Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gate of Youth - obscure Fukasaku Kinji 80's film

Gate of Youth is an 1982 film about a coal mining family whose lives are turned upside down when the father, played by Sugawara Bunta, dies while attempting to rescue a group of fellow Korean miners in the caves. It is also about Shisuke Ibuki (played by Koichi Sato), the son who grows up in the mining town, and moves to the city with his ill mother to work and go to school. His coming of age takes up the second half of the film. Fukasaku shares directing credits with his assistant, Koreyoshi Kurahara, which explains the split in mood and story. The first hour is typical Fukasaku - violent, kinetic, with Sugawara prominent as the man who wins his wife over the mining boss, has a son, and fights to have better working conditions for every one living in the town, which is a shanty town. The boss is played by Tomasiburo Wakayama (best known for his Lone Wolf and Cub movies), who is a stern but not an evil man, who later aids Shishuke and his mom after the father dies. His mom eventually falls ill, and they move out of town and to the city, where she is treated and he goes to school, He falls in love with baseball and a young woman who is a music teacher, but goes back to the mining town to visit his childhood friend, Orie (Karou Sugita), a girl who always had feelings for him. Orie goes to the city as well, after her mother's death, to become a hostess at a club. His mother eventually succumbs to consumption, the boss goes into hiding after a yakuza attack, and Shishuke rides off into the sunset on the boss' Harley Davidson.

The time frame takes place from the 30s through the 50s, and while events like WWII have an impact on the story, it is not so much about life during that time as it is about people surviving extremely harsh conditions, working like dogs in the mines and living like paupers. Shishuke and his mom rise above this because of the father's actions; they gain respect from the other villagers, and from the Koreans, who were treated even worse than the others, and when the war ended they all fled the mining town. Orie is Shishuke's link to home, but when she moves, she has to sell herself to make money, and she knows that he can not go back, to her or home. She can only allow him to couple with her, a final gesture to their past. Overall, this is an unusually long and drawn out tale that will demand the attention of the viewer, and I'm not sure if the viewer will be willing to put forth the effort. The scenes in the minng town are fine, the story well told and loaded with tension, but when it shifts to the city, the wheels come off the story, and we plod along from one scene to another, with minimal development, although the years fly by. It's interesting to note that Fukaskau directed shortly after The Fall Guy, a magnificent look at the film industry at that time. This is a lesser effort. I'm wondering if the suits in charge meddled with it. Recommended to Fukasaku completists only.

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