Though director Kinji Fukasaku enjoyed a successful 40-year career, the highlights of which include 1968's high-camp spy odyssey Black Lizard and the Japan sequences in 1970's Tora! Tora! Tora!, his legacy in America arguably rests with his swan song, the never-to-be-distributed Battle Royale. A pointed statement at the turn of the millennium, that film updates The Most Dangerous Game for the reality-TV age: Forty-two high-school kids are thrown on an uninhabited island and forced to kill each other off, with the last one standing declared the winner (of sorts). Ultra-violent and highly controversial, the film is a bold final summation of a running theme in Fukasaku's work, which often identified with the younger generation as its members entered a world with no place for them. The game in Battle Royale isn't about survival of the fittest; it's about the eradication of youth, a swift and sadistic way for adults to extinguish their dreams and opportunities before they come of age. Two new Fukasaku DVDs, 1968's Blackmail Is My Life and 1970's If You Were Young: Rage, show the other side of post-war Japanese prosperity, focusing on the throngs of young people who missed out on the boom. Importing the freewheeling style of the French New Wave and the hip detachment of American noir, Blackmail Is My Life upends the yakuza genre to express its punk heroes' burbling discontent. Much like Nagisa Oshima's superior 1960 drama Cruel Story Of Youth, Blackmail centers on small-time hoods who shake down older men for money, though Fukasaku's gang of four specializes in crude, petty forms of extortion. Dissatisfied with the usual bribes and kidnapping schemes, leader Hiroki Matsukata ropes his crew into an ill-fated scheme to bilk powerful underworld figures out of a major payoff. Through a dizzying blitzkrieg of fashionable effects–flashbacks and flash-forwards, freeze-frames, jump cuts, black-and-white-to-color transitions, and more–Fukasaku draws stark parallels between the vicious underworld and legitimate society. Each is ruled by an aging, powerful elite whose members rival each another in business, but close ranks whenever young entrepreneurs threaten to penetrate the inner circle. An excess of style takes some of the coherency and sting out of Blackmail, which is sometimes guilty of appropriating Godard-esque tricks for cool's sake. The independently made If You Were Young tackles the same issues more directly and with greater success, primarily because Fukasaku doesn't have to satisfy a studio's genre expectations. Taking a page from Italian neorealism, the film is essentially The Bicycle Thief with upgraded wheels; in this case, a spanking-new dump truck collectively owned by five friends who stake their future on it. Brought in from rural areas to rebuild Tokyo, they're left uneducated and unemployed when the heavy lifting is over, so they pool their resources to buy the truck, christened "Independent #1." But by the time they get the money together to start their own hauling business, three are indisposed (one dead, one in prison, and one married with children) and the other two run afoul of the local union. Fukasaku's weakness for overkill leads the melodrama into unfortunate third-act histrionics, but not before he rigorously exposes an economic system that forbids the lower class from advancing. Like much of his work, If You Were Young feeds off (and caters to) youthful exuberance, and mourns when that energy is cruelly extinguished.

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