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Warped Ones, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Warped, wild, and breathless."
5 stars

Part of the fun of watching "The Warped Ones" is the joy of discovery - it may not quite be a classic, but it's a very good movie, and one you might not know existed - although Nikkatsu Studio's youth-oriented films of the 1960s were incredibly popular in Japan at the time of their release, they lapsed into relative obscurity until recently. And even among the Nikkatsu catalog, "The Warped Ones" is a standout tale of youth gone wild.

Respectable people may say that it's that damn western music that gets it started: Jazz-loving pickpocket Akira (Tamio Kawaji) is caught and arrested in his favorite bar and sent to jail, where he meets Masaru (Eiji Go). When they're released, they hook up with Akira's prostitute friend Fumiko (Noriko Matsumoto), steal a car and engage in their various brands of petty crime necessary to pay their rent and bar bills. On a spree, they come across the reporter who turned Akira in (Hiroyuki Nagato) and his fiancée Yuki (Yuko Chishiro). He gets beat up; she gets raped.

These are not nice people, Akira especially, but they are the sort of energetic, amoral outlaws that have captivated moviegoers as long as there have been movies. There is something perversely attractive about someone like Akira who lives almost entirely in the moment, giving little if any consideration to such matters as the future or morality. Kawaji plays Akira as something just short of feral, not so much mellowed by jazz as distracted by it. He invests the character with a ton of charisma without ever angling for sympathy or leaning on some backstory that justifies his actions.

Writer Nobuo Yamada and director Koreyoshi Kurahara operate in a similar fashion; this movie is all about immediacy. It runs a compact 75 minutes, but every one of them is packed, from the frantic opening credits onward. There's a sequence or two that might make a person to scratch his head or wonder aloud just what the heck is going on, but the upside is that when those moments come, they're lively and outrageous without being repulsive. The sharp black-and-white cinematography and jazzy score are very nice, too, and both sets and location shooting convey a bustling harbor town rather than the formal, placid environments that might be found in a more traditional Japanese film.

Yamada and Kurahara don't quite condone their wild child main character's behavior, but they do seem to think that there's a thing or two to be learned from it. Petty or impulsive crime is one thing; organized crime is something else. And as distasteful as the idea of a woman seeking out her rapist for any sort of solace or relationship is, it doesn't make Chishiro's Yuki look entirely weak or pathetic; yes, she's a victim who has wound up in Akira's power, but she is also trying to face what happened to her, which is far more than can be said for Nagato's Kashiwagi.

Of course, trying to take away any sort of lesson from "The Warped Ones" is probably a mistake. It's all about the thrill and feeling of acting for the present, right, wrong, good, or bad be damned.

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originally posted: 06/08/08 07:55:31
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Directed by
  Koreyoshi Kurahara

Written by

  Eiji Go
  Hiroyuki Nagato
  Tamio Kawachi

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