Story of a Prostitute

We had a good run with Seijun Suzuki, but like most heroes, eventually you find something you have to step back from.

While much of the message of Story of the Prostitute is similar to and on par with the anti-militarism, anti-toxic masculinity themes of his great Fighting Elegy, the framing element here leaves quite a bit to be desired about the true nature of Japan's history with so called "Comfort Women". Historically these women were (mostly) kidnapped and forced into prostitution for the army, but in focusing his themes against militarism Seijun allows for the cultural myth that the Comfort Women were all willing, even patriotic, volunteers to settle in. Still by no means does he present their lives as pleasant or good, so...what do we do with a very progressive message that is not as progressive as it could, and should, be.

In any case this is the most ideologically complex of Seijun's films that we've seen, and it's the last in the collection at this time, which means we've got at least 646 episodes before we see him again.

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Gate of Flesh

We love Seijun Suzuki here at Lost in Criterion, and sadly we only have two more of his films to watch before we're all out of them. Well, unless the Criterion adds more before we're done. There's certainly an incredibly good chance of that.

We finish with two of the earliest of his that we've seen (though Youth of the Beast was earlier than either). This week it's Gates of Flesh a story of post-war desperation.

Fighting Elegy

The year is 1966 and Seijun Suzuki's relationship with his longtime studio Nikkatsu is strained to say the least. Tokyo Drifter left him on double secret probation and barred from using the companies color film stock. Branded to Kill would ultimately get him fired. But between those two brilliant pieces of art comes Fighting Elegy, an anti-"red pill" film attacking toxic masculinity and militarism. Written by Kaneto Shindo who directed Onibaba and, turns out, was a left-wing activist, Fighting Elegy is a farewell to arms and the ideas of manhood, sex, and power that fed authoritarian nationalism that led to nearly 3,000,000 Japanese dead in World War 2. It's also funny -- like Vonnegutianly so -- and shot with all the beautifully off-the-wall style we expect from Suzuki, but in this case those wacky visual choices actually land in a philosophical style, too.

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Youth of the Beast

It's been 4 years since we last saw a Seijun Suzuki film.

It's been too long.

Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter were early favorites for Seijun's ridiculous sense of style and clear disdain for being told what to do. Made a few years and a few dozen films earlier in 1963 is Youth of the Beast, a Yojimbo-tale of an ex-Cop investigating his former friends death. Of course that plot synopsis glosses over the Seijun flare that makes it a film worth watching. And it is very much worth watching.

Tokyo Drifter

Seijun Suzuki's 1966 film Tokyo Drifter is more comprehensible than Branded to Kill -- it does actually have a discernible plot for most of the film --  but barely -- there's an extended fight scene that plays like a Merry Melodies short. The studio didn't like this one either. While Tokyo Drifter didn't lead directly to Suzuki's firing, it did get his color film privileges revoked, which is why the later Branded to Kill is in black and white while Tokyo Drifter has, quite honestly, a really excellent integration of color and non-color footage.

Branded to Kill

Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill (as well as next week's film, Tokyo Drifter) is a B movie Yakuza film from a guy who could make a B movie Yakuza film in his sleep who wanted to do something different. Released in 1967 Branded to Kill led directly to Suzuki being fired for turning in a completely "incomprehensible" film. Considering that Suzuki is a director who doesn't believe there's even such a thing as "film grammar", on it's surface the studio's criticism may have a point. After viewing Branded to Kill it's obvious that they do. It's also obvious why this film is cited as influential by John Woo, Quentin Tarantino, Park Jan-wook, and Jim Jarmusch.

It's a mess.

But it's a fun mess.