SEIJUN SUZUKI: THE EARLY YEARS – VOL. 2. BORDER CROSSING: THE CRIME AND ACTION MOVIES
Released in the UK by Arrow Academy on DVD on 16th April.
Film director Seijun Suzuki is better known for acting in his native Japan and not particularly well-known at all in the wider world. Despite making over 50 films, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who is overly familiar with his work. That could change now with the release of some of his earlier films on DVD here in the UK, the first time they have been made available for home viewing.
Volume 2 features five of his early films spanning 1957-1961, all relatively short crime thrillers that would set him up for a career that lasted nearly half a century.
EIGHT HOURS OF TERROR (1957) sees a group of passengers forced to take a replacement bus through treacherous mountains when their train is cancelled. They’re all keen to get somewhere as Suzuki introduces us to a range of eclectic characters, all keen to get somewhere. It’s a Hitchcockian like set-up as added in to the mix are two bank robbers hiding somewhere in the range. This puts everyone on edge, and the set-up feels a little heavy-handed. Genre expectations over time have diluted some of the elements of surprise in the plot which favours dramatics for any underlying tension. It has its moments though and the fact that it is never entirely predictable is its main plus point, even if Suzuki’s soon to be trademark humour jars a little, especially in contrast to some of the films darker elements.
THE SLEEPING BEAST WITHIN (1960) is a more focused affair, a film noir in which a reporter goes in search of his girlfriend’s father when he goes missing without any explanation. The plot goes much deeper than this initial set-up though, with double crossing and moral dilemmas being uncovered as Suzuki drip feeds the plot creating an involving and intriguing film that highlights the important role of investigative journalism. Nearly sixty years later, this film still feels relevant.
The similarly themed SMASHING THE O-LINE (1960) sees two reporters uncovering a labyrinth like-plot involving smuggling, human trafficking and the drug-trade. It goes to some very dark places as a result of the story that unfolds as a result. At the time Western cinema was somewhat constrained by the Hays code and more overt dark elements could only be suggested at. Suzuki had no such troubles and as a result, the films feels both unsettling and ahead of its time.
In 1960 Suzuki started making colour films with both TOKYO KNIGHTS and THE MAN WITH A SHOTGUN.
TOKYO KNIGHTS is closest thematically to his previous work as a promising schoolboy takes over his families organised crime organisation following the death of his father. Juggling school work, his mother’s relationship with a new man and much more in between, the film has a lightness of touch alongside some more hard-hitting plot-points. It does feel somewhat uneven as a result but is one of Suzuki’s most entertaining films.
THE MAN WITH A SHOTGUN is a borderless Japanese Western in which a man armed only with the titular weapon arrives in a mountainous village that, in true western style, he ends up defending all the while seeking revenge for a wrong that was done to him in the past. Suzuki still explores the same elements of crime and protection, while making use of the magnificent landscapes in which the film is set. Visually, it’s the pick of the collection.
As with much of Suzuki’s work, it’s fascinating to see how it connects so well with films better known in the West. He is undeniably an interesting voice in world cinema and can now finally get more of an audience outside of his homeland.
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