Young Thugs: Nostalgia

| October 15, 2004

Japanese director Takashi Miike is courageous in his risk-taking as a filmmaker. Currently, he is one of the most influential directors making films in an industry where profits are often more highly regarded than artistic vision. Miike has remarked that Young Thugs: Nostalgia is his favorite film. There is a note of autobiography to Young Thugs: Nostalgia, as Miike explores themes and events that are very close to those in his own childhood.
Placed in 1969 Japan, when riots were rampant on college campuses and Apollo 11 went to the moon, Young Thugs: Nostalgia is the prequel to Young Thugs: Innocent Blood, and the main focus in both films is a young man named Riichi. In the first film, we are shown Riichi meeting his buddies with whom he would later form a gang to fight his nemesis, Sada. Riichi’s future girlfriend Royko is only seen sporadically in the first film. Her character is relegated to the background, almost forgotten as Miike focuses mainly on Riichi and his misadventures with his two friends Kotetsu and Yuji. Together they experience a number of minor but character shaping episodes. Along the way we are shown Riichi’s parents and how their situation shapes his own life.
Miike never ceases to surprise me. From the absurd but somehow sensitive Visitor Q to the sadistic relationship of Audition to the ridiculously inept Dead or Alive trilogy, Miike always comes up with something new, something original, something that remains rooted in the human while twisting and turning the outer reaches of what is accepted and known in cinema. With the Young Thugs films he takes us on a astonishing journey into the commonplace lives of several lower class school boys, their parents, teachers and everyone they come into contact with. The result is a very engaging and inclusive film with a warmth that is rare among contemporary filmmakers for its honesty and frankness.
Even though the film revolves around a cast comprised mostly of children, this is not a child’s film. In ways similar to Lasse Hallström’s My Life as a Dog, Miike manages to tell the story through a child’s eyes, but keeps the subject matter at a level much unlike anything you will ever see from an American studio. And thankfully so, for it is this baldfaced honesty which engages us as a viewer; we’ve had similar experiences and we’re an adult audience and know better than the sugar-coating we’ve been fed in contemporary Hollywood cinema.
Among the oddly connected references is a wonderful moment in the film when Sada and Riichi are about to face off; Miike uses the theme from Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More as the boys stare each other down. This is an example of the frustrating element to Miike’s talent, for he has a knack for taking the odd and the ordinary and elevating them to something unexpected while simultaneously keeping them very realistic.
As far as DVD quality, Young Thugs: Nostalgia (as well as Innocent Blood) is presented in anamorphic widescreen that preserves the film’s original aspect ratio. The transfer has preserved the film’s colors, and they are as strong as the original. The image is sharp throughout with no sign of grain. This DVD comes with two audio options: Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Japanese Dolby Digital Stereo. The audio is excellent the dialog is clear and the action is benefited by a dynamic Dolby Digital 5.1 track. English subtitles have been included that are clear and easy to read.
Young Thugs: Nostalgia is a must-see film for lovers of Miike and of contemporary Japanese cinema.

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