Director: Seijun Suzuki
Cast: Sachiko Hidari, Akira Kobayashi, Ruriko Asaoka, Toru Abe, Makiko Aoi, Akemi Ebata, Shoki Fukae, Ayako Fukuda, Akinori Hanamura, Ikuhiro Hashiguchi,Eiko Higashitani, Kaoru Higuchi, Akira Hisamatsu, Kyoko Hori
Running Time: 99 min.
By Kyle Warner
Famed director Seijun Suzuki was fond of saying that his films “made no sense and made no money” and indeed we know him best for the bizarre action movies that led to his fractured relationship with his home studio, Nikkatsu. Today, the movies that made no sense/no money are revered as cult classics and have made him a celebrated filmmaker all across the world. But in the early years of his career, Suzuki was viewed by Nikkatsu as one of the studio’s brightest young filmmakers. Those early movies have never been available on home video outside of Japan until now. This month, Arrow Video begins releasing the first volume (in what this reviewer hopes is a long line) of Suzuki’s early films in a new deluxe box set. The volumes appear to be separated by theme, with Vol. 1 being ‘Youth Movies’ and the upcoming Vol. 2 being a few of the earliest examples of Suzuki’s ‘Borderless Action’ movies.
The first of these ‘Youth Movies’ is the 1958 romantic crime drama The Boy Who Came Back (aka The Spring That Didn’t Come or Spring Never Came). Suzuki had only graduated from assistant director to director just two years before and already he had a pretty sizable portfolio of films to his name. The Boy Who Came Back would be only one of four Suzuki films released in 1958, showing Nikkatsu was already putting a heavy workload of B-movie projects on the young director’s schedule. And perhaps it was because Suzuki was still young and trying to prove himself, or maybe because he did not yet think he’d been wronged by the studio bosses, but The Boy Who Came Back is lacking in the rebellious, weirdo spirit we tend to see when we watch a Suzuki film.
In the movie, Akira Kobayashi (The Rambling Guitarist) plays Nobuo, a delinquent hood who is just getting out of reform school after a two year stint for violence (it’s his second stint at reform school after previously being sentenced for attempting to strangle his father). A new volunteer program called BBS (Big Brothers & Sisters) is set up to help troubled youth like Nobuo return to society once they’re on the outside. Sachiko Hidari (The Insect Woman) plays Keiko, a new volunteer at BBS, who is given Nobuo’s case file as her first assignment. Nobuo doesn’t make it easy for her; he’s rude, he’s prone to sudden violence, and he has a dangerous mix of pride and low self-worth. Despite this, Keiko pulls out all the stops in order to help Nobuo along, including getting him a job and reintroducing him to his mother, but the thing that seems to be really holding him back is a difficult romance with the girl he left behind.
Ruriko Asaoka (Tokyo Mighty Guy) plays Kazue, the girl who once owned Nobuo’s heart but now remains distant from him since he went away. Keiko has to resort to some trickery to get the two reunited, because she really does care about seeing Nobuo happy. But in doing so, she comes to realize that maybe she feels more deeply for the troubled young man than she is supposed to, igniting a (one-sided?) love triangle romance. All throughout this, Nobuo is tempted to return to a life of crime and violence. His old nemesis, the young gangster/wannabe yakuza Kajita (Jo Shishido, Branded to Kill) makes matters worse by targeting Kazue and putting Nobuo in a precarious position.
The film plays like a troubled youth take on the themes seen in Akira Kurosawa’s 1948 film Drunken Angel, which saw a drunken doctor played by Takashi Shimura trying to save the life of the self-destructive yakuza played by Toshiro Mifune. And like that film, Suzuki also depicts the yakuza in a bad light here, with Jo Shishido’s Kajita dressing in suits way too large for his frame and looking like a joke for most the movie.
Though I found the characters well written, I cannot say I thought much of Akira Kobayashi’s performance – he’d become a better actor as the years went on. The leading ladies are more impressive, with Sachiko Hidari in particular delivering a great dramatic performance. Her character’s conflicts are the most interesting in the film, as she has to deal with the difficult Nobuo and a volunteer program that her friends and family don’t believe in (“What’s BBS?” one friend asks, “Brigitte Bardot Style?”). She evokes so much emotion with her face alone. It’s one of my favorite roles from the celebrated actress.
Teen melodrama Suzuki is not my favorite Suzuki but I must say that this is a well-made film. When thinking about the film afterwards, I realized I felt disappointed it had not been wilder somehow, but that if it had been directed by any other filmmaker I likely wouldn’t have felt that way. Suzuki comes with certain expectations, but at this point in the director’s career he was still coming into his own as an artist. The Boy Who Came Back is an actor’s movie most of all, and Suzuki gives his actors plenty of opportunities to show their stuff. Come at it expecting a different sort of film from the Suzuki norm and you shouldn’t be disappointed. (As for the new Blu-ray, it looks really good for an obscure 60-year-old film. There are maybe three moments that looked like damaged frames of film, but otherwise it’s almost remarkably clean.)
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 7/10