Young Thugs: Nostalgia – Review

dvd-youngthugs-nost200Young Thugs: Nostalgia

with Takeshi Caesar, Setsuko Karasuma, Yûki Nagata
Directed by Takashi Miike
Written by Riichi Nakaba, Masa Nakamura
(Arts Magic DVD)
by Chad Van Wagner

Takashi Miike is nuts. Granted, if you’ve seen any of the multitude of films he’s made that are currently working their way around movie geek circles (Ichi the Killer, Audition, Happiness of the Katakuris, Visitor Q, etc.) that’s not exactly a revelation.

But much like the acoustic bits stand out in your average death metal album, Miike’s “normal” work is striking because you’re waiting for overblown splatter, squirting breast milk, horny zombies, whatever. Those moments never come in his Young Thugs series, although some of the violence does stick out in contrast from the even, methodical approach he uses. Yes, this is Miike making a “real” film, which (considering the reason most people know who he is in the first place) means it’s doomed to (relative) obscurity.

This is a shame, since Young Thugs: Nostalgia is one of his best works. Set in the 1960s, it tells the story of Riichi, a poor kid with a jerkoff for a dad and a future that seems doomed to the shady underbelly of Japanese society. There’s no particular “plot” as such, mostly a character study of how a boy grows up, and his memories of the dysfunctional family that shaped him as much as the fond moments that occasionally surface (the film isn’t called Nostalgia for nothing).

Since there’s no visceral warp to speak of, Miike can stretch out and show off his considerable talent in allowing a character to breathe. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this from him on these shores: The first two acts of Audition displayed his remarkable ability to take the unlikely and make it not only believable, but sympathetic. Unlike Audition, however, there’s no brain-shaking third act, which means the viewer can just sit back and watch a life unfold.

Thanks to DVD, we’re aware of the fact that there’s a sequel, so Riichi’s trials and tribulations lead to what we know will be a future as remarkable as his past (considering the violence of his chosen gang life, it alters the tone of the film considerably to know that he has to survive the end). Like few other well-done coming-of-age films, you don’t quite want to leave these characters, despite the fact that you’d probably cross the street if you saw them coming your way in real life. Even (or maybe especially) if Miike’s signature freakout isn’t your cup of tea, Young Thugs: Nostalgia is worth hunting down.