets and gloomy bars, people sprawled unconscious in big, overstuffed chairs and couches, Tvs ignored in guest bedrooms that were always occupied by boys and drunken girls, refrigerators packed with cans of beer, a party underway that seemed to have neither beginning nor ending. The parents were never around –the contractor had taken his second or third wife to Belize or Cancun – and so the upstairs of the house, a place we never ventured into, was silent and still. If you made it to dawn, you might stagger out of the house down the hill toward the lake and a rustic marina with bedraggled sailboats and a shed full of broken Evinrude motors. A kid would be lying on the dewy grass smoking a cigarette and watching the sun claw its way up over the hills on the other side of the lake where the tumble-down dairy farms occupied the ridges. Then, you might go for a brief swim in the lake’s chilly green water or you might canoe out to the middle and sleep there until the sun was overhead and you felt sober enough to drive. The kind of life lived in those mansions was very different from the way that the people in my neighborhood, only two miles away, lived. It was a casual life, indifferent to responsibility, a party with no consequences that lasted for days.

Post-war Japan

The life-style of the rich boys and girls shown in Crazed Fruit was not typical for Japan in 1956, the year the film was shot and released. The kids in the movie are the children of builders and developers who made fortunes reconstructing Japan during the Allied Occupation. Like the confused and alienated youth in American pictures of the same era, youth culture is a car-culture. And, yet, in 1956 Japan, there was one car for every 145 people. Most Tokyo kids didn’t water ski at Hayama as shown in the film. In fact, the film hints at the austerity of the economy for most people – the heroine, who is "married" to an American husband, is presumably a middle-class girl who has had to sell herself in order to survive. Crazed Fruit was an enormous box-office success and initiated a cycle of films about the "Sun Tribe" – that is, pleasure-seeking, indolent juvenile delinquents. But for the majority of Japanese the experience of watching the film was voyeuristic: it displayed pleasures far beyond the reach of most people.

Crazed Fruit is part of a world-wide genre of films about juvenile delinquents. Notable examples contemporary to Crazed Fruit are The Blackboard Jungle and, of course, Nick Ray’s Rebel without a Cause. English movies showed disaffected "Teddy Boys" and German films developed a genre of Halbstarker films about "beatniks" in Hamburg or Munich – the seminal film in the German genre, Halbstarke was also released in 1956. (The early films by Fassbinder made a dozen years later invoke these youth movies.) Parents and teachers worried that films of this kind, far from exposing delinquency, in fact, encouraged it. And, certainly, the appeal of the free and casual life depicted in Crazed Fruit must have been substantial for Japanese young people. To avoid collateral damage, Crazed Fruit received the equivalent of an X-rating – the people the movie is about couldn’t lawfully attend it. And a few months after the film was released, the Japanese legislature considered bills aimed at censoring and outlawing Taiyozoku (Sun Tribe) films. No laws were passed and they were unnecessary anyway – Japanese society is famously self-regulating and, after 1956, the movie industry voluntarily censored itself; no new Sun Tribe films were made.



The Sun Tribe

In 1954 and 1955, Japan was electrified by two novels written by Shintaro Ishihara. These books were Crazed Fruit and Season in the Sun – both novels about "Sun Tribe" delinquents. Nikkatsu Studios bought the rights to the novels and hastened to produce low-budget, quickly shot films based on them. Crazed Fruit was the first feature film directed by Ko Nakahira, a young man who was then 30 years old. Nakahira shot the movie in just 17 days. The film has a highly polished and evocative soundtrack written by Takemitsu Tori, Japan’s greatest post-war composer, elegiac Mancini-style jazz trumpet and open-key slack-tuned Hawaiian guitars. (The music for Crazed Fruit was Tori’s first film soundtrack.) One of the film’s stars, Yujiro Ishihara, the brother of the novelist who wrote Crazed Fruit, became famous as a result of the movie and was hailed as Japan’s answer to James Dean – Yujiro Ishishara plays the part of the sexually experienced and predatory older brother.

Crazed Fruit doesn’t just document trends in youth culture – it was a seismic occurrence that created trends. Before this film was produced, most Japanese did not sun-bathe and, indeed, a pale complexion was regarded as much more beautiful than tanned skin. Japanese kids didn’t water ski. After the film’s release and success, these things changed. Crazed Fruit is said to herald deep changes in Japanese society – it altered the way that kids acted and dressed and talked. The great Japanese director, Nagisa Oshima, said that "Crazed Fruit is the first modern Japanese film" and it was much imitated and immensely influential.

One man who saw the film accidentally was Francois Truffaut. (Truffaut was trying to see something else, but was confused by the titles.) Truffaut said that the film "opened his eyes". And, an argument can be made, that one of the sources of the French "New Wave" was Nakahira’s film. (The movie was purchased for release as an exploitation film in the United States and even subtitled – a single subtitled print of the film exists re-named something like Juvenile Jungle. But the picture doesn’t seem to have ever been commercially shown in this country.)



Of course, the tragedy of youth is that beautiful boys and girls grow up and age.

The director Ko Nakahira made a number of films but never reproduced his success with his inaugural effort, Crazed Fruit. He became an alcoholic and could no longer work in the Japanese film industry. He was hired to work for the Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong. He re-made Crazed Fruit under a pseudonym in Hong Kong and died of cirrhosis when he was 52. People who have seen the re-make say that it is no good.

The novelist who wrote Crazed Fruit, Shintaro Ishihara, became a right-wing politician. In the mid-fifties, with his brother, Ishihara was briefly the center of great adulation, key figures in a youth cult. But by 1973, Ishihara had moved far to the right, was an admirer of Yukio Mishima, and signed an anti-communist pact with other right-wing politicians in his own blood. In 1975, Ishihara ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Tokyo. He was a assembly man in the city and, later, a representative to the lower house of the national legislature. Between 1999 and 2012, Ishihara was the mayor of Tokyo. He is notorious for an anti-American book called The Japan that can say "No" (1989) written with the chairman of Sony, Akio Morita – in this book, Ishihara says that the Americans are racists and dropped the atomic bomb on Japan on the basis of the racial hatred of the Japanese. In 1990, Ishihara said that the so-called "Rape of Nanking" was a fiction invented by the Chinese communists. Around this time, he justified Japan’s occupation of Korea as historically necessary. When he was attacked by Korean immigrants to Japan, Ishihara urged that these immigrants be expelled from Japan. He told Playboy that women who have lost their reproductive capacity are "drains on society" and that they "should kill themselves." When challenged on this statement, Ishihara said that the attacks on him were motivated by "tyrannical old women." He publicly argued that the Olympic games should restrict Judo to Asian participants, since Westerners practicing Judo "look like wild beasts fighting." When he backed the destruction of a forest on a famous holy mountain, Ishihara told the press that the "forest was demon-haunted, diabolical" and that "it ate human beings." He has been called the "Le Pen" of Japan. Ishihara dabbled in film directing in the early sixties, giving the trade up to ride his motorcycle across South America. He said that if he had kept making films "(he) would have been greatest filmmaker to ever work in Japan, much greater that Kurosawa."

Yujiro Ishihara, with his brother, was adulated by Japanese youth and, sometimes, called the "Japanese Elvis" – in fact, his singing style was influenced more by Bing Crosby. He married Mie Kitahara, his co-star in Crazed Fruit, in 1960. Ishihara lived fast, chain-smoked, and ate only red meat – he developed a series of cancers and died at 52 in 1986. He was "extravagantly mourned," is buried under a granite "five ring" mortuary tower, and was featured on a Japanese postage stamp in 1997.


A Day Trip from Tokyo
Crazed Fruit takes place on the Miura peninsula, about 60 minutes south of Tokyo by rail line. On the west side of the peninsula are the beaches of Hayama Isshiki and Zushi. The famous Buddhist shrine at Kamakura is a little to the north in the hills overlooking the Pacific, also on the west side of the promontory.

To reach Hayama, take the JR Shonan-Shinjuka line from downtown Tokyo. Get off the train a Zishu after about a 60 to 65 minute ride south of the metropolis. Zushi is a small village. The train stop is three miles south of Kamakura and one mile to the north of Hayama. If you intend to go Hayama Isshiki beach, the nicest on the peninsula, take the Keikyu bus unless you want to walk. In the film, people arrive and depart at the Zushi station; then, they have to take a hot rod to the beach area. Hayama Isshiki beach is where the emperor has his summer palace and the beach is kept pristine in honor of the imperial royal family.

Route 134, a famous Japanese highway snakes along the western coast. This is the main road linking Kamakura, Zushi, and Hayama as well as other notable sites on the west side of the peninsula. Since the construction of the rail lines around the turn of the 20th century, excursions to Hayama and its adjacent regions, including Kamakura, have been a popular day-trip from Tokyo. (In the summer, Tokyo is very hot and humid; the air quality is often bad and the beaches between the metropolis and Yokohama (and Kawasaki) on the eastern side of the Miura peninsula are said to be grotesquely overcrowded and fetid. Route 134 looks similar in places to the Highway 1 in California – it runs along the beach in many areas at the base of a high sandy bluff. The appearance of the bluff is identical with the unstable sandy bluffs overlooking Malibu and Santa Monica beaches in California. These picturesque bluffs have often appeared as a backdrop in Japanese films. In Crazed Fruit, there are several shots showing a particularly high bluff near Hayama; this same bluff features in a number of important sequences in Yasujiro Ozu’s 1930 gangster film Walk Cheerfully – the young gangster hero motors up coastal highway with his girlfriend and her kid sister; she drops a kewpie doll that the passing cars flatten. The Hayama area has always been a place where ancient Japan intersects picturesquely with the modern world. Japanese audiences would understand that the hills and bays around Hayama are sacred – the living God, the Emperor and his family frequented those waters. But since the area was a resort town it has always been a show-place for modernity – the peninsula was famous for water-skiing and jazz clubs as shown in Crazed Fruit. In Ozu’s Walk Cheerfully, the hero has a picnic with his girlfriend at the shrine to the great bronze Buddha in Kamakura. The film shows the hoodlum’s jalopy parked so close to the huge Buddha that it looks as if the meditating figure is cradling the Model T in his lap.


Madame Butterfly

Kim Lockhart’s father, Kay Lockhart, was a navy fighter pilot. He was stationed in Japan. Like most of the American soldiers in Japan, he acquired a 19 year old girlfriend, Michiko. His account of his relationship is attached to this note. In his memoir, Lockhart indicates that he was with this young woman, a survivor of Hiroshima, for six months. He paid her 100 dollars a month for her to be his mistress. Lockhart explains that Japan is very caste-conscious; attractive young Japanese women saw "Americans as a resource and a way out of their caste." Although Lockhart was very fond of Michiko, his "middle-class background couldn’t allow (him) to bring her home" when his active duty ended. He simply abandoned her without a face-to-face farewell – "and I have felt guilty my whole life about the way our relationship ended."

Lockhart returned to St. Paul. He had learned to fly before he learned to drive a car. Back in St. Paul, he lived with his parents and worked bagging groceries at a local supermarket. It was "almost as if those navy years had never existed." Later, Kay Lockhart studied at MIT, became a famous architect in the Twin Cities, working for Ralph Rapson (the designer of the old Guthrie Theater) and teaching at the University of Minnesota. His memoir is called Flying with the Navy 1949 - 1952. It is a very interesting short book.


John Donne on a love scene in "Crazed Fruit"
As ‘twixt to equal armies, Fate

Suspends uncertain victory,

Our souls (which to advance their state

Were gone out) hung ‘twixt her, and me.

And whilst our souls negotiate there

We like sepulchral statues lay:

All day, the same our postures were,

And we said nothing, all the day.



Quiz Delinquency

1. Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics for music composed by Leonard Bernstein for this Broadway show about New York juvenile delinquents?
2. This 1978 documentary narrated by Peter Falk involved convicted lifers bullying juvenile delinquents in an attempt to " ________ them ________".
3. The above-referenced documentary launched many sequels with the same general name and premise, some of which the most highly rated shows in their seasons. In 2011, the Justice Department concluded that this program was (a) a great success in its objective; (b) it’s success could not be statistically determined; ( c ) not only unsuccessful but seriously harmful.
4. James Dean flees to what Los Angeles landmark in the final scenes of the 1955 picture Rebel without a Cause: _____________.
5. Frederic Wertham in his famous book The Seduction of the Innocent (1954) argued that ________________ caused juvenile delinquency. Congress held hearings to determine if he was right about this theory. (He wasn’t; in 2011, a statistician studying Wertham’s records showed that he had "cooked" the numbers.)
6. In Harmony Korinne’s Spring Breakers, (2014) Selena Gomez and the other three girls on spring break appear in Court in their brightly colored _____________.
7. In The Blackboard Jungle, (1955) a brave principal (played by Glenn Ford) fights back against the anti-social behavior of his students led by a African-american youth played by ___________________. This movie features the menacing "Rock Around the Clock" recorded by ______________________.
8. _____________________ plays the alluring sociopathic reform school girl, the titular Kitten with a Whip (1964).
9. The punk band, ____________________ leads a high school rebellion at Vince Lombardi High resulting in apocalyptic destruction in the Roger Corman-produced Rock and Roll High School (1979).
10. Action and his Jets sing a mocking song about Sergeant Krupke. At the end of the song, they jeer "Gee, Officer Krupke, _____________!"

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