In many ways this film is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange. The differences, though, are fundamental. Kubrick’s Clockwork was an exploration into violent youth anarchism in the face of social decline and over-conformity. The violent youth of Sonoda’s Kyouki are also driven by an ideology, but here it is a highly disciplined and traditional nationalism which flies in the face of meaningless Westernization and modernization. This dedication to nationalism places these youth in a very long and proud tradition espoused (to this day) by militants, extremists and yakuza. Though strictly a local Shibuya district gang quickly gaining notoriety, their explicit nationalism naturally drives them into the arms of like-minded yakuza gangs which oversee far larger sections of the city. Though initially anxious to join the larger yakuza activities, once involved, the rather naive ideology and cohesiveness of the gang quickly deteriorates as each member is gradually chewed up and spit out by a far more sinister machinery.
The gang’s leader is Yamaguchi Susumu (Kobuzuka YĆ“suke, perhaps most notable for recently playing Amakusa Shiro in Makai Tensho (2003)). Yamaguchi is eventually introduced to the yakuza boss Aota Shuzo (Harada Yoshio) who takes Yamaguchi under his wing, becoming nearly a father figure. When Yamaguchi is finally privy to the destruction of his friends and the betrayal of Aota, he will enter the fight of his career against Saburo (Eguchi Yosuke), a far more mature and formidable yakuza killer.
The cinematics in Kyouki no Sakura are both polished and experimental. The entire project comes off as very contemporary, fueled by an excellent soundtrack and almost non-stop creative violence. The message here is clearly one of ideology and loyalty toward more traditional values, though not without a flicker of sadness for the youthful demise of the main characters. In this way, Kyouki no Sakura proves to be an effective modern parallel to Suzuki Seijun’s Fighting Elegy (1966) which traversed much of the same ground with the same degree of youth violence via the attraction to nationalistic fascism, portrayed in experimental cinematics and with a modicum of subtle infused humor.
Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS