Meet Akira (Tamio Kawaji). He's young, handsome and a total scumbag. For one thing, he's a thief. Good lord, there's nothing this kid won't steal! He'll pick your pocket, hot wire your car, even your morning milk and newspaper aren't safe. He'll also rape your girl …
And yet somehow you can't take your eyes off him and, inexplicably, help but be squarely in his corner. Such is the jazzy, delirious charm of Koreyoshi Kurahara's The Warped Ones (1960). It's like Oshima's Cruel Story of Youth (of the same year), yet grittier and more slick at the same time. It's a 75 minute thrill ride through the mean streets of Tokyo that will leave you breathless, exhilarated, and perhaps a little ashamed at having enjoyed yourself this much.
These days Seijun Suzuki gets the lion's share of 60s Nikkatsu cult cred, but Koreyoshi Kurahara, while lesser known in the West, is right up there, a vital, visceral powerhouse of a director (and a not inconsiderable seat-filler in his day). He came up in the 50s working on taiyozoku-eiga (sun tribe films). He was the AD on the most excellent Crazed Fruit (1956), starring white hot husband-and-wife team Yujiro Ishihara and Mie Kitahara, and made his directorial debut with the same couple in the compelling noir I Am Waiting (1957). Kurahara went on to span multiple genres and find success throughout the remainder of the 20th century (watch this space for more reviews of his work).
If for no other reason, I encourage you to see this film for the performance of Tamio Kawaji. For one thing, you'll never see this much mugging in your life. Man, what a mobile face! This guy gets off more puckers, fleers and grimaces in five seconds than most people do all day. And his body language is just as expressive; it's as if the director wanted him to embody the whole of post-war Japanese youth angst -- and he does! Kawaji's performance is a seething, writhing, febrile exercise in total chaos not to be missed!
I don't know if it's worth mentioning, but Koreyoshi Kurahara's brother also worked for Nikkatsu, albeit after the changeover to Roman Porno in the 70s. I reviewed one of his films, Eros High School: Feels So Good, on this blog (hey, what can I say, they send me these things).
What is worth mentioning is that you can get The Warped Ones, along with a number of other Koreyoshi Kurahara films, in a box from Criterion (Eclipse Series #28). I always advise acquiring such things, because when the grid goes down, only us lucky devils with a a solar panel and lots of disks will be sitting back, enjoying Japanese film! Step off you zombies, I've got a katana!!