Seijun Suzuki is, without question, one of a kind. I've never agreed with the popular perception of him as a cinematic genius, but he's an original, unique, innovative filmmaker that deserves respect. "Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards" stars Suzuki's number one man — the actor he cast for the lead of so many of his films — Jô Shishido. I've never cared for Shishido. His ridiculous ultra-cool, ultra-tough guy routine is so transparent that it's impossible for me to take him at all seriously. Fortunately, in this film, we don't have to take him seriously. We're meant not to. And so all the things that normally get under my skin about Shishido work here to enhance the film's overall enjoyability. For the first time I was really able to enjoy him as an actor. Suzuki, on the other hand, I always enjoy. He doesn't have Ozu's spiritual, emotional potency or formal mastery; he doesn't have Mizoguchi's palpable atmosphere or incredible sense of mood and tone; he doesn't have Ôshima's political conscience or unflinching psychological deconstructions of human self-destructiveness; he doesn't have Teshigahara's deeply philosophical genius, or Imamura's profound comic satire based in existential discontent. Standing next to the true geniuses of Japanese cinema, Suzuki isn't really an artist at all. He's more of, well, a confectioner. But there's nothing wrong with a little treat sometimes, and I personally deeply enjoy Suzuki's brand of confection. Frankly, I think Seijun Suzuki is a wonderful filmmaker. Not a brilliant one, mind you, but a wonderful one. His films are filled with an energy and an unpredictability that shouldn't be difficult for anyone to appreciate. They are narratively erratic, visually stunning, and completely off the wall. "Detective Bureau" is no exception. In fact, it's probably one of his most outright delightful works. Here we find Suzuki at a place somewhere between the studio fare he had been making previously and the more radical, completely unhinged cinema we'd see in the years to come. Consequently, this may have been the film that elevated him to auteur status and gave him his own, unique identity as a filmmaker. The film was made at Nikkatsu, one of Japan's biggest film studios at the time. Nikkatsu had started churning out a lot of crime films in the '50s. Influenced largely by French and especially American film noir, films such as Kurahara's "I Am Waiting" and Masuda's "Rusty Knife" were quality films, but were very formulaic and lacking any real authorial stamp from their directors. Suzuki had been directing films for Nikkatsu since his 1956 debut film, and in 1960 he released "Take Aim at the Police Van", which was one such crime film. It's the only Suzuki film I've seen that was released before "Detective Bureau". Essentially a studio hand, Suzuki was clearly not the auteur then that he would later become. And yet, there were a few moments in that film that foreshadowed his distinct style — one moment in particular, in which the film bounces to life as a prostitute is chased down the street to the sound of a classic rock-and-roll tune on a nearby jukebox. It's these moments that distinguish Suzuki as a filmmaker, and "Detective Bureau" is chock-full of them. One sequence actually has Jô Shishido standing up in a nightclub and unexpectedly taking part in a musical number that sounds like something out of a Jacques Demy film. It could be hokey and atrocious, if it weren't for Suzuki's immense gift for turning everything absurd into wonderful, playful farce. Another scene involves Shishido and the film's female lead at another nightclub, where a rock band with a female Japanese vocalist plays music that is so laughably non-Japanese that it's hard not to giggle at the circus of Americanized cultural overload that Suzuki presents us with (Suzuki didn't explore the theme of postwar westernization to the extent that many of his contemporaries did, but he certainly highlighted this sudden change in the Japanese landscape in his own, inimitable way). And then, of course, there is the scene with several half-naked Japanese girls dancing to "When the Saints Go Marching In". Suzuki spins a decent little crime yarn here, but in that department this really is a pretty subpar effort. It's the incredible moments of pure cinematic elation that make the film the joyous experience it is. The plot is not very interesting, but that's the beauty of Suzuki's cinema: It never has to be. "Youth of the Beast", "Tokyo Drifter", "Branded to Kill" — in all these films, Suzuki pulls you along through a visually astonishing, absurdist Japanese landscape in which nothing is predictable and everything is preposterous. There are immaturities in his films, of course -- they lack any real substance or depth -- but Suzuki's strength is his ability to transcend the necessity for those things. His films are always completely unconventional and always completely enjoyable, in spite of their shortcomings. Suzuki was undoubtedly the most stylistically experimental of the Japanese New Wave directors. There wasn't much there in terms of content, but formally, he was a true master. His high-energy, genre-bending, pop art style was very unique, and his films were always aesthetically pleasing. "Detective Bureau" doesn't have the stylistic supremacy of, for example, "Tokyo Drifter", but there is some really great fluorescent lighting and some hot windows, et cetera, that, visually speaking, really make it a pleasure to watch. This is not a great film, but I feel about it much the same way I feel about Suzuki in general: not brilliant, but wonderful in his way. It is a good film, because it is a fun film. Right from the fast-paced, high-energy rock-and-roll song that underlines the opening credits, all the way through that same song accompanying the film's fantastic final shot, this film is a blast. It's charismatic, charming, and full of life. RATING: 7.33 out of 10 stars
Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!
Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!
Police detective Tajima, tasked with tracking down stolen firearms, turns an underworld grudge into a blood-bath. Suzuki transforms a colorful pot-boiler into an on-target send-up of cultural colonialism and post-war greed.
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April 4, 2019