Criterion Sunday 299: 春婦伝 Shunpuden (Story of a Prostitute, 1965)

Suzuki has a masterful sense of constructing an image, which you might expect given his intensive record of filmmaking throughout the 60s resulting in some of the most eye-catching set design and at times dabbling in pop art iconography. This one sticks to black-and-white for its World War II-period story about a young woman who is pressed into ‘service’ on the frontlines in China, where she falls for the eager young Private Mikami (Tamio Kawachi) who serves under a rather more brutal superior officer (Isao Tamagawa). Along with her story (and the actor Yumiko Nogawa is excellent, really tearing into the material with gusto), the film also takes aim at Japanese military policy and the dehumanising nature of warfare, as the private finds himself on trial for being captured by the enemy (despite being unconscious at the time). It’s a fascinating film and one made with Suzuki’s usual flair.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Seijun Suzuki 鈴木清順; Writer Hajime Takaiwa 高岩肇 (based on the novel by Tajiro Tamura 田村泰次郎); Cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka 永塚一栄; Starring Yumiko Nogawa 野川由美子, Tamio Kawachi 川地民夫, Isao Tamagawa 玉川伊佐男; Length 96 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 15 March 2020.

Criterion Sunday 268: 野獣の青春 Yaju no Seishun (Youth of the Beast, 1963)

I can’t honestly tell you I understood every twist and turn in this film about a man seeking revenge for the death of his friend. It starts out in black-and-white as we happen upon an apparent double-suicide of a cop and his girlfriend, though even here there is a splash of colour in some roses, before we barrel straight into the rest of the movie, in sharp poppy colours in a widescreen format. In truth it’s the visuals that really stand out here, and director Suzuki has an eye for framing in what is very much a stylish picture. As for the plot, our anti-hero Jo (played by the easily-recognisable Joe Shishido) swings through various setups involving gangsters and hangers-on, pretty liberally wielding his fists, guns and even a spraycan he’s adapted into a flamethrower to elicit the information he wants about who was responsible for what in those opening scenes he clearly thinks was a murder. It zips along at a good pace but it always retains its pop-art appeal.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Seijun Suzuki 鈴木清順; Writers Ichiro Ikeda 池田一朗 and Tadaaki Yamazaki 山崎忠昭 (based on the novel 人狩り by Haruhiko Oyabu 大藪春彦); Cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka 永塚一栄; Starring Joe Shishido 宍戸錠, Misako Watanabe 渡辺美佐子; Length 92 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Friday 20 September 2019.

Criterion Sunday 38: 殺しの烙印 Koroshi no Rakuin (Branded to Kill, 1967)

By this point, director Seijun Suzuki had already proven his directorial credentials. I’ve reviewed the previous year’s Carmen from Kawachi, and another film from that year will come up next week (Tokyo Drifter), each an off-beat cinematic journey around familiar generic outlines. Both the latter film and the one under discussion here take on the gangster film genre, and the fact Suzuki was fired by his studio and blacklisted by the industry after Branded to Kill suggests its lack of commercial success, though surely his stylistic flights of fancy are as much to blame. After all, it’s exactly the kind of film you’d imagine late-night Western audiences looking for a 2001 or Saragossa Manuscript-style headtrip would love (though it didn’t reach that market until the 1980s). However, this does mean that the intricacies of the plot remain somewhat opaque and difficult to recall — in outline, it’s about contract killer Goro Hanada (endearingly chubby-cheeked Joe Shishido) who variously falls in love and is haunted by the failure of a mission, but I can’t tell you more than that. What’s wonderful about the film, and repays each viewing, is the delirium found within the cinematic frame, firing off traditional gangster cliches against monochrome film noir stylings, pop art influences and at times a stripped-back kabuki aesthetic. As one example amongst many, tropes like the hero’s oversexualised libido are sent up by Hanada’s obsession with the smell of steamed rice. What results for the viewer is something of a confusing journey, but whatever else it might be, it’s never a boring one.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Seijun Suzuki 鈴木清順; Writer Hachiro Guryu 具流八郎; Cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka 永塚一栄; Starring Joe Shishido 宍戸錠; Length 98 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Sunday 31 May 2015.