I recently signed up for a temporary “Plus” account with Hulu.com so I could sample some of the hard-to-see Japanese films Criterion has made available there. According to Criterion their partnership with Hulu “gives viewers a chance to explore our library, sample films they might want to buy, discover films they never knew they would want, and see films so rare that they would never see the light of day in disc editions.” Naturally, I was intrigued and when I discovered that Seijun Suzuki’s EVERYTHING GOES WRONG (also known as Subete ga kurutteru; 1960) was available to watch I decided to take advantage of their 7-day trial membership offer.
According to Chris D.’s Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film and Mark Schilling’s No Borders No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema, EVERYTHING GOES WRONG was Suzuki’s 17th film. By this time the hard-working director had earned his reputation for making stylish crime pictures with noir influences that appealed to Japanese youth eager for a new kind of cinema that reflected their own frustrations and fears. Unsurprisingly, Nikkatsu asked Suzuki to help them revive the popular youth-oriented “Sun Tribe” genre with EVERYTHING GOES WRONG.
The so-called “Sun Tribe” was a youth subculture in Japan (much like the “Greasers” in the US or the “Teddy Boys” in England) that borrowed their style from the Hawaiian Islands. Sun Tribe members liked to lighten their hair, wear Hawaiian shirts and enjoyed parties on the beach but they also listened to jazz and admired American hot rod culture. Sun Tribe films became popular in Japan during the mid-1950s following the release of films like SEASON OF THE SUN (1956), CRAZED FRUIT (1956) and PUNISHMENT ROOM (1956). These youth-orientated movies were heavily influenced by American films such as Nicholas Ray’s THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1949) and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1956) as well as juvenile delinquent B-Movies distributed by API (American Pictures International) that were often directed by Roger Corman. These quickly cobbled together productions typically featured fast cars, faster women and catchy rock ‘n’ roll tunes. The Sun Tribe films scandalized Japan and widespread panic about their influence on teenagers caused studios to stop making them but in 1960 Nikkatsu Studio decided to revive the genre and began producing movies like Suzuki’s EVERYTHING GOES WRONG as well as THE WARPED ONES (1960).
EVERYTHING GOES WRONG opens with footage from inside a theater showing what appears to be a Japanese WW2 propaganda film titled FIGHT TIL THE LAST DROP OF BLOOD. However, we soon discover that Suzuki is using this faux war film made up of stock news footage to establish his movie’s underlying theme about the long-term effects of war while indirectly thumbing his nose at the Japanese film industry. These bold social gestures combined with the director’s uninhibited filmmaking methods earned Suzuki a notorious reputation in and outside of the Nikkatsu studios. They also gained him a wide base of young fans that appreciated his rebellious spirit and could sympathize with the alienation expressed in his films.
Following the disorientating opening minutes of EVERYTHING GOES WRONG we’re introduced to a group of troubled youths that roam the streets of Tokyo like a pack of rabid wild dogs. The group includes petty thieves, rapists, and various other criminals including a troubled young man called Jiro (Tamio Kawachi). Jiro lives alone with his mother (Tomoko Naraoka) while mourning the loss of his father who was killed by a Japanese tank in WW2. The irony and tragedy of his father’s death weigh heavily on Jiro who has become increasingly frustrated by his mother’s devotion to a married businessman, Keigo Nanbara (Shinsuke Ashida). Jiro is torn between the possibility of becoming a career criminal or a company man himself, which appears to be the only future choices awaiting him. Throughout the film, Jiro is pursued by a sassy and determined girl named Toshimi Tani (Yoshiko Yatsu/ Yoshiku Nezu/Ryoko Fukutsu – I’ve seen the actresses’ name translated three different ways and I can’t be certain which spelling is correct). She’s friendly with another girl called Etsuko (Shinako Nakagawa) who is desperate to get an abortion after she discovers that she’s pregnant with the child of her selfish live-in lover. The lives of these five troubled souls eventually collide in Suzuki’s relentless neo-noir and the bleak outcome makes this one of the director’s more sensitive and nihilistic films.
Suzuki’s early movies are too often dismissed by critics who refer to them as uninspired “program pictures” and overlook their abundant style and social themes but EVERYTHING GOES WRONG is one of the more interesting and challenging youth movies that emerged from the Japanese New Wave. At the time, heavy-handed studio executives ran the Japanese film industry much like early Hollywood. Despite the restrictions, rambunctious directors like Suzuki were able to reshape the routine material they were given and in the process, their films developed a distinct look and sound. Suzuki’s ability to indirectly tackle important social and economic issues facing postwar Japan such as widespread poverty and prostitution with a pop art sensibility is unique and noteworthy. And his impressive use of natural exteriors and extended tracking shots mirror what was happening in the French New Wave.
It’s impossible to watch EVERYTHING GOES WRONG without being reminded of Jean-Luc Godard’s critically renowned BREATHLESS (co-written by François Truffaut), which was released the same year. But unlike Godard’s film, which never lets you forget you’re watching a homage, Suzuki’s EVERYTHING GOES WRONG is less self-conscious about its influences and more interested in charting new ground and directly questioning the status quo. In that regard, it’s a much more pointed and powerful film. Throughout Suzuki’s oeuvre the director continually accentuates the frustrations of his country’s disillusioned and disenfranchised youth while ushering in a new kind of Japanese cinema.
One of the film’s many highlights is a minute long tracking shot reminiscent of the magnificent opening in Orson Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL (1958). About an hour into the film Suzuki’s camera (guided by cinematographer Izumi Hagiwara) follows Keigo Nanbara out of a bar while he desperately searches for Jiro who has stolen a car and run off with his girlfriend. The camera cuts to young Etsuko as she wearily wanders the streets in a state of distress over her unexpected pregnancy. After we see Etsuko stumble down some subway stairs, Suzuki’s camera slowly moves up and away, and we watch Keigo Nanbara come into frame again from an apparent crane shot overlooking the crowded streets of Tokyo. Simultaneously, Jiro and his girlfriend drive by in their stolen sports car. This inspired scene unfolds quickly and you might miss it if you blink but it impressed me so much that as always, I found myself in complete awe of Suzuki’s directing skills. Another filmmaker could have used the astonishing and beautifully composed moment to open or close their film but for Suzuki it’s just one more creative detail in a film that contains many, which transform and redefine the simple narrative. This is a movie loaded with memorable framing choices and visual eye-candy. EVERYTHING GOES WRONG also boasts an incredible jazz-infused soundtrack by composer Keitarō Miho that literally drives the plot, punctuating the script’s incredible highs and desperate lows. Simply put, this is great filmmaking.
The only way that you can currently see EVERYTHING GOES WRONG in the US is by streaming it at Hulu. Hulu’s streaming service is easy to use and as should be evident from the images I’ve included, the film looked terrific and was presented in widescreen with legible white subtitles. Hopefully, Criterion will release another batch of Seijun Suzuki movies on DVD soon because his early films are still in desperate need of reevaluation and film fans like myself can’t get enough of the director’s amazing body of work.
By Kimberly Lindbergs
Originally written for Turner Classic Movies/Movie Morlocks
Note: As of 2/12/2018 EVERYTHING GOES WRONG is avilable to stream on FilmStruck