A young social worker finds it’s not so easy to reform a handsome young delinquent in 1958's The Boy Who Came Back (踏みはずした春 “Stepped On Spring”). All the love and encouragement she shows to him have little effect when he feels devalued by the culture at large. This early work by Seijin Suzuki is a sweet and effective teen issue melodrama.
Of course, it’s not simply altruism or devotion to duty that ultimately compels Keiko (Sachiko Hidari) to stand by Nobuo (Akira Kobayashi). When the staff at her organisation review an exchange diary she keeps with Nobuo, several men express disapproval for the affectionate language she uses. One of the older women explains, of course, it’s natural for women to become more emotional than men when shepherding a youth like this but this is deemed even more reason to discourage the level of Keiko’s dedication.
It’s hard to see how Nobuo could ever be reformed. We watch as he tries to look for work and each potential employer turns him away for having no experience or a bad reputation or both. The one employer who seems willing, thanks to a connexion through Keiko, Nobuo walks out on when one of the employees smirks at him. How can Nobuo go from a position of relative respect as a proto-yakuza to the repetitive humiliation of the legitimate workforce? Maybe a mature, emotionally stable youth could get past it but Nobuo’s life has made him fragile and confused, desperate for clear situations and roles.
Even so, when his old friends try to re-enlist him into the petty gangster lifestyle, he refuses them and reminds them they all agreed to go straight. It soon becomes clear only Nobuo was sincere in his intentions on this point. Meanwhile, Keiko tries to talk the more respectable of Nobuo’s girlfriends, Kazue (Ruriko Asaoka), into going back with him.
Kazue works with schoolchildren and seems to have a similar, dedicated caretaker personality to Keiko’s. But Kazue’s affections haven’t been tested the way Keiko’s have. We never see Nobuo hit Kazue as we see he hits Keiko now and then. He just stays away from Kazue, apparently because another boy kissed her.
Whether or not Keiko should give up on Nobuo for the way he treats her is a question complicated by the fact that she’s the only one who seems to have any real interest in his reform. But when her colleagues and even the police start to see her as crazy as Nobuo, one might justly ask if her quest is quixotic.
The plot takes some improbable turns in its final act but Suzuki’s compositions and the raw performances of the actors make the film consistently captivating. The Boy Who Came Back is available on Amazon Prime.
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Ephem’ral pins’ll drop the notice pad.
Another night devolves to flickered screens.
Assorted eyes can drive Medusa mad.
In numbered rows we count the watching beans.
Insistent pages press the inky truth.
Ideas regressed to pulp adorn the shelf.
A grinning plastic sleeps within the booth.
A tiny shell could sate the hungry elf.
The better line conformed to make a jaw.
On rested chin the pout implies a note.
Ascending pants the cat deploys a claw.
In scratchy words the sleeping writer wrote.
Behind a rock the beach awaits address.
Diverted days consume a pleated dress.