Gradually rewatching the Suzukis I saw on DVD back in the day. This is one where Jo Shishido plays a tough dude, if you can imagine. He rolls into town acting like the biggest badass in the world, which impresses the local gangsters. He’s hired by one gang boss, and separately by the boss’s girl, and he barges into the other gang boss’s office with a shotgun and gets hired by him, too. Every genre cliche flying fast and furious to a swinging soundtrack. It all sounds like the usual until you see how this thing looks and moves.

Turns out Jo is an ex-cop out for revenge on the bastards who killed his partner, and all his noisy pot-stirring gets the gang war riled up. He’s assigned a gun crazy dummy sidekick (Eimei Esumi, second banana to Jo in a few other movies) by Boss Nomoto (played by the tormented youth star of Everything Goes Wrong). Boss Sanko is Kinzô Shin of Man Without a Map – a hands-on guy, he rigs a bomb and kamikazes his car into Nomoto’s house. Jo discovers that his ex-partner’s widow (the rich second wife from the first Kwaidan episode) is the gang’s secret puppetmaster, and killed her husband, so he sics Boss Nomoto’s razor-crazy gay brother on her, a happy ending.

Jo and Sanko at his office behind a movie screen:

This kind of scenario comes up pretty often:

Jiro (Black Sun star Tamio Kawaji) is a tormented James Dean type. Once I caught onto the fact that he tears off running at the end of every scene, it was always funny. A youth-gone-wild movie, all the parents lived through hell in the war, now their kids are all owowowowoe is me. Even if I hate all the whiny characters, it’s still a great-looking film that moves like a bullet.

There’s an abortion plot, plenty of money troubles, some muggings and car theft, then Jiro kills his widowed mom’s boyfriend with a wrench, and drives into the night to his own death. A bartender gets the last word, “Jiro was a nice boy,” but no he wasn’t.

Yoshiko Nezu is good, was in two more Suzuki movies in the next year, then disappeared:

Super colorful and energetic movie – I probably liked this more than his acclaimed Branded To Kill. Very good music, all bendy strings and gunshot percussion.

Green Maya (the typecast Yumiko Nogawa of Story of a Prostitute and Pleasures of the Flesh) joins a group of color-coded prostitutes in postwar Japan – purple Mino (Kayo Matsuo of Tattooed Life), yellow Roku, and red leader Sen. Ofuku wears white so you know she’s not gonna last, then black Machiko is the next to go, each accused of the crime of giving it away for free.



Machiko with Jo:

The four have a good thing going, living together in a delapidated building and scaring away all competition – until puffy-cheeked fugitive Jo Shishido (returning from Youth of the Beast) arrives to shake things up, barging in and joining the group. He sleeps with Machiko, then Maya (causing discord and some whipping), but he also steals and slaughters a cow (providing much food and cash) and amuses them with his post-traumatic stress war anecdodes, so he’s allowed to stay.




Maya seduces a priest (Chico Roland, the jazz-hating fugitive soldier in Black Sun) driving him mad. But ultimately she falls hard for Jo. “You’re the first man I’ve ever loved. For the first time, I’ve felt human, but now I’ll get kicked out of here. The moment I become a real woman, I’m an outcast.” But when they try to run away together, he’s killed and she’s left roaming.

Remade in ’77. The same writer did Story of a Prostitute, unsurprisingly.

When Maya is stripped of her green clothes and whipped, the whole image is shrouded in green:

IMDB says:
“A hit-man, with a fetish for sniffing boiling rice, fumbles his latest job, putting him into conflict with his treacherous wife, with a mysterious woman eager for death and with the phantom-like hit-man known only as Number One.”

I say: “She was his wife??”

Crazypants movie, seems to have been semi-remade in Suzuki’s own even-crazier Pistol Opera (they share a writer). This one has four credited writers, but Suzuki seems to have paid the script little mind, leading to his firing from the studio.

Starring my favorite chipmunk-cheeked badass Jo Shishido, who I just watched in the same year’s A Colt Is My Passport.

Joe, the third-ranked hitman, busts around with new partner Kasuga (Hiroshi Minami of a couple Miyamoto Musashi movies), gets a contract to protect a dude, but Kasuga seems unstable.

Kasuga loses it and charges the fourth-ranked hitman in a tunnel, killing both of them.

Joe kills the second-ranked hitman next – I’m not sure if he was supposed to, or if there was any plan, but he sets the guy on fire. Joe returns home to his wife and snorts rice fumes. It gives him energy (AKA makes him horny). But she tries to kill him and runs off.

Next, Joe is hired by a mysterious girl with a funny nose named Misako (Anne Mari of The Killing Bottle and Mini Skirt Lynchers).

But she is confusing, aims a gun at him, and maybe wants to kill herself.

Joe kills his own wife, the guy he was protecting ends up dead, he fails a job for Misako when a butterfly lands on his rifle scope. The movie begins to confuse Joe excessively.

Shadowy, mysterious Number One (Koji Nanbara of The Human Condition I) begins to threaten Joe, saying he’s kidnapped Misako.

Joe checks the film, says “this can’t be right”:

Joe is set up, hides under a car for cover, dragging it along as a ludicrous shield. But he can’t escape Number One, who leads him to a boxing ring, where Joe accidentally shoots Misako, and either Joe or Number One or maybe both are killed.

John Zorn loves it:

Born in 1923 during the short-lived and quirky Taisho period in Japan, Suzuki inherited a powerful appetite for Haikara (modern style) that was tempered by his experiences in World War II. As the member of a meteorological unit, he was twice shipwrecked in the Philippines and Taiwan, and bore witness to atrocities we can only imagine. His nihilistic philosophy is quite apparent in this work—“Making things is not what counts: the power that destroys them is”—as a kind of playful irreverence that echoes the French New Wave that influenced Suzuki and his contemporaries.

Something like my tenth Suzuki movie. They’re always so reliably entertaining – except to Katy, who still hasn’t forgotten how much she hated Kageroza four years later. Maybe she’d like these earlier, more straightforward films over the late, poetic, bonkers ones.

This isn’t stylistically bonkers, but it’s got a super-twisty plot compared to A Colt Is My Passport, or even to a similar disgraced-cop detective story like Stray Dog. Lead character Tamon (Michitaro Mizushima of Underworld Beauty) isn’t even a cop, just a prison security guard, but he does as well connecting the dots as Mifune in Stray Dog. He was on duty when a sniper took aim at the police van, and now that he’s suspended from duty he spends his free time trying to solve the case independently.

Tamon with his Underworld Beauty costar Mari Shiraki:

Shadowy suspicion:

Dancing girls:

No U Turn:

Black Book (2006, Paul Verhoeven)
Nice, twisty little nazi suspense drama. Watched on the plane, a little drowsy, so IMDB will help remember the plot details: “When the hiding place of the beautiful Jewish singer Rachel Steinn is destroyed by a stray bomb, she decides with a group of other Jews to cross the Biesbosch to the already liberated south of the Netherlands. However, their boat is intercepted by a German patrol and all the refugees are massacred. Only Rachel survives. She joins the resistance, and under the alias Ellis de Vries manages to get friendly with the German SS officer Müntze. He is very taken with her and offers her a job. Meanwhile, the resistance devise a plan to free a group of imprisoned resistance fighters with Ellis’ help. The plan is betrayed and fails miserably. Both the Resistance and the Germans blame her. She goes into hiding once more, with Müntze in tow. Together they wait for the war to end. Liberation does not bring Ellis freedom; not even when she manages to expose the real traitor. ‘Every survivor is guilty in some way.'” Edit April ’07: saw again in theaters – a real interesting movie. I definitely like it, glad Verhoeven is directing his talents away from stuff like The Hollow Man these days. Awesome final shot, with Rachel living in Israel, having moved from one besieged state to another. I don’t think Jimmy or George liked it much.

Jackass Number Two (2006, Jeff Tremaine)
Watched in the plane right after Black Book, when everyone around us was going to sleep. KLM didn’t censor it as far as I know. Completely awesome, hilarious movie. A masterpiece in its own way. Katy says I laughed too much/loud and annoyed my fellow passengers. Most other people watched that Kevin Costner movie with Ashton Kutcher for some reason.

Badlands (1973, Terrence Malick)
After a few days at the World Social Forum, finally one evening Katy and I were both awake enough to sit through a movie. I suggested Badlands, which we both ended up enjoying. Sheen kills Spacek’s father (Warren Oates) and they go on a little shooting spree before getting captured. Another quiet and beautiful movie by Terrence Malick. EDIT: JUNE 2007: after reading a great Adrian Martin article in Rouge, I realized that Malick is the only director I’ve seen whose EVERY film I would consider great… Charles Laughton excepted.

My Migrant Soul (2004, Yasmine Kabir)
On the last day at the Forum, I found the movie tent. Watched this half hour doc about a guy from Bangladesh who got a job in Malaysia in order to send money home to his family. But the guy who sends him gives him a forged passport, and he gets hard work for short periods of time, then sits idle the rest of his weeks, unable to find other work or complain to anyone without a legitimate ID, finally gets sick and dies. Sad.

Words on Water (2003, Sanjay Kak)
They’re building dams in India that destroy small towns, I guess. I fell asleep in the first ten minutes, then left the movie to wander the Forum and listen to the drumming, so I can’t tell you much more than that. Got back just before the credits when some protestors from the village are being arrested. Sad.

7 Islands and a Metro (2006, Madhusree Dutta)
I was drowsy and it didn’t make a strong impression. Some overlong shots (because the longer you hold a shot, the artsier it becomes) and some disconnected stories about Mumbai/Bombay. The director came out and said the movie reflects how people from all over got together to form this big city, and now the city is splintering into smaller communities again, without a firm focus or center (which of course reminded me of Atlanta), and told many stories of displacement, of trying to make a home in an overcrowded metropolis. I was disappointed that so many of the stories were made-up, and some of the actors were really overdoing it, as if in a soap opera. Decent enough movie I guess. Sad.

Early in the Morning (2006, Gahité Fofana)
The next day we went to the Alliance Francaise, checked out an excellent photo exhibit and saw some free movies. This one retells the true story about two kids from Mali who froze to death in the landing gear of a plane to Europe, having written a letter to Europe’s heads of state explaining that they’ve got it bad in Guinea and need some help. A well done movie, underplayed, not sensationalistic, quietly calling attention to the country’s problems without setting up some overbearing horror of war. The kids don’t even experience the war firsthand, so we don’t see it either, just hear about it in a single scene. Sad.

Bamako (2006, Abderrahmane Sissako)
Next up at the French Alliance was this awesome movie, which we wanted to see all week and surprisingly made it out to. Good thing the Alliance was walking distance from our hotel. A (mock?) trial is being held in the center of town and broadcast on the radio, with the people of Africa (Mali in particular) versus the European powers (the IMF and World Bank). A plea for debt forgiveness, for Africa to maintain its identity and stop to think how it wants to deal with foreign countries without getting exploited. Meanwhile small-town life carries on around the trial, the central story being about a family with a husband who can’t work, a wife who sings at a nightclub and their sick child. Wonderfully and humorously shot, with strange collisions of culture and a much talked-about bit where a TV movie starring Danny Glover suddenly takes over the screen. Must see again.

Garden State (2004, Zach Braff)
Katy watched on our last night in Nairobi, after the safari. I was just listening to the dialogue and music, and finally watched the second half with her. It’s an easy movie to make fun of after the fact, but while it’s playing, it’s very convincing.

Fighting Elegy (1966, Seijun Suzuki)
An action/comedy from Suzuki! Extreeeeme sexual tension leads Kiroku (lead actor from Tattooed Life) to join a fight club, and finally form his own gang and have huge fights with other groups of kids. IMDB guy says “a satire of the militaristic attitude that eventually lead Japan into WWII”. Wonderful. Watched this and 39 Steps on the portable DVD player on the flight home.

The 39 Steps (1935, Alfred Hitchcock)
Watched twice in a row, the second time with commentary. Robert Donat, a very capable leading man, gets caught up in a plot to smuggle government defense secrets out of the country when a woman he meets at a show is murdered in his apartment. He runs all over, never believed or trusted, Hitchcock’s original “wrong man”, predicting North By Northwest in structure and the final theater scene of the Man Who Knew Too Much remake during the great ending when, about to be captured again, he shouts to Mr. Memory onstage “what are the 39 steps”, revealing the plot to everyone. Very easy to watch… one of the better Hitchcocks I’ve seen, even if completely unbelievable.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
For some reason, I thought about this one during the whole safari. Is it the boar’s head that Royal rehangs on the wall? I don’t know, but I was itching to see this again, and watched it as soon as we got home. One of my favorite movies ever.

The Lion King (1994, Allers & Minkoff)
Of course we thought about this one too, and watched it the next night. Didn’t finish it, though. Best not to.

Wonderful movie, maybe the best of the Taisho trilogy. Starts and ends very free-flowing, dreamlike… little bit of storyline in the middle there. Suzuki shifts to different scenes and characters within the same shot. Lots of color, flowers, unexplained images. Beautiful.

Man with mustache and large hands apparently likes a girl who’s afraid of old women and cherries. He also likes a german girl with her “hair in the japanese style”. Or maybe they like him, or nobody likes anybody – I was mostly gazing at the flower petals, really. A meddling mustachioed man with a hat and cane threatens everyone with his gun. Maybe some or all of them die by the end of the movie.

Katy didn’t like it and is mad that I made her watch it. Guess I won’t try showing her Yumeji next week.

giving away the ending