James Balmont rounds up five films from the 1960s – one of the most radically artistic periods in Japan’s filmmaking history
Pale Flower,in a disorientating opening montage that combines rushing crowds, industrial plants, and busy train platforms with the sounds of screeching whistles and car horns. Ostensibly, Muraki – a yakuza just released from prison, who keeps a severed pinkie in his pocket – is talking about how the city has changed since he was imprisoned for murder. But equally, this introduction alludes to the hustle and bustle of the film’s primary focus: the illicit gambling dens of the country’s capital.
Set to a cacophonous score of avant-garde jazz, this noir is the tale of the aforementioned and his tentative romance with a woman named Saeko, who is so addicted to gambling that she even plays in bed. Their mutual destruction is captured in brilliant monochrome, with the film’s creative peak eventually arriving in the form of a surreal dream sequence that combines slow-motion, superimposed images and the sounds of manic laughter.
The film was initially shelved for months by Shochiku studio upon its completion, with its nihilistic tone deemed unsuitable for public consumption (screenwriter Masaru Baba, meanwhile, was unsatisfied with the film’s emphasis on visual and audio style). When it was eventually released, it was slapped with an adults-only rating, which actually helped it to become something of a hit. With director Shinoda a central figure within the wider Japanese New Wave, the film is now set for a UK Criterion Blu-ray release in 2022, following a pair of BFI Southbank screenings in December. headtopics.com
Tokyo Drifter, 1966Tokyo Drifter, 1966You could be easily fooled into thinking that you were watching the trippiest James Bond film ever made with Seijun Suzuki’sTokyo Drifter(also available via Criterion in the UK). Across a lean 90 minutes, this yakuza thriller covers car crushings, booby traps, free-jazz nightclubs and eyepatch-wearing gunmen, bound together by shootouts that wouldn’t feel out of place in a spaghetti western. But beyond the prototypical gangster plotting, the film is elevated to a realm of visual lucidity thanks to brilliant technicolour visuals and delirious set design, in this classic work from Seijun Suzuki – an icon of the Japanese New Wave. Put simply, this is a film that demands attention; not because it’s complicated or profound and nuanced, but because it is uncompromisingly stylish, and visually dazzling.
Suzuki’s prolific work rate (he’d directed nearly 40 movies by the timeTokyo Drifterwas released) would find parallels in the similarly stimulated work of Y2K provocateur Takashi Miike (Audition) decades later. His eye-boggling visual style, meanwhile, has been cited as an influence on everyone from Quentin Tarantino to Jim Jarmusch. The latter director even thanked Suzuki in the credits of the 1999 mobster film
Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai,starring Forest Whitaker, and the film itself pays homage to the 60s director across numerous referential shots.Read more: AnOtherMagazine »
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