Life is a Carnival

The Japanese film poster for THE WIND-OF-YOUTH GROUP CROSSES THE MOUNTAIN PASS (1961).

Most Japanese film fans and cult movie buffs are certainly familiar with maverick director Seijun Suzuki for his ultra-stylish and unconventional yakuza thrillers Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Branded to Kill (1967). Not as well known are the numerous genre films he was assigned by his studio Nikkatsu in the late fifties/early sixties. One of his most atypical efforts is The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass (Japanese title: Toge o wataru wakai kaze, 1961), which is like a more adult variation on James Otis Kaler’s Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with a Circus except, in this case, the protagonist is not a kid but a college student majoring in economics. There is also no circus, just a traveling carnival troupe with an uncertain future. Yet, the tone is surprisingly upbeat and cheerful with moments of slapstick comedy, musical interludes, dramatic incidents and a subplot involving competitive yakuza gangs, who are closer to bumbling schoolyard bullies than menacing gangsters.

A massive lantern float lights up the nightime sky in THE WIND-OF-YOUTH GROUP CROSSES THE MOUNTAIN PASS (1961), a Japanese film about a traveling carnival troupe.
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Dietrich and von Sternberg’s Last Tango

When The Scarlet Empress (1934), Josef von Sternberg’s lavish historical epic starring Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great, proved to be a critical and commercial disaster for Paramount, the director realized his days were numbered at the studio. So why not go for broke in one last picture? The result was The Devil is a Woman (1935). Continue reading