“I kinda wanted the kid. But you got to make a living right?”
Jazz is the sound of an energetic, lively, playful and melancholic rebellion against oppression, arguably the great American art form. It’s a sound that grew from the joys and pains of the impoverished and disenfranchised. The Warped Ones, first and foremost, is a film about poverty. Koreyoshi Kurahara’s film may announce within its opening frames that the proceeding feature will be wild, spontaneous and unpredictable, depicting dizzying shots of famous jazz musicians adorned across the ceiling of a bar set to fiery bebop, however, as the film progresses it transcends it’s fetishization of jazz and brutal-cool to reveal the twisted souls of the forgotten and damned. Like other noir masterpieces of the Japanese New Wave like Cruel Gun Story, Tokyo Drifter, A Colt is my Passport and Pale Flower, The Warped Ones concerns itself with characters condemned by both themselves and their society. Bored with the proposition of modern existence they hurl their bodies unflinchingly into the void.
The film begins with the two young delinquents being sent to prison, they do not go silently. The young man, Akira, kicks one of his aggressors in the chest, laying out an officer on the floor, his disrespect for authority could not be more physically pronounced, there is a reckless daring to his nihilism in response to the apathy and malaise of modern society. After a brief albeit violent prison-montage the young man is released back into the world, now with a thirst for vengeance. He seeks the man responsible for landing him in jail, entirely disabled from recognizing the problems with himself. Much like Travis Bickle, Akira only sees a corrupt, distorted society that doesn’t want him to begin with, transforming his abnormality and alienation into motive.
There are seldom “hotter” films than this one. There is not a frame in The Warped Ones where the protagonists are not dripping with sweat. The main character Akira’s unbuttoned t-shirts function both as an aesthetic choice, his look harkens back to American greasers of the 50’s, and as an indicator of his brute physicality and base-nature that contradicts the highly cultivated intelligentsia and moral-virtue signaling of the upper class. After having impregnated a young woman named Fumiko during a rape, Akira ventures to her house to confront and torment her. When he arrives there are a number of artists and intellectuals, he is mocked for his boorishness, praised only for his youthful flippancy towards existence and his forward-thinking style. An artist offers to paint him, the only need the rich have for the poor is their bodies, which is reflected in his partner Yuki’s prostitution subplot.
The tragedy of this scene reaches its climax, however, when The Warped Ones displays the detriments of Japanese society’s treatment of women. Fumiko cannot express her trauma or situation because she will become a “fallen woman”, the tradition of Japanese society dictates that she is a less “valuable” woman to her husband both after she has had sex, and worse yet after she has been raped. This is a grossly outdated tradition, even in 1960 and the film ultimately erupts when this particular societal contradiction is pushed to its apex, the final scene is maddeningly hysterical and chaotic, quick-cuts and erratic camera moves along with exaggerated, obnoxious expression make for an absolutely bubbling terror.
The Warped Ones is a criminally under-appreciated film. It belongs to the best of its class, and as a companion piece to Godard’s landmark Breathless, they express a similar existential rebellion. The “rules” of society have broken down for both Akira and Michel, those who still follow them are suckers and those making them are uglier and meaner than the people they are making them for. The “rules” don’t apply to Akira because they never did, his ecstasy and joy spring from an innate sense of boundlessness. He recognizes the shortcomings of his society because he is it’s lowest common denominator, he sits on the bottom looking up, and rather than a feeling like looking in a mirror he sees something more gnarled and upsetting than his own image, and his only solution is to destroy it.
“People sure can cry a lot. I cried for three days straight.”