The bored rich boys slumming at the seaside in Ko Nakahira’s Crazed Fruit could be Californians—same loud shirts, same haircuts, same James Dean ennui. Their real-life contemporaries, though most lacked boats, cars, and cash for drinks and apparently interchangeable girls, saw much they recognized in the taiyozoku (“Sun Tribe”) flick, one of the best to come out of the Nikkatsu Studio before grown-up outrage shut down production of these sweaty, hormonal, often uneven tales of youthful disenchantment and rage.
Rich or poor, young Japanese in the 50s lived with the conundrum of nothing to do and nowhere to go, and with foreigners who’d made themselves at home—Crazed Fruit‘s love quadrangle of Eri (Mie Kitahara), secretly married to a rich old American, the innocent Haru (Masahiko Tsugawa) and his jaded older bother Natsu (Yujiro Ishihara) struck a chord, even in its prior incarnation as a novel by youth idol Shintaro Ishihara.
In their own ways, Haru and Natsu both begin uncorrupted—Haru shy and inexperienced, and Natsu, before his affair with Eri, unfamiliar with jealousy and obsession—and amazingly, Crazed Fruit manages in 86 minutes (gleaned from a comparatively lengthy 17-day shoot) to trace their complete destruction. The moral vacuum of their lives, Nakahira posits, is responsible—friends like the sleek, louche Frank (Masumi Okada) watch, strumming, from the sidelines, and a pair of irrelevant parents appear for an instant to make requests so ineffectual they’re collectively understood to be jokes. Short and beautifully simple as it is, Crazed Fruit seeded the ground for more brutal New Wave offerings (see Nagisa Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth) and harsh perspectives—see Shintaro Ishara, currently the super-conservative governor of Tokyo.