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Film / Fighting Elegy

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Fighting Elegy is a 1966 feature film from Japan, directed by Seijun Suzuki.

The film is set in 1935 in the provincial town of Bizen. Kiroku Nanbu is a student at an all-male prep school that seems to be an unofficial training facility for the Imperial Japanese Army. Kiroku, who is Catholic, is staying with a Japanese Catholic family consisting of a mother and her lovely daughter Michiko. Kiroku desperately lusts for gorgeous Michiko but his Catholic guilt and the rigidity of his life as a student in a military school leaves him unable to act on his urges.

So he turns to violence. Kiroku joins the OSMS gang, a group of students who basically look for fights because they, like Kiroku, are sexually frustrated. Eventually Kiroku's aggressiveness and rulebreaking get him thrown out of school. He gets sent to his uncle's house in Aizuwakamatsu, where he enrolls in another prep school, and promptly joins another gang.

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The whole thing is a very thinly veiled satire of Japanese militarism and fascism in the mid-1930s.


Tropes:

  • Call-Back: After leaving for Aizuwakamatsu, Kiroku writes Michiko a letter. He draws a circle on the page and asks her to kiss it and send it back. She sends it back but with no kiss, telling him she doesn't want to. But after she comes to town to bid him a final farewell, he finds the letter with a big lipstick print on it.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Kiroku's Catholicism is a factor in his becoming a hooligan. He turns to violence because he can't find any other way to vent his hormones and energy—he can't even masturbate because that's a sin.
  • Clucking Funny: One fight scene between Kiroku and a rival gang member is shot and framed to be exciting, but also at the same time is rendered ridiculous by being set in a chicken coop, with birds squawking and flapping and feathers flying.
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  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Kiroku's self-control breaks down and he finally masturbates—onto the keys of Michiko's piano. It's made even more ridiculous by the random notes produced by his erection hitting the keys. His relief is immediately turned to shame when he turns around and sees Michiko's crucifix hanging on the wall.
  • Day of the Jackboot: The film is a symbolic satire of the rise of Japanese fascism in the 1930s. Schools are militaristic. Young people are violent. Michiko, the character symbolizing peace, is not just brushed aside, she is literally trampled by marching soldiers. And the film ends with Kiroku going off to fight in the 1936 right-wing coup attempt that was a milestone in Japan's slide into fascism and war.
  • Fight Clubbing: They aren't meeting in an abandoned warehouse but this is basically what all the youth gangs are. They aren't stealing or committing vandalism or harassing old folks or anything one might associate with Japanese Delinquents; they're just fighting for the sake of fighting.
  • Groin Attack: Kiroku is losing a fight with a rival when he delivers a well-timed knee to the other guy's nuts. He proceeds to win the fight.
  • Hands-On Approach: Michiko's attempt to give Kiroku a piano lesson turns out to be counterproductive, as her method of leaning in close over his back and touching his hands clearly turns him on. Whether or not she meant to turn him on is ambiguous.
  • Historical-Domain Character: It turns out that the mysterious fellow smoking in the bar was Ikki Kita, a real guy who was a leader of the far right wing in Japan in those days.
  • Left Hanging: The film ends with Kiroku going off to fight in the Feb. 26, 1936 coup attempt, leaving the viewer to wonder what happened to him. This was only the first half of the source novel. The second half follows Kiroku as he joins the army, goes off to fight in China, and is eventually killed.
  • Murderous Thighs: The rival gang has captured Kiroku and all his friends, and left them tied up and gagged in the attic of a barn. The guys manage to lower down one of their comrades through the trap door, whereupon he catches the guard around the neck with the bindings on his feet, and strangles the guard into unconsciousness. Kiroku and his buddies escape and turn the tables on their enemies.
  • One-Gender School: With a lot of horny young men, played by actors that are obviously way too old. When class lets out they peer over the fence at the girls coming out of the girls' school next door.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: A peculiar scene when Kiroku is leaving town. He stops on the outskirts, turns, and screams his girlfriend's name: "MI-CHI-KO!" Each time he mimes grabbing the syllable he just yelled and pulling it back into his mouth.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: "Oh Michiko, I will not masturbate. I fight to vent my desires!"
  • Split Screen: A peculiar example with a weak teacher that the students are heckling. He's facing a class. As the teacher yells at the students, he's shown on the left and the right side is blacked out. As the students hoot at him and call him "Duck", they are shown on the right and the left side where the teacher is standing is blacked out.
  • Something Else Also Rises: Michiko is a pianist, and in an effort to channel Kiroku's energy into something other than brawling, she gives him a piano lesson. As she drapes herself all over him, and clearly gets him hot and bothered with her physical closeness, she feels his hands on the keys, saying "Your fingers are as stiff as logs!"
  • Staggered Zoom: A standard three-shot zoom onto Kiroku's face when he sees a newspaper photo and realizes that the guy smoking in the bar was Ikki Kita, leader of the fascist coup currently underway in Tokyo.
  • Taking the Veil: Michiko, broken-hearted, tells Kiroku she's leaving to join a nunnery. When a shocked Kiroku boggles at this news, she says "Something's wrong with my body!" No further details are provided but apparently she can't bear children. (How she would know this is not explained.)
  • Training Montage: A gang leader named "Turtle" gives Kiroku lessons in fighting. He does stuff like punching a bag and walking across sharpened wooden stakes. He also marches stiffly through town, which makes the townspeople laugh.
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