Directed by Ko Nakahira
Screenplay by Shintaro Ishihara based on his novel
Crazed Fruit, the directorial debut of Nakahira, is a Greek tragedy set amongst the idle rich kids of postwar Japan. They drink and carouse, wandering aimlessly through a lazy summer looking for kicks and cheap thrills. This 1956 film was the first of the taiyozoku (sun tribe) genre, a term first applied to the stories of Ishihara, one of which is the basis for this film.
The conflict of Crazed Fruit comes from the mutual desires of two brothers, Haruji and the older, more experienced, Natuhisa, for the attractive Eri. Haruji spots Eri at the train station and is immediately smitten. They meet again one day at the lake and begin to date.
Natuhisa and his friends frequent the home of Frank, a Eurasian child of divorce whose parents are never around. He is considered the coolest of the cool kids. Frank decides to throw a party with the caveat that everyone will be rated by who can bring the best-looking girl. Haruji is invited and considered the winner once the guys get a good look at Eri.
Natuhisa sings at the party, which catches Eri’s interest. He asks to dance with her and becomes intrigued when she doesn’t stop him as he pulls her in tight. Later, he runs into her at a nightclub and she suggests that they meet the next day.
Eri proclaims her love for young virginal Haruji, yet when Natuhisa suggests they have an affair, she is accepts. Natuhisa becomes obsessed with her after they consummate their lust. He can’t accept that Eri wants to be with Haruji and begins to meddle in their lives. Haruji learns of Natuhisa and Eri’s involvement, sending the film to its suspenseful and fascinating conclusion.
Crazed Fruit is wonderful exploration into the lives of Ishihara’s characters. I enjoyed watching these characters slowly reveal themselves. They surprised me, yet always remained believable in their actions and motivations. The story has an originality and freshness to it even though we have seen these teenage/young adult characters in earlier films, such as Fellini’s I, Vitellenoi, and Ray’s Rebel Without A Cause, and later films like Levinson’s Diner.
The commentary track is conducted by Japanese film scholar Donald Richie, who has written a number of books about Japan and its cinema, including A Hundred Years of Japanese Film, Ozu and The Films of Akira Kurasawa. He has provided commentary on other Criterion discs, such as Early Summer and Rashomon. Here, he offers very insightful information about Crazed Fruit, its place in cinema history and the reaction to it by Japanese society, setting the film in its proper perspective, which might be lost almost 50 years after its release. A viewer might not realize how bold and aggressive Eri was in pursuing her desires, or how lurid the sexuality was considered by the Japanese establishment when compared to today’s films. He also calls attention to the strong, subtle work of director Nakahira, explaining how the shot selection and editing created different moods.
Richie is a tad dry and very serious like a professor’s lecture, so there are not a lot of laughs, but he is well worth listening to because he reveals an abundance of information, especially for the serious cineaste. Make sure you watch the film first because he spoils the film’s ending early to illustrate the film’s finer points.
The DVD has had a new, restored high-definition digital transfer. It comes with a booklet that includes essays by film critic Chuck Stephens about the film and film scholar Michael Raine writes about the taiyozoku movement.