• Young Thugs - Innocent Blood & Young Thugs - Nostalgia

    Released by: Artsmagic
    Released on: October 26, 2004.
    Director: Takashi Miike
    Cast: Kôji Chihara, Seiji Chihara, Moeko Ezawa, Marie Kikuchi, Hiroko Nakajima, Sarina Suzuki, Setsuko Karasuma, Yuki Nagata, Toshikazu Nakaba, Akihiro Shimizu, Saki Takaoka, Naoto Takenaka
    Year: 1997/1998

    The Movies:

    Artsmagic follows their North American releases of such Takashi Miike films as Full Metal Yakuza, Sabu, and the Black Society Trilogy with a pair of his earlier, more personal (and almost biographical in a sense) films, both of which are based on work by Japanese author Toshikazu Nakaba (who also plays a part in the second film, Nostalgia).

    Young Thugs - Innocent Blood (Kishiwada Shonen Gurentai: Chikemuri Junjo-hen)

    The first film follows the story of three teenagers, two boys and a girl, who were close friends during their time in high school together. One the last day of class in their last year of school, they decide to rob their teacher and drop a flowerpot onto his head from the rooftop. Ryoko, the girl, finds work as a hair stylist, while the boys set out down the path of hooliganism as they start running a protection racket in their small Osaka suburb. They run scams on the local populace and lend themselves out as muscle for hire and their criminal activity begins to become slightly more serious as the film progresses.

    Once the characters are setup in their positions, the film switches gears and changes pace from a straight out action/crime movie into a more carefully constructed coming of age story. Now that we know who these people are and what they do, the film examines the relationships that they share together and how adulthood changes things – sometimes for the better, but more often for the worse. We see the former students slowly coming into adulthood and starting to move in different directions from each other things begin to change in a way that

    Innocent Blood is an apt title for the film, as in amongst the tender moments of character development and relationship based melodrama are an ungodly amount of beatings, courtesy of the titular thugs and their penchant for taking down their foes with their baseball bats. Typical of Miike’s style of filmmaking, this makes for a movie that is full of contrasts. While we learn of the stresses coming to affect the lead characters and begin to feel for them in earnest, sooner rather than later we witness them laying the smack down on a few locals who cross them.

    This interesting paradox of serene and tranquil moments of caring set against a series of brutal beatings makes for an interesting film that really does a nice job of balancing the character drama with the action resulting in a film is slowly paced and almost droll in a few spots but that somehow manages to be engaging and fascinating at the same time.

    Young Thugs - Nostalgia (Kishiwada Shonen Gurentai: Bokyo-hen)

    This second film focuses in on the personal life of schoolboy named Riichi (who we see as an older boy in the first movie, as are many of the other characters including Ryoko) who is forced to deal with some rather unorthodox family problems that are, to say the least, quite dysfunctional. As he grows up in the late 1960s we witness through flashback and clips many of the elements that will shape the man he is destined to become.

    The primary theme of this film (the later of the two, though it serves as a prequel to its predecessor) is the loss of innocence that all children experience due to the actions of those around them and those in their direct environment. Riichi has to deal with the growing pains that affect every young man in the years the character is set in here, as he tries his best to cope with his inner child that, in a sense, is seemingly revolting against his external growth. We also witness the genesis of his sour relationship with Sada, a character who will later come back to affect his life deeply (if that sounds vague it’s because I’m trying not to spoil either film!). Some of these aspects make more sense if you’ve seen Innocent Blood first but none of them should prevent anyone from being able to not only make perfect sense out of this movie but enjoy it as well.

    The film balances the trademark sporadic violence the director is known for with some more serious character based moments in much the same way he does in the first film though amazingly enough, this time he accomplishes it using a cast made up almost entirely of child actors – something that usually spells instant doom for a film of this ilk. Sadly, because it meanders in its plot and lacks the poignant sucker-punch that Innocent Blood has, it’s not quite as good a movie (though that’s more of a complement to Innocent Blood than an insult to Nostalgia).

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Both films are presented in anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen presentations with nice color reproduction and life like flesh tones. There is the occasional speck of print damage that pops up here and there but it is really quite a minute issue and hardly worth mentioning. Black levels are pretty strong and don’t break up much at all and edge enhancement is only slightly noticeable in one or two scenes in each of the two features. Colors are nicely defined and aren’t oversaturated and instead look clean and distinct. Overall, these movies look great.

    Fans have the option of watching the films in very active Japanese language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes or in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mixes with optional subtitles available in English that are clean, clear, easy to read, and free of any noticeable typos. The rears fill in the mix nicely and are most noticeable during the more action intensive moments throughout the two movies. The dialogue driven scenes are placed predominantly in the front of the mix and come out sounding well balanced against the background music and sound effects.

    Both features include, on their respective DVDs, the original trailer for the film represented as well as some text biographies and filmographies that relay some good background information on all the key players involved in making the two films. Artsmagic has also supplied the original artwork for each film on the DVDs. Both discs also feature chapter selection and interactive menus.

    Young Thugs - Innocent Blood contains two video featurettes. The first on is a nine-minute segment entitled Osaka People and it takes a look at the history of Osaka explained from the point of view of someone who lives there while visually we’re treated to all manner of photographs and illustrations that work nicely against the narrative. The second is a video interview with enigmatic director Takashi Miike that clocks in at approximately fifteen minutes. In this segment the director explains his personal feelings on the film and how he relates to it seeing as it is set in the town where he was born.

    Young Thugs – Innocent Blood repeats the Osaka People featurette but features a new seventeen-minute interview with Miike, always in sunglasses as is his norm, who again discusses his personal feelings on the film and its genesis and relation to some of the other movies in his catalogue.

    The Final Word:

    While the extra features aren’t as plentiful as earlier Artsmagic Miike DVD releases, Young Thugs – Innocent Blood and Young Thugs – Nostalgia are great films from one of the most interesting directors working today. The DVDs look and sound great and Miike fans probably already know by now that they need to add these to their collections.