Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Tokyo Knights



Extemplary Cuffmail



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing from the Arrow Blu-ray.)

===

Kōji Matsubara (Kōji Wada) is the scion of a construction syndicate in Suzuki's 1961 color film Tokyo Knights [Tōkyō knight]. His father was chucked off a cliff. Kōji studied for a time in America then returned to Japan to finish high-school at a Catholic prep called Elizabeth. He graduates from one school club audition to the next, excelling in each and surpassing every student member, before settling at last in the music club, instructed by an American of the Beat vein who praises Kōji's natural dynamics with an earnest: "Sugeiiii."

His mother kind-of-loves a man, Mishima (Nobuo Kaneko), whom she doesn't want to suspect killed Kōji's father. Mother and Kōji are, let's figure, twenty years apart, with he being 17. (No relation, as one might by now begin to infer, with the Kōji Wada pop-star of Digimon fame who, like our Kōji, also died at the mature age of 42.) The Ozu theme of younger-motherhood and son-love snakes around in the background, but it's Mom's best friend who wants to make a move on the shachō-to-be: "How does my kimono look?" before greeting him; then: "There's no way [the company] will work out well if [Kōji] gets married, you know..."

About the cufflinks, then I'll wrap this up: One was discovered at the site of Kōji's father's death; he was pushed off a rocky crag. The Tokutake Syndicate did cahoots with Matsubara. Tokutake-san and Mishima (proxy-Matsubara head while Kōji's still distracted at school) tried to rig the bid for a roadworks contract. Tokutake hands out these prize cufflinks to his capi.

On-and-on it goes to the end, culminating (nearly) in a spectacular noh-stage set-piece in which Suzuki finally gets to let it rip a little. Above immediate stagecraft the poker-faces of feelings — an indistinguishability between men and women lovers in genre Japanese '60s milieux, beyond a prowess for the wielding of (inherited) power and the feigned acquiescence to the palanquin and the pretty face — nevertheless still preside.


===



===

More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

8-jikan no kyōfu [8 Hours' Terror, 1957]

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Mikkō 0 Line [0-Line Stowaway, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōkyō knight [Tokyo Knights, 1961]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Thursday, August 09, 2018

0-Line Stowaway



Hong Kong Smuggled Pieces



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Arrow Blu-ray.)

===

This is the story of the directed-by-Seijun Suzuki 0-Line Stowaway [Mikkō 0 Line, 1960]. —

Katori (Hiroyuki Nagato) works as an investigative reporter for the Kyōkuto Shinbun.

The 0-Line is the ship that runs between Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Katori's friend Nishina (Yūji Kodaka) is a less intrepid, less five-o'-clock, less thumb-in-the-sternum investi活火山 for rival paper the Nitto Shinbun.

Katori set up Reiko Saeki (Sanae Nakahara) for drug-trafficking. His stock-in-trade is the set-up. After Reiko it's her brother, or husband, or something, Katori's and Nishina's classmate, in a bust. When the 'force' rains down in pursuit he chomps his own tongue and dies instantly from blood-loss!

Journalists in Suzuki act like police, keisatsu with impunity.

Another man nabbed at Yaesu bites off his (own) tongue, as well.

Katori's sister Sumiko (Mayumi Shimizu) announces baseball games.

Sōmei Ryū (actor unknown?) heads a trading company. His goons beat hell out of Katori.

This woman mutters, "His strength's no match for your violent power."

You won't believe it but Akiko Sugie's been found dead in Hong Kong of murder or suicide, and her passport hadn't been issued, so — this means she was smuggled.

One challenge in Suzuki is for the viewer to take these convoluted broken-wings of scenarios as filmed and fly and turn them into their own (perceived) movie.

Nishina reads in the newspaper Katori has gone missing. Nishina goes into the semi-demimonde to find a boat to sneak him to Hong Kong. He makes the arrangements. His editor approves; he'll carry a concealed passport.

He manages his way onboard the vessel posing as a Chinese national. A party's raging in the lower quarters; it's American G.I.s and female Japanese sex-slaves.

Nishina's exposed. Thrown to the brig, he encounters Katori imprisoned makeshift too on the boat's lower coal deck. Nishina pummels Katori, then they align. The duo trigger the ship's fire alarms. Police arrive at the craft, still docked. Reiko Saeki tells Katori that Sōmei Ryū is her father. She shoots him in the calf, assuming Katori will never let her or her father get away free.

The cops were summoned by Nishina and Katori via Morse code by way of a torn electrical cable dabbed against a steel pipe in the coal hold.

===


===

More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

8-jikan no kyōfu [8 Hours' Terror, 1957]

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Mikkō 0 Line [0-Line Stowaway, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Sunday, June 24, 2018

8 Hours' Terror



Follow the Bouncing Bus



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Arrow Blu-ray of the film.)

===

If Paul McCartney were a student of the art of the Japanese cinema, he might refer to Suzuki's 1957 8 Hours' Terror [8-jikan no kyōfu] as a really quite sugoi little yarn. It's short and to the point — a story about the passengers on a suspension-challenged autobus getting from point A to point B after rail service to the outskirts of Tokyo has been suspended due to landslide. Before pulling out of the station, word hits that two bank robbers are on the lam in the vicinity of the bus route: to be honest, a rather wide danger-berth for a multi-hour drive, narrow and precarious though the starkly elevated mountain roads may be. The 1 hour 17 minutes of 8 Hours' Terror compress the journey, a play on time and space facilitated by the 1.37 ratio of the frame (here practically an accordion at rest in Suzuki-form), in which inevitability and improbability commingle: of course the robbers will show up to commandeer the transport; and after one of them bites it after being baited by the resident whore into a literal bear-trap (he screams in agony, "I'll tell the cops everything!" before his partner shoots him in the head), the surviving crook shows up on foot to lay siege to the bus once again after it's covered x number of kilometers. Jason Voorhees avant la lettre?

"So many different people on the bus! It's fate, isn't it!" remarks a craven lingerie salesman. The types onboard conform in shorthand to the assemblages in Maupassant's Boule de Suif [1880] and Ford's Stagecoach [1939] — the prostitute carrying a snapshot of a convalescing black G.I.; the badman who turns a new leaf for the sake of the group (and trawls a darker undercurrent than usually seen in these tales: a newspaper makes reference to his crime with the headline "WAR RETURNEE KILLS WIFE AND NEW HUSBAND"). We also acknowledge the debt owed to masterpieces by Shimizu (Arigatō-san [1936]) and Capra (It Happened One Night [1934]).

===


===

More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

8-jikan no kyōfu [8 Hours' Terror, 1957]

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Sleep of the Beast



Tangling-Up Toward Inevitability



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Arrow Blu-ray of the film.)

===

The title The Sleep of the Beast [Kemono no nemuri, 1960] resonates in two ways distinct from one another depending on whether you read the title of Suzuki's 1963 breakthrough in English — Youth of the Beast — or in its original Japanese — Yajū no seishun. The titles don't have much in common with one another at first glance — the movies themselves don't, full-stop — but the internal emancipation of fueled rage and concentrated vengeance mark both pictures, and indeed all of Suzuki's films. The sleight of hand here is the difference between kemono (beast) and yajū (beast). According to the online Jisho dictionary, kemono connotes "beast, brute, animal," with a throw to "the Number of the Beast." Yajū suggests "wild beast, wild animal." Perhaps a difference in degree? Of savagery? The Sleep of the Beast vs. Youth of the Savage Beast? The latter's the wilder picture with the wilder motivations...

The Sleep of the Beast in short involves a businessman father Junpei Ueki (Shunsuke Ashida) who, embittered by his company years without a respectful compensation, takes the leap risk of smuggling heroin out of Hong Kong on a cruise-liner back to Japan on the eve of his retirement. After disappearing from his family for a spell after docking, he pops back into their lives brushing his absence off as the requirements of more business. His daughter Keiko (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) and, more astutely, her newspaperman love-interest Shōtarō Kasai (Hiroyuki Nagato) smell some flood aloft in the situation. So the suspicions, and the policier aspect of the plot, kick into place, and Shōtarō sticks his bloodhound compulsion onto the trail, not for glory, and maybe not even for the sake of love.

This will shift now into pure plot synopsis. Why? Because the tangling of the threads define the essence of The Sleep of the Beast. This is early Suzuki working off a script which just goes on and on; he finds a little bit to really flash in the few moments where he can get some air. But look at this:

After Junpei's re-emergence, he takes a job as a ship's chandler for the Kōei Trading Company. His network associate Komatsu (Kōjirō Kusanagi) bears a scar on his right hand that Shōtarō had warned Keiko about once, given his leads on the crime trail, and she witnesses it herself when she and her mother are visiting their father at his new place of employment, Kōei, so that the family might go out to lunch together. At the lunch, Junpei spots his boss sitting at a nearby table, and Junpei takes the requisite bow, with one Reverend Nagamine (Tsutomo Shimamoto) joining the boss: the latter is the head of the "Sun God Cult." He's a good cult guy, Junpei remonstrates. Following their lunch he takes the family to see a house he's interested in buying there in Yokohama which will eliminate his commute from Tokyo to get to Kōei.

Heroin-thief Satō (played by I don't know whom) collapses in the Hama Hall jazz bar. The newspaper people say they're calling it a sleeping pill OD, but the autopsy comes back saying he's been dosed with something called Luminal, a powder that dissolves in liquid...

Dead Satō's wife is a member of the Sun God Cult. She has a link with Wong (player zero_sub1). Also dead. Both he and Satō are wound up in this heroin deal of Junpei's on the way back from Hong Kong... when all the junk was stolen from his bag. A woman there at the sect's main HQ also identifies one Maki (player zero_sub2) who works in a Yokohama dry-cleaners. Shōtarō tracks him down — the launderers is a drug-front. Maki escapes out the back with the drugs and Shōtarō's in pursuit; the former visits Hama Hall. He passes off the drugs to Komatsu. Shōtarō corners Maki outside the club, and Maki attacks him with a razor concealed inside his shirt-cuff. The crook escapes, but a pair of cops on the same trail choke Shōtarō out figuring he was Maki's associate in the pell-mell hubbub; they were monitoring the heroin deal.

Shōtarō explains to Keiko that her father brought the heroin from Hong Kong. "Wild beasts sleep in the hearts of all of us," he reflects. "Sometimes the beast awakens."

This brings us to what I see as the key dilemma of the film:

Keiko implores: "Why couldn't you have just left [my father] alone??"

Shōtarō responds: "I don't know.... Because I'm a newspaper reporter."

She asks him to keep all this dirt to himself till she says he can release it. Shōtarō in typical journalist/Japanese-movie fashion counters: "I'm a reporter! I can't ignore a scoop!"

Reverend Nagamine gets a call from the Kōei boss informing him the cops caught Maki. They suggest sending Komatsu (BTW: the two policemen who were trailing him after he got the drugs have wound up dead) to the sect's private island off Kure till the heat cools down.

Maki, now in custody, uses the toilet at the police barracks to take the opportunity to slash his carotid with that same hidden razor and commit suicide.

Keiko confronts her father Junpei with all his crimes. "No-one forced me," he responds. "All those years of hard work were in vain." When the drugs were stolen from him on the ship back from Hong Kong, he offered his full retirement payment as compensation to the Kōei buyers — but that 3 million yen added up to barely one-tenth of the value of the stolen drugs. Satō and Wong were the thieves, and once they were dead, and the drugs came back, Junpei had little choice but to join the Kōei syndicate; he was afraid he'd be killed if he didn't.

Now, there's some bar-hostess named Hiroko (player y_sub1) who was friends with an earlier hostess Akemi (player y_sub2) from Hama Hall, but the former's moved on to the Blue Moon Bar. This all gets a little hazy for me. Shōtarō tracks down Hiroko, gets shit-faced with her at the Blue Moon, then let's himself get taken to her pad. She drops Luminal in his drink. Hours pass and she admits she drugged and killed Satō and Wong in the aftermath of their steal. Problem for her is Shōtarō fake-drank his whiskey while pouring it on his left breast, all while recording her confession via a pen-microphone that the whole time radio'ed-out to his associate in the hallway with a reel-to-reel. Shōtarō calls Junpei and plays it back for him.

Junpei visits the Sun God temple and alters the propane set-up so there's no flame, but still gas output. After an argument with his Kōei associates he flicks a lighter and blows the place sky-high. It's like the end of Underworld Beauty [Ankokukgai no bijo, 1958]. Finally Junpei blasts himself with pistol to the heart.

This isn't Suzuki at his best, it's early in his game and he's struggling with the assigned material, but he uses an expressionist trick twice when he superimposes a narrator zoomed-out over the play-out of some flashback material. Just enough gunpowder and drug-powder to land home the Nikkatsu essentials.

===


===

More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star



More Bastards: An Afterschool Story



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Arrow Blu-ray of the film.)

===

Stories of Bastards [or Stories of Badboys]: Even Under a Bad Star [Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo, 1965] is a redux of Suzuki's earlier The Bastard / The Badboy [Akutarō, 1963], set here in the Shōwa period. The Stories of Bastards title plays with the notion that this is another entry in an imaginary series devised by Suzuki; time in secondary schools is static as ever. Ken Yamauchi reincarnates as the character of Jūkichi, coming up once more against an organized disciplinary troupe made up of the upperclassmen of the school itself, who are bent on breaking the individuality of Jūkichi and all: as in the previous film he'll break them first, and more fiercely. The film opens with the enactment of a fascist recital gathered round a bonfire: the national conflagration that is yet to ignite. Suzuki chooses to provide a level of definition to the story with the Japanese low-comedy form of dunce-men by turns hollering, screaming, or flailing; and with teen boys in black school uniforms getting aroused by anatomy textbook images while clustered in their homosocial clique at a friend's house with no locked doors. The book of reference in The Bastard was Strindberg's The Red Room; here it's Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Everyone's unwitting.

Stories of Bastards has memorable scenes arranged like the blockchain. It's free-form, but somehow constricted... A typical Suzuki film, but somehow an oddity... Irritating but not fatally so, a mixture of high contrast and low. A mishmash of family, its surrogates, and lovers tossed together by proximity. Its episodes like spikes on an uni, unified with the central body bisected, as though to split the difference for the non-connoisseurs — in any case, something way stranger than compromised repast.


===

More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Best of 2017 List



TOP 10 FILMS OF 2017

Held off on this. I haven't seen everything I wanted to that premiered in 2017 — the new ARP, the new Garrel, the new Wiseman, the new Villeneuve, other things I have blasphemously less interest in seeing. If I get more links this year I'll do better.

10.
Radiohead: “I Promise"
by Michał Marczak

9.
Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone
by Rachel Wolther and Alex H. Fischer, with Sunita Mani, Tallie Medel, and Eleanore Pienta

8.
Landline
by Gillian Robespierre

7.
Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
by Rian Johnson

6.
Good Time
by Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie

5.
Win It All
by Joe Swanberg

4.
Farpões baldios [Barbs Wastelands]
by Marta Mateus

3.
I Love You, Daddy
by Louis C.K.

2.
Phantom Thread
by Paul Thomas Anderson

1.
Twin Peaks: Season 3 / The Return
by David Lynch

===

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Underworld Beauty



"Do Diamonds Really Burn?"



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Home Vision Entertainment DVD of the film.)

===

Over and over in Suzuki we'll see a bar or café with a backroom full of gangsters, but Underworld Beauty [Ankokugai no bijo, 1958] is the earliest example I can remember. This movie is ahead farther in its demimonde portrayals and youth-culture reckoning (equating the two at least in regard to material deemed ripe for cinema) than the French New Wave or Samuel Fuller, though the latter had staked a starting-point for the trajectory even as early as the mid-'50s.

A guy named Miyamoto (Michitarō Mizushima) gets out of jail, he was serving time over something to do with three chunky diamonds. (Mizushima is the best actor besides Jō Shishido in all the early Suzuki films.) His character visits his accomplice Mihara (Tōru Abe) who runs an oden stand with his sister Akiko (Mari Shiraki); Mihara took the fall that landed Miyamoto in prison, and now operates with a gimp leg. He was never a bad guy, and all these years has kept his head down in the business, even as Akiko flails like a dipso-nymph in capris, not unappealing. History repeats itself, Mihara swallows the diamonds, stashed all this time, in a deal led by Miyamoto that goes wrong, and takes another fall, off the side of a building in suicide — as much out of honor as to end his crippled existence. Akiko's lover Arita (Shinsuke Ashida) cuts the diamonds from Mihara's shrouded gullet during the vigil he holds with the body on behalf of himself and the sister, who has gone off to cope by getting shitfaced with an American sailor. When she comes back to the hospital, she cracks open Mihara's coffin and pours whiskey all over the corpse's face.

Eventually she'll come into the diamonds and tamp them down into the clay of a pre-fired mannequin's tit.

The final ten minutes find Akiko and Miyamoto ("ojisan") locked in the competitors' basement, the bad guys shooting up boiler tanks and the protagonists forced to shovel coal out a shaft to free up an escape-route. Akiko emerges onto the street; Miyamoto gets gunned down bare-backed by a detective after his offing of big-boss Ōyane (actor who?). The ending sees Miyamoto recovering in a hospital bed with the implication that he and Akiko may get something hot started yet before his time to serve. Somehow, she, and this movie, constitute an Underworld Beauty.


===

More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Bastard


New-Kid-in-Town Monogatari



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Arrow Blu-ray as included in the boxset Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years: Vol. 1: Seijun Rising: The Youth Movies.)

===

The Taishō period. Akutarō [The Bastard, maybe also The Badboy, I don't know where to come down definitively in this translation conflict, 1963] was the nickname of Tōgo Konno (Ken Yamauchi) at his former secondary-school in Kobe, where he attended as the son of a widower with upper-middle-class means before the boy's mother pulled him out to enroll him in small-town Toyooka. The Public Morals Unit, comprised of his upper-classmen, don't take kindly to strangers in dandy hakama...

It's easy to see how, in comparison to Suzuki's contemporaneous works, The Bastard might be considered, and too happily so by dilettante critics, as a prestige picture in the sense of Ford's The Informer [1935] or Naruse's Floating Clouds [Ukigumo, 1955] — both films I love, but they're well-rounded in romantic-vision and certain production values and non-angular pacings on the way to denouements (also see Mizoguchi's Sanshō-dayū [Sanshō the Steward, 1954]) that institutional awards-services might recognize them over not only the termite entries of the respective œuvres but the more stylistically flamboyant popular pictures that still draw attention in retrospectives and reissues today. That's fine. Life could be worse than experiencing masterpieces like The Informer, Floating Clouds, Sanshō-dayū, or maybe not a masterpiece but stark cinema, The Bastard. Why don't I say this is not a Suzuki masterpiece? I don't know — why haven't I said any of the films that precede it are? Some are better than this; many of those I still haven't seen (have you looked at Suzuki's filmography?); this movie's just different from what came before, and as such, and in and of itself, it's fascinating. Blob Saget was on Seth Meyers last night and he said that his show should be eventually called Fullest House when his ashes rest in an urn on a sill.

If you haven't yet seen The Bastard know that the biggest conceit involves August Strindberg's 1879 novel The Red Room [Röda rummet]. I've never read it, and didn't even know except in a few forgotten whisperings that Strindberg wrote novels — I figure this is something like how most people into Dostoevsky haven't read Poor Folk [Bednye lyudi, 1846] — but I paste this excerpt off Wikipedia from the American critic John Albert Macy in 1922: "[Strindberg] writes of [his characters' — two young critics'] unconscious inhumanity and blindness in a way that reveals his own clearness of vision and fundamental humanity. The laughter of a somber humorist has in it a tenderness unknown to merry natures." Make of that what you will.

I like the irony in the film title quite a more than a bit: with regard to Strindberg in his time of play, and with Suzuki's naming the picture The Bastard, or The Badboy, as both represent only ironical side-offerings to the straight denomination. Tōgo's a good-seed by any standard; in typical Japanese social critique of the era, it's truly the oppressors surrounding him that will drive him to pull daggers, abscond in spit — both tough attitudes. He's another drifter-savior in the Suzuki work, here of course in the guise of the transfer-student, fighting a de facto student-gestapo — the extreme manifestation in cinema of the dreams of the scenarists and Suzuki's own perceptions. The picture ends like something in a Satyajit Ray film, something from his Apu Trilogy.

In the essay that comes with the 60-page book in this Arrow boxset, writer Jasper Sharp quotes something to the effect by Shigehiko Hasumi that here everything came together for Suzuki for the first time: the actors, assistant-directors, production-designer, the cinematographer: — they made a prestige picture. As Variety would say: All tech specs primo. But who cares except season-passing 90-year-olds in the faintest of rushes to that last 90-min of distracted distraction, padded heeled, unaware of imminent pulmonary terror?



===

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Friday, March 16, 2018

Late-Teen Yakuza


Rue Teens!



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Arrow Blu-ray as included in the boxset Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years: Vol. 1: Seijun Rising: The Youth Movies.)

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Late-Teen Yakuza [High-teen yakuza, 1962 — aka Teenage Yakuza] unfolds upon images of construction vehicles clearing out rocks and soil dumped over ridges. For, this movie is jazz, goddammit, not your ersatz pre-Beatle rock-'n-roll: the benefitting kids want only Art Farmer, Louis Armstrong, and Don Elliott!, can't you see!, like any other Anglo brand hung on a peg! "Robin Coffee Brought to You by Chimoto," the franchise café the mother of schoolboy Jirō (Tamio Kawachi) is opening up in tandem with the expansion of this extra-Tokyo growth in small-business economic rise-of-promise: a playset for shrewd Suzuki four years before Godard's more cosmologically cogent focus on the Paris banlieues in 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her [2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle, 1966]. Sprinkle their faces with sea-salt or not — the shots are all diurnal! Aside from the brilliant framings and sets, a terribly ugly film... the bastard bleaching sunlight... it exposes the cowards and conformists that Jirō defends against and the extortionist delinquents he ATTACKS! in fending off this multi-block plot for which the owners thought they were signing up in solace to hunker over in perpetuity on the heels of the war...

Fictional teens cry and hiccup for the power to loaf! They might extort protection money from the conformist-cowards who took out business-loans, but Jirō comes round to offer real protection kicking the would-be-yakuzas' asses all over the curbs, arm-blocking every ridiculous haymaker-right-hook before he socks them impermanently to the dust.

Two beautiful details, that most present-day directors are incapable of equaling in their films:

(1) A cop manning a one-man-barracks, whose wife and toddler are visiting during Jirō and his buddy Yoshio's (Toshio Sugiyama) questioning. After the cop dismisses the two to go home, maybe half-an-hour later in the film, the next time we return to him (because films and scenarios work at the power of twice, not three-times), he's dandling his toddler solo near the plants before the keisatsu bungalow. And:

(2) Kazuko (Midori Tashiro) speeds into her father's udon/soba shop to make a plea, and like a pied-piper, the most popular girl in town because maybe the shittiest, all her friends follow her and clog up the windows in the background to gawk.

Late-Teen Yakuza is a beautiful and short (1 hour 12 minute) movie, and I only wish it might have ended differently: with Yoshio having already been crippled in the leg, and Jirō having suffered a similar maiming from a blade in the same spot — my wish, my wish... is that when they reconcile and pedal bicycles together during the final shot ————— both might only operate the pedals with their left feet and their right legs dangling numb off the frames...



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More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

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