Seijun Suzuki  



Old-school Japanese director who worked for many years making b-movies for Nikkatsu covering the usual pulp entertainment of action, yakuza thrillers, prostitute dramas etc. He got bored with it and started adding stylish and absurd touches of humor, his movies gradually growing more unique and visually stylish. The studio became nervous but he only increased his efforts to make unusual b-movies. Fighting Elegy became a violent high-school gang movie mixed with a study on Fascism and wacky slapstick, and with Tokyo Drifter they cut his budget and he reacted by discarding narrative, replacing it with colorful scenes and confusing pulp action. This war with the studio reached its peak with Branded to Kill, a completely incomprehensible avant-garde movie for which he was fired. After that, litigation and blacklisting ensued and he only worked sporadically, making various artistic and experimental movies that increased its bizarre touches, strange theatrical sets and movements, and random touches of absurdity and artistic flourishes. In other words Suzuki moved gradually from pulp, cliched potboilers, to extremely avant-garde, whimsical and incomprehensible art pieces and possibly the most chaotic movies ever made. You see what b-movies can do to you?

Of Some Interest

Branded to Kill  
A nonsensical but stylish Yakuza movie by the cult director Suzuki who was fired for being so incomprehensible. A professional mob killer, who needs to sniff boiled rice in order to have wild sex with his masochistic girl, botches up a job because of a strange girl with a fetish for dead butterflies and is soon marked for extreme retirement. Suddenly he finds himself vying with the top ranking killers and under siege by No.1 who prefers to tire out his victim with sleep deprivation and psychological breakdowns.

Pistol Opera  
Suzuki remake of his own incomprehensible 'Branded to Kill' into an even less comprehensible but breathtaking visual experience. Reminiscent of Greenaway at times, this cinematic beauty offers non-sequiturs as dialog, dramatic and bizarre kabuki style body movements and behaviour, very quirky characters, surreal events and backdrops, erratic editing and beautiful cinematography. There is no story except for the fact that the characters all belong to some kind of killer guild and they all compete to be Number 1. A headache-inducing but beautiful artsy mess.

Yumeji  
The third in the Taisho trilogy came 10 years later with a different visual style and some artistic colorful imagery reminiscent of his later Pistol Opera. Once again though, we get a difficult, nonsensical story that serves as a mere back-drop for Suzuki's improvisations, strange theatrics, surreal visions, and absurdities. Yumeji is a whimsical, eccentric painter that likes to chase women, play odd games with them and draw them. When he leaves his lover for another woman, and the woman turns out to have a love triangle in her past, and a murdered jealous husband that comes back to life carrying a scythe, things get complicated, and it all soon unravels into another confusing Suzuki chaotic mess. One of the main themes of the movie however is the various cinematic improvisations that portray the painter's mind, with sketches magically appearing near his hand on objects, random poetic recitations, sexual fantasies mixed with art, and colorful visions and fantasies involving colored balls thrown in the air, people up in the trees, and various artistic visions mixed with the scenery he is currently in. A kaleidoscope of artistic imagery with absurdities, but too haphazard to enjoy fully.

Zigeunerweisen  
I really don't get Suzuki and this movie enjoys teasing the audience by starting with an incomprehensible voice hidden in a classical record of which the actor in the movie asks 'don't you get it?'. What follows is a hodgepodge of story elements that should eventually come together but don't. Two men, one a bourgeois brooding man with a conscience, another a wild, impulsive and possibly violent man, meet on a beach over a dead body, the socially acceptable man exonerating the wild man of murder for no reason. They become friends, share a geisha, get married, one of the wives being a dead ringer for the geisha. There are some strange encounters in rocky paths that may involve ghosts, a strange, morbid obsession over skeletons, death and the color red, some hanky-panky and a possible affair initiated with eyeball-licking as foreplay, strange haunted sounds, odd behaviour, some theatrics, and three blind, horny, cartoonish beggars that sing bawdy songs and beat each other silly while buried in the sand. This movie delights in surprises, whimsical but stylish cinematography and lighting, absurdities, sudden drifts, zigzags and twists, and bizarre touches for their own sake, resulting in intriguing moments, but lacking even some kind of dream logic to tie it all together.

Worthless

Kagero-za  
Suzuki makes havoc with the narrative in this second installment of his Taisho films. A man endures a jumble of backstories involving intrigue and mystery surrounding the woman (or women) of his desire, the movie shifting from one nonsensical cliche and plot to another. The woman is married, then she's a secret lover of his boss, then she's a ghost, then she's part of a conspiracy, then she's in a suicide pact, then she is murdered, etc. Scenes segue from one to another without rhyme or reason, scenery changes without warning, characters appear in different places or perform different roles, and in between, absurd scenes of dream-logic, slapstick, stylish visual sets, or surrealism pass the time until the next pulp drama. And then the movie suddenly explores a strange performance, or a bizarre ritual involving peering into the underside of statues to reveal poetic statements of self or genitalia. During a children's play, the audience ask "what's the plot?" and the answer is "I don't know, the children improvise". A very tediously confusing and unrewarding movie, and too chaotic in style to be a dream.

Princess Raccoon  
An artsy, musical fairy-tale with a complex Shakesperean plot, random artistic absurdities and surreal, colorful sets. The raccoons are strange creatures that party every night, the king is jealous of his son's beauty and wants to kill him, the prince falls for the raccoon princess, an assassin monk is captured by people who think he is a raccoon and who want to eat him, etc. Stagey, amazingly colorful sets that sometimes consist of real objects mixed with sketches, theatrical dances and movements, random imagery, characters can suddenly break into a rap song or dance with pots on their butts that look like the men's shaved heads, and so on. An example of a scene: Two characters fight with strange dance movements and strings that come out of their sleeve on a colorful stage full of street-lamps and a quiet audience, then decide to fight by playing rock-paper-scissors and the loser breaks into song about how she's dying. I can appreciate the visuals but I must confess I didn't enjoy this whimsical artsy randomness at all.




2000- by Zev Toledano Table of Contents