If You Were Young: Rage — movie review
Posted on July 18, 2012 by Chris Nelson
Over the past nine years of writing reviews, I’ve managed to collect a number of classic films, only to let them fall to the wayside as I struggled to review newer releases. One such film, Kinji Fukasaku’s If You Were Young: Rage, has sat on my shelf for at least six years now. Finally sitting down to watch it was something of a treat.
Now, before we even start, I’ll admit that while I’ve seen a few Fukasaku films, they number far too few for me to claim myself an expert. For a real in-depth knowledge of Fukasaku, you’ll want to check in with someone like Tom Mes. What follows is my own, under informed impression of the film.
Fukasaku’s first independent film, If You Were Young: Rage shows Fukasaku continuing his lifelong focus on the societal troubles faced by Japanese youth, but in a more grounded, everyday context than found in his previous studio youth-gangster pictures (a la Blackmail is My Life). Rather than blackmail or criminal schemes, If You Were Young follows a group of five average young men, and their struggle to become economically self-sustaining in a world of increasing corporate servitude.
After answering their government’s call for healthy, young, rural citizens to join the physical labour force of post-war Tokyo, five young men find the bright future they were promised is nothing but a ruse. Their factory closed, these working-class youths find themselves unemployed and unemployable for any real-world work. After a brief experience with failed solo ventures, the five decide to team up and start their own business, hauling materials for construction in their own private fleet of dump trucks.
Sure, it’s a modest dream, but for the guys it seems attainable, and should free them from a fate determined by faceless others. It just requires everyone’s cooperation. You see, for one guy to purchase his own truck would take five years. But if they pool their resources, they should pay off their first truck within a year. Continuing on that path, they would have a full fleet of five in far less time, and profits to boot! The five purchase their first truck, dubbing it ‘Independence no.1,’ and set about their path to freedom.
But as you might guess, life doesn’t always go to plan. The group’s numbers begin to dwindle as members are torn away by life’s surprises: love, hardship, criminality, and other things unforeseen. Will any of them live to see their dream fulfilled, or is the bright future they seek merely a mirage?
Again, keeping with Kinji Fukasaku’s focus on youth struggles, you’d probably expect him to hammer home the latter. And, I’d admit he does for the most part. Although written and directed for a 1970′s Japanese audience, the film holds a surprising relevance for American audiences, given the current economic recession, income disparity, and the whole 99%/Occupy Movement (There’s even a moment where the protagonists study a chart plotting their potential income for their current level of education, and find it just doesn’t match up). Fukasaku definitely presents his position in a straightforward manner, but stops just short of hand-holding or preaching. For example, the status of the group at any point in time is largely presented through the condition of their truck, rather than any spoken dialog. He even allows for a fair amount of ambiguity in the film’s final frames, as if to say, “I’ve presented my argument, but what do you think?”
It’s worth noting here that, while ‘Rage’ is loudly proclaimed in the title, there’s little violence in the picture. The raging the characters do is against the system that serves to deprive them of their economic mobility. The subdued approach is actually preferable here, as Fukasaku allows a fair number of manga-style overreactions leak into the narrative (a defiant fart, bizarre mugging, over-jubilant skipping and jumping, etc). By grounding the actual struggle of the characters in the real world, it helps the picture from spinning off into the realm of farce. And despite the lapses into overacting, leads Tetsuo Ishidate (Revenge) and Gin Maeda (Tora-San) never really call attention to their performance. Rather, they seem just to exist. They might be bizarre at times, but nothing so out of the ordinary that you cease to believe in them. This all lends the picture a tangible sense of dread as their individual fates come calling.
So, in summary, If You Were Young: Rage, is a definite must watch for the Fukasaku enthusiast. It demonstrates a profound sharpening of his social criticism without studio interference, which would continue onwards through Battle Royale II (this review’s old. I plan to do a re-visitation review soon). It may not be his best picture, but it is a film with heart, passion, and yes, even rage.