Tuesday, April 25, 2006

beta blue

Baby blue was the color that he wore...

Another Seijun Suzuki movie, another night of flummoxed eyes. Rewatching recently Branded to Kill and Youth of the Beast, with Tokyo Drifter last night, I finally remembered why I had to own these movies. Audaciousness aside, Suzuki (who despite being considered a B-movie director is by all intents and purposes an auteur of Japanese cinema) makes almost no sense, careening about underneath your confounded gaze like some sort of Yakuza pinball machine. Never being able to keep the characters straight, I always figured that it was just a side-effect of my continued inability to keep Japanese authors distinct (who wrote Thousand Cranes again? And wait, is Chuang-Tzu Chinese?), but even the studio execs were lost and implored that Suzuki play it straight for Tokyo Drifter.

Branded to Kill gets liner notes from John Zorn and Tokyo Drifter has a brandished pullquote about it being a "free-jazz gangster film" (fwiw, I'm not the biggest fan of Japanese free jazz, "Jojo" Takayanagi aside). Yes it is frenzied, fiery, abstract to the point of befuddlement, but there is method to the madness here, an obsession with edits, angles, how characters complement their surroundings, and in a rare dose of the kaledioscope for Drifter, priddddy colors.

Racking my brain trying to think of a musical analogy for Suzuki, someone suggests Naked City, but who sound-clashed, brain-slashed, and jumped with daredevil cuts first? The hues are so vertiginous, jaw-plopping, that music no longer holds as metaphor, so I scramble to blubber about how Tokyo Drifter ranks up there with Dario Argento's Suspiria, or reaching further back, Busby Berkeley, though Susuzki's foreground of violence (not that he doesn't have odd musical interludes, like when his baby-blu gangster strolls and whistles the theme song in a Winter Wonderland) is far more drunken and cool. (QT had a hand in production of the DVD as well). Aside from hiring production designers rainbow-obsessed and high on Gladden paint, the three directors also revel in illogical plots that border on being concussion-fuzzy and irrevent in the resulting confusion that follows in the wake of their delirious visions. At any given point in Drifter (the DVD suggests such poignant chapters as "Tetsu's powder blue coat of honor" or "Saloon Western (Candy-colored set)") you may well ask aloud, "I have no idea what's going on" before settling back into the lavish, hallucinatory color wash once again.


Anonymous J T. Ramsay said...

the movie club should get into fukasaku already! two new ones coming out, both of which follow up on The Yakuza Papers series.

suzuki's great for his portrayal of women. gate of flesh is about these prostitutes who refuse to be pimped as they cash in on g.i. dollars. pretty cool movie, though not as stylized as tokyo drifter or branded to kill.

it's too bad that home vision entertainment was liquidated when image took over criterion and its sister studios. kino's got the lion's share of these now and they don't do nearly as good a job with artwork or print quality.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Thanks for the tip, Andy. I loved Branded To Kill and look forward to checking out Tokyo Drifter.

Hope you're doing well.

5:34 PM  

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