Everything Goes Wrong (Japan, 1960)

Seijun Suzuki’s 1960 film Everything Goes Wrong (Subete ga Kurutteru) opens in epic style with the BOOM! of artillery fire and the rat-tat-tat of carbine rifles as a nondescript group of soldiers attempt to engage the enemy in a nighttime jungle raid. The scene, clocking in at just two minutes, soon ends just as it began and the anarchy of war is abruptly replaced by the chaos of Tokyo with its never-ending traffic of cars and clogged sidewalks filled to capacity with hustlers, punks and whores. Coming out of a Shinjuku movie theater is loner and stray dog Jiro Sugita (TamioKawachi) who, unlike his carefree peers, is troubled by the war film he’s just seen. Before we can even try to figure out what makes Jiro tick though, Izumi Hagiwara’s camera starts to wander, darting in and out of shops and side-streets, and we quickly lose sight of our protagonist as we get acquainted to a gang of wannabe chinpira (low level yakuza) and their gun molls. We eventually do come back to Jiro as one of his friends tries to goad him into “breaking in” pig-tailed Mitsuru, a fresh-faced girl looking to be part of the gang, but all Jiro can think about is buying some sweets for his mother. Then, as quickly as he appeared, Jiro vanishes and a new face is introduced to us.  Toshimi(Yoshiko Yatsu), with her short-bobbed hair and loud shirts marking her as harder and less dainty then the rest of the girls.  But for all her advertised toughness, the look of disappointment on her face is as clear as the day is long when she finds out that Jiro has failed to show up for their date yet again. For these young people, living at the apex of Japan’s Economic Miracle, a far-cry from the desperate days of the Postwar/Occupation Period, all the hope and new freedoms promised were sweet lies they have long ago abandoned, but with nothing to cling on to, it’s no wonder that their bright futures will eventually burn up like a pile of smoldering wreckage.

Belonging to the short-lived genre labeled taiyo zoku or “Sun Tribe” films, named in honor of author and current Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara’s 1955 novel Seasons of the Sun (Taiyo no Kisetsu), Suzuki’s film comes at the tail-end of the cycle’s popularity. Unlike with the youthful protagonists in earlier entries of the genre, Everything Goes Wrong“s are not the over-privileged ennui-ridden brats with too much money like those in Ko Nakahira’s Crazed Fruit (1956). No, Jiro and his compatriots have far more in common with the delinquents in Richard Brooks 1955 film Blackboard Jungle or the angst-ridden Jim Stark played by youth icon James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. There was just something about the 1950’s that seemed to have every teenager on the planet letting out a collective yell which seemed to reverberate throughout the cities, suburbs, slums and backwaters around the globe. Lucky for us, there were filmmakers then with their ears perked up and ready to translate that incomprehensible scream into something we could understand even if only as lurid entertainment.

However, Suzuki’s film rises above just being lurid subject material. Shot on-location and  utilizing a documentary style, Everything Goes Wrong can be said to share a kinship with two seminal New Wave features that, although made oceans apart, were released in the same year, 1960, and with their individual releases spelt the end of the Golden Age of their respective country’s cinema. Those two films are Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (A Bout De Souffle, 1960) and Nagisa Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth (Seishun Zankoku Monogatari, 1960). Although Godard and Oshima are far more avant-garde than Suzuki in both content and style, all three filmmakers shared, at least at the start of their careers, a deep fascination with youth/pop culture.

The doomed lovers Jiro and Toshimi are typical teenagers, neither strongly rebellious or conformist, and both do a lot of posturing, mimicking the signs, lingo, and mannerisms of the burgeoning youth counter-culture playing on theater screens and jukeboxes. In fact, beyond the free flowing camera the other markedly distinct thing about Suzuki’s film is the wall of sound that blankets you as the story races through it’s seventy one minute runtime. Beyond the jazz bop and rockabilly score that punctuates many scenes, music is ever-present, blaring out from radios, the ever-present jukebox, and via seemingly impromptu rock concerts with music and vocals provided by Kyu Sakamoto(A figure famous in the West primarily for his 1961 hit single Ue o Muite Aruko or as it’s commonly known by Sukiyaki). Not to mention the Coleman Hawkins poster that hangs prominently at the back of the makeshift clubhouse where Jiro and his delinquent friends congregate at, Everything Goes Wrong is a film just as obsessed with music as it is with delinquent crime. Unlike Oshima who rarely strayed from using non-diegetic music in Cruel Story of Youth or Godard who used a far more romantic score in Breathless, Suzuki aurally bludgeons the audience with a symphony which blends the harsh melodies of Tokyo’s street with Keitaro Miho’s improvisatory jazz score until you become drunk on sound and noise.

Aside from the music, another recurring motif in Suzuki’s film that appears in both Oshima and Godard’s is the importance of money, and not just as a means to acquire goods and services, but as the grease which keeps the gears of any relationship from either stalling or moving. In Everything Goes Wrong, Jiro’s borderline Oedipal relationship with his mother Misayo (Tomoko Naraoka) is strained by her ongoing relationship with businessman Keigo, played by Shinsuke Ashida. The relationship, stretching as far back as the Occupation, although based on genuine admiration and respect for one another, is definitely a lopsided affair since Misayo is financially dependent on Keigo and must serve him like a wife even though not entitled to the same rights as one. Completely aware of this, Jiro lashes out at his mother, calling her a prostitute and accusing her of having a hand in his father’s death, a soldier who was nbso online casino reviews killed in the Pacific War by a Japanese tank ironically made by the same company that Keigo works for. This resentment towards women colors Jiro”s interactions with Toshimi who, after sleeping with him, lets her guard down and asks Jiro if he loves her and his only response is to toss a few coins on the bed. Suzuki further attacks the hypocrisy of the burgeoning “free love” movement with the story of Etsuko (Shinako Nakagawa), who lives with her boyfriend and pays for half of their living expenses, but is saddled completely with the burden of coming up with the money to get an abortion. Her desperation eventually drives the film to its tragic climax.

Beyond the motif of money, Everything Goes Wrong, like any true youth crime picture worth its salt, is replete with driving scenes. Incorporating on the fly hand-held camerawork, just as Godard did in Breathless, we are positioned in the backseat of the many cars that Jiro steals and drives. The delinquents in Suzuki’s film pride themselves on and brag with adolescent swagger about not just the cars they drive but the ones they’ve stolen. Either to be used and abused for quickie joyrides or sold to the local gang boss for hard cash, vehicles are treated by the delinquents like their women, as objects to be prized or junked depending on their superficial value.

Overshadowed by more dynamically visual films in his own oeuvre and sidelined by critics for filmmakers that openly courted controversy, Suzuki is able to separate his work from Godard”s and Oshima’s because, unlike those directors, Suzuki’s films were never heavily politicized. Although there is a brief scene in Everything Goes Wrong when Keigo and Misayo run into an assembly of junior high students protesting atomic power, its insertion into the film is not meant to be a personal statement the way that Oshima’s inclusion of the student protests over the signing of the Japan-US Security Pact was. Seijun Suzuki was never a formal member of that loose association of artists that the press dubbed the Nuberu Bagu, although they did come to his aid after he was fired from Nikkatsu studios in the late sixties.   Belonging to the previous generation of filmmakers that had been soldiers during the Pacific conflict, Suzuki never felt the need to spend ninety minutes intellectualizing his hatred of war or corruption to the point of abstraction. You understood exactly what Seijun Suzuki’s political stance on the Postwar generation was by the grimace on Jiro’s face as he exited out of that Shinjuku movie theater. While there is an understanding that the  on-screen audience reveled in the carnage of the war film they had just seen, we also see that Jiro finds no catharsis in the violence and manufactured patriotism. Although released fifteen years after Japan’s formal surrender and marketed as a crime picture to exploit the increasingly angry and politicized youth subculture at the time, Everything Goes Wrong is an unromanticized look at moral decay in a postwar society that may have cleared the visible rubble of war but had yet to heal from its psychological wounds. Japan”s postwar economic miracle didn”t just usher in a new middle class but also gave birth to a large mob of disaffected young men and women, like Jiro and Toshimi, who fought back against the notion that money affords security and that love can be bought for a few measly dollars.

For more information about Everything Goes Wrong, check out Kimberley Lindberg”s article at Movie Morlocks.