Subete ga kurutteru / Everything Goes Wrong (1960)

4 05 2015

Frustrated by the cathartic images of war that the local cinema is treating him to, a despondent Jiro mopes around the city. His friends are enthralled by the images that they see, however they all leave the dark room of the cinema and enter the bright, bustling street corners of Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood. It is easy to read Suzuki’s jazzy, fast-paced tale of teenage angst with Godard’s Breathless and Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth, yet Suzuki has an investment in his city. An interest in the infrastructure that is more literal than Godard’s meditation on style and language or Oshima’s poetic interpretation of public space. This might be less visually stimulating than those two and we might be stuck with a flatter protagonist, but Suzuki surveys a city in transition. He reveals a truth: all cities are always in transition.


Jiro drifts around with his wanna-be gangster friends, they drink, they smoke, they fraternize – anything to distract themselves from school and their lives at home. Jiro, on the other hand, is still very much emotionally invested in his mother, Misayo. The family’s father was lost in the war, leaving Misayo as the only one responsible to provide for her son. She’s done so with  help from Keigo, a married businessman. While it would be accurate to describe their relationship as an affair, it is still one build on respect and trust. Jiro sees the relationship as only physical and financial and he scrutinizes his mother for sinking so low. “You’re basically a whore” he charmlessly declares just as he dramatically darts out of their home. Jiro’s unreasonable expectations of his mother translate to his would be lover, Toshimi.


Along with Breathless and Cruel Story of Youth, one feels an impulse to bring Rebel Without a Cause into the conversation. The characters in Ray’s film are, like Suzuki’s,  frustrated teenagers who only register events as either being or leading towards an emotional climax. There is one crucial distinction to be made here. The world of Rebel Without a Cause was suburban, the parental anxiety of teenagers’ “freedom” was evident in their access to cars. Space in Ray’s film is readily available, but it is in high demand for Suzuki. There’s a nervous energy the first time the camera whips across a crowded city street, and it is to the film’s credit that this same excitement is present even in private space.



The private vs the public is the most fascinating relationship in Everything Goes Wrong because they aren’t presented as in conflict. Oshima’s early “sun tribe” films (the aformentioned Cruel Story of Youth but also The Sun’s Burial) were only interested in the public space. It was here that Oshima could find violence, sure, but also visual poetry. Pop culture was on the periphery, it was simply a thing in which the film’s subjects were involved. Pop culture is part of the architecture for Suzuki, though. A poster of Coleman Hawkins is prized, if not fetished, as it seems to preside over the gang’s local bar. Suzuki, who would became a far more “pop” filmmaker than Oshima (at least only in retrospect, Nikkatsu still had no idea what to do with him) and maybe he recognized that pop culture was not just a thing, but part of the history. Denise Scott Brown’s essay Learning from Pop advocates for a serious consideration of popular culture within architecture, Everything Goes Wrong feels like it would be a perfect case study for her.


But, of course, pop culture is just frivolous nonsense, isn’t it? Suzuki wasn’t even the first Japanese director to acknowledge the presence of western culture. Tokyo itself translates into “Capital to East” (as opposed to the West) which suggests that those who named the city realized its relationship to the rest of the world. The structures we see in the film are all Western-influenced, even if they aren’t. Fukuzawa Yukichi’s Goodbye Asia (written in 1885) saw a country transforming itself into the modern as a means of protection from Western imperialism. This process involved demolishing old structures and displacing many place, an act that is erased by said demolition. The “pop” images bring this history back to the surface, and suggest that America’s occupation (and influence) of Japan was anticipated long before the war ever started.





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