Good-for-Nothing (1960)

7 07 2008

Yoshida’s first feature is very much in the same thematic vein as Nagisa Oshima’s two features from 1960, Cruel Story of Youth and The Sun’s Burial. While Oshima went for something more kinetic and spontaneous, Yoshida showed a bit more restraint which results in one of the earliest cases of a formalistic Japanese New Wave film. It still packs the energy that people like Oshima and Immamura intended to capture, but just does so in a much more technically mature manner. If there’s anything specifically “wrong” about the film, it’s that the whole thing is a bit too obvious in its freewheeling style. Like Cruel Story of Youth, one can’t help but think of it as a Japan-izied version of Breathless. All three directors (Oshima, Yoshida, and Godard that is) would go to do better things, but all their debuts are good films in and of themselves.

Jun, a disenchanted youngster with very little passion, has become absorbed by a local gang. The gang hatches a sort of prank crime by kidnapping the secretary of a large corporation, which is owned by the father of the gang’s leader. Makino, the secretary, begins to notice promise in Jun, despite his “tough guy” exterior and they begin a relationship, which turns out to be the root of many problems. Jun is conflicted between his friends and Makino, and to make things worse, completely unsure of what he wants to do after graduation.

Yoshida builds a surprisingly strong foundation for the rest of his career here, but it would be a lie to say that this anywhere near the quality of The Affair. I can see him setting up some technical elements that would eventually become a more steadicam-driven version of Antonioni’s aesthetic. Still, the film is strictly embryonic in its compositions. Yoshida clearly has the right idea, but the shots never seem to transition as seamlessly as they do in The Affair. Perhaps this is a slightly unfair compliant, but in the world of cinema, every thing should come off naturally. Not just the obvious stuff such as dialogue or character movements, but the flow of the shots as well. It’s an abstract balance and perhaps an impossible one to self-consciously obtain.

Then again, maybe this “flow” is merely interrupted by the very standard “New Wave” sort of narrative. Jazzy music? Check. A gang? Check. Loose women? Also check. Maybe I’m condensing Yoshida’s story into a far too narrow category, but I still can’t see enough unique ideas present here. Really, it is just a more formal and slightly more fleshed out version of Cruel Story of Youth. Of course, this is far from being a bad thing, but it’s just that nothing elevates the film beyond the time period. Ironic considering how The Affair, if anything, is a completely timeless effort. Again, this isn’t to say that Good-for-Nothing is not good (hah!) but it is just not really great. A solid, very enjoyable effort from Yoshida but not an outright masterpiece.

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One response

7 07 2008
noisia

Very good movie, one of the best examples of the so called “youth films”. But still far from his masterpieces, “Coup D’Etat” and of course one of the best japanese movies ever, “Eros plus massacre”!!

Probably the most challenging Japanese director of all time! Yoshida is a genius!

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