Tokyo Drifter (1966), Highly Recommended

Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari)

This is one of the best films from director Seijun Suzuki that I have ever seen. It’s up there with his best film Branded To Kill. The plot is simple. Tetsu who was a yakuza wants to go straight. He even has business partners and has acquired property. But as in any film with a mob, once your in the only way out is very painful. Tetsu’s old buddies muscle in on his new partners and before he knows it he is forced to become a drifter. He goes from place to place fighting off assassins as they come while people he thought were friends turn on him.

However, it’s not the plot that you are watching a Suzuki film for, it’s the style. And is this film ever laden with style. Here are some examples that don’t do justice to the way they are pieced together along with a wonderful use of music.

Use Of B&W

Like A Tomb

Use Of Color And The Giant Cheerio

More Use Of Color

Theatrical Set Design

Reminds Me Of The Man With The Golden Gun

Negotiations Should Always Have Plenty Of Purple

More Theatrical Set Design

You can’t help watching another minute it’s just so beautiful. I highly recommend it.

Youth Of The Beast (1963), Recommended

Every once in a while I end up with a DVD that won’t play in my computer, but will play on my TV. This was one of those films so I don’t have any screenshots. Unfortunately, this is a Seijun Suzuki film which are always highly visual rather than character or plot driven. The story is about an ex-cop played by Jo Shishido who is seeking revenge for the murder of another cop by infiltrating the two mobs he knows were involved.

As usual for a Suzuki film it has a very straightforward plot with simple characters. However, the magic’s in the execution. There is a jazz soundtrack, very hip 1960’s clothes, and vibrant color. Then there are little touches. For example, at the beginning of the film Shishido shows up in a mob run club. The window to the rest of the club is soundproof so we see everything Shishido does totally silent. Despite the style, it never overwhelms the plot and characters to the point where they are too distorted to keep you engaged.

The film can get a little jumbled and there is a lot stuffed into the 90 minute running time, but it’s a lot of fun. I recommend it.

Story Of A Prostitute (1965), Not Recommended

Harumi (The Prostitute)

I really hated this movie! It’s about a woman who becomes a comfort woman on the front lines during WWII. She meets a soldier who she tries to pit against his superior officer. That is, until she falls in love with him. What follows is a lot of screaming, some slow motion, other visual effects, and a man wrestling with the code of the Japanese soldier. I now know where they got the honor bit for the Klingons in Star Trek.

What we don’t get enough of is Harumi getting beaten or otherwise hurt because she is so damned annoying. When you find yourself cheering for the female lead to get raped, beaten, or murdered, you know you hate the movie. These were my favorite scenes:

A Well Placed Boot To Her Face

Unfortunately, After Cowering They Left Her Alone

Please skip this one. Suzuki has made much better films. I don’t recommend this one.

Gate Of Flesh (1964), Recommended

Band Of Prostitutes (Yellow, Green, Red, Purple)

Finally, a Japanese film that takes place in the postwar years where there are actual American soldiers on the streets. During the occupation the US made it illegal for Japanese films to show American soldiers. Since this film was made in 1964 it meant that they were no longer under that restriction. It also meant that the actual postwar world that Rossellini made such wonderful use of in Italy was gone in Japan by the time this film was made. We’ll get back to the affect that had on the film.

The film is about a girl who gets raped and abused on the streets until three tough prostitutes take her in and make her one of their own. She becomes the green girl shown above. There is another girl that is like a den mother for them. She dresses very traditional in a kimono. They have one rule: never sleep with a man for love.

Enter the wayward Japanese soldier played by Jo Shishido and in short order the girls let him become a pimp of sorts. They still exploit themselves for themselves, but he is now part of the family and commits crimes on the side in order to bring home the beef, literally an animal to be killed for beef in one situation. Soon he and the den mother have sex. Of course in this wonderful world of ours, it’s not Shishido who gets in trouble its the den mother.

The Punished Den Mother

After that relationship is promptly stopped. The rest of the film follows the developing love between green and Shishido till it’s tragic end.

Since this film was made long after Tokyo was rebuilt, on a small budget, and was produced by the studio Nikkatsu because they wanted a film with lots of flesh and whippings you would think that you would get some cheesy porno. However, this film was assigned to director Seijun Suzuki who had a production designer that was very familiar with theatrical set design. This meant that between the two of them we got a very imaginative, theatrically realistic, erotica that is both arousing and beautiful.

American Soldiers, Finally!!!

The Scene Where The Priest Has Sex With Green

Punishment Of Green

As much as there is to like here, I can only recommend it.

Fighting Elegy (1966), Recommended

The Guy

The Girl

What Happens When Catholicism Comes Between Them

What The Guy Turns To Out Of Sexual Frustration

What The Girl Turns To Out Of Sexual Frustration

What The Guy Ends Up As: A Fascist

That pretty much sums up Seijun Suzuki’s film. It’s about a guy and a girl who are both Catholic in mid-1930’s Japan. The girl won’t let him in sexually and he is ashamed anytime he gets an erection. In frustration he turns to fighting. He gets kicked out of his school and ends up having to go elsewhere for his education. Upon arriving there, he begins to insult the locals, joins a gang, and beats the crap out of people. In the end he joins the militarist coup that occurred in 1936.

Despite all the fighting it’s really not that violent. It’s actually quite goofy. It’s fun, but it’s not the best Suzuki I have seen so far. I just recommend it.

Branded To Kill (1967), Highly Recommended

No. 2 (Jo Shishido) and No. 1 (Kôji Nanbara)

Director Seijun Suzuki had what could have be a very run of the mill yakuza film. The number three ranked killer fails at a job so the yakuza come to kill him. In defending himself he kills the number two killer thus becoming the number two. So the number one killer comes after him. Who will survive? However, Suzuki did not make a run of the mill yakuza film.

The film begins firmly grounded in reality as Shishido’s character does a typical escort mission. He ends up having to do a fair amount of killing, but does the job. After that he is hired by a young lady to kill a man. He has the tiniest of windows within which to make the killing. A butterfly lands on his gun, he fires, and misses. That sequence is where reality begins to crack. For example, Shishido begins to see butterflies everywhere as he purses a strange relationship with the women who hired him.

Eventually she gets kidnapped and Shishido jumps into action. However, this time the action feels more surreal. In fact, he winds up stripped to his briefs by the end of the gun battle. That’s when the number one killer shows up.

Instead of just shooting him on sight, we find out that number one operates differently. In short order he moves in with Shishido. After making Shishido’s daily life miserable he leaves and sets a place for a final showdown. By the time we get to the end of the film reality has completely come apart.

This is one of my favorite films from the Japanese New Wave. I highly recommend it.

Take Aim At The Police Van (1960), Worth A Look

Director Seijun Suzuki is a prime example of the Japanese New Wave. He made films like Branded To Kill (1967) filled with violence, atmosphere, and vibrant cinematography. So it’s no surprise that he cut his teeth making film noir. The movie starts with an attack on a police van transporting prisoners. Two die and the guard on duty is put on 6 months suspension. For him that means time to turn private detective and figure out who hit the police van and why.

This isn’t the best Suzuki film out there and hardly one of the best film noir’s around, but if you put the plot aside you will see Suzuki’s trademark style waiting for a better film.