Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
I’m giddy. I get to publish reviews by Outlaw Vern and Clarence Beaks, two of my favorite AICN contributors, in the same day. Vern’s in Seattle, checking out the scene at the Seattle International Film Festival, and has the following report to file:
Dear Harry and Moriarty,
Hey don’t feel bad twins, because I saw even more walkouts at PISTOL OPERA and that one’s by one of the old masters, Seijun Suzuki. And I’m not gonna make any excuses for these fuckers walkin out because this was truly a wonderful picture.
That’s one of my favorite parts of the film festival is watching people trying to restrain from walking out just long enough that they feel like they’re still open minded. And as soon as one person walks out there’s another two or three on the same aisle who follow while they have their opening.
My guess is they wanted a little more pistol and a lot less opera. Especially at the end, it gets so stagey and artistic-like they must’ve felt like they accidentally bought tickets to the legitimate theater. But if you’ve seen some Seijun Suzuki movies (I’ve only seen the obvious ones, BRANDED TO KILL and TOKYO DRIFTER) you know what you’re in for and it’s not some pre-curse-of-Jean-Claude-Van-Damme John Woo shootout spectacular. It’s got a kitschy plot about colorful, nicknamed assassins competing for the coveted #1 killer slot, told with bold colors, very theatrical sets and often with dance-like movements. Not like Gene Kelly type dance, more like Butoh or something. The movie is at times very disorienting but I think I followed it better than the relatively more normal BRANDED TO KILL. It’s everything Suzuki is known for pumped up for the modern day. Everything I like about Seijun Suzuki, but more extreme.
Let me describe to you some of the characters in this movie to give you an idea of what we’re dealing with. The protagonist is Stray Cat, a gorgeous young killer who wears high heels and a kimono with cat eyes on the waist. She usually carries a toy gun because she’s not allowed by the Guild to use a real one, but she’s still able to pick off many of the other Guild killers without much trouble. We first see her in a brilliant duel with The Teacher, a badass in some sort of a freestyle wheelchair. To be frankly honest, she probaly woulda been in for if the neighborhood she fights him in were more wheelchair accessible. But I guess you can’t blame society when you lose a duel to the death, even if it really is society’s fault. You just gotta accept it.
Stray Cat works for some lady with a bright purple scarf across her mouth. And she has a talent for reappearing somewhere else on the set whenever the camera angle changes (handy for surprising an opponent from behind or in front). She fights a white guy named Painless Surgeon who doesn’t mind stabbing a guy through his own hand. Everywhere she goes she’s followed by a little girl with a lantern sticking out of the back of her shirt.
By the way I never figured out why Japanese movies often show up a little girl’s skirt. Here in america our culture is different, we wait until they’re 16 or 17 and then we start wishing they were 18. So there are several parts with this little girl that are creepy at least in this culture so I should probaly warn the more sensitive viewers.
Anyway the violence in this movie is very campy and inventive. For example Stray Cat straps herself back to back with a dead guy, then walks around backwards so it looks like he’s the one doing the fighting. Everything is very well choreographed and wanders between gorgeously textured outdoor sets and minimalistic, sometimes monochromatic sets. Some of the most striking images are when everything is bathed completely in a bright yellow light. Some of the other ones you’re not sure what they mean, like a ditch digger dumping rose petals on a house in slow motion. That’s the one thing even the people who hated this movie would have to admit: the look is absolutely phenomenal. Completely stunning use of color and in the more abstract, otherworldly scenes Suzuki uses digital compositing in what the young people would call an “old school” way, bringing his style of visuals to the next level.
These two elements, the gimmicky violence and gorgeous design really come together in the climactic duel which is more like some kind of weird live performance than a fight scene. In this section Suzuki goes Julie Taymor on that ass. It takes place on a stage complete with rotating sets, bald dudes painted white who stand around in weird poses, and special effects lighting. Those of us who don’t give a fuck that we have no idea What It All Means will love it and everyone else will walk out early scratching their heads.
I think that’s the key to PISTOL OPERA – if you think you know what it means you’re probaly fooling yourself, and if you HAVE TO know what it means you should probaly stay home and watch tv. But I think this is a new level of achievement for Mr. Seijun and I’m sure the people who have been waiting 8 years since his last one won’t be disappointed. And if they are, they are assholes.
If you’ve never followed that link to visit Vern’s site, go do it now. It’s a wonderland of hardcore fucking film criticism, and it makes me smile for days.
Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/?q=node/12476
View the archived Ain’t-It-Cool-News Talkback
June 11, 2002, 7:49 a.m. CST
by Frank Black
I understand Media Blasters or one of these small distributors has recently acquired the rights to this awesome film.
Takashi Miike and so many other Japanese directors owe so much to Seijun.
It’s art, baby, and Seijun Suzuki is one of the coolest guys ever to have walked this earth.
Can’t wait for the DVD. Almost bought it without subtitles, but after the $80 Brotherhood of the Wolf” 3 disc set, my wife gave me “that” look, and I didn’t. “Brotherhood didn’t have English subtitles either, but who cares?
June 11, 2002, 9:42 a.m. CST
by Tokyo Joe
…is truly a genius. I love his movies. It does however take a while to understand what the fuc*k is going on if you DO happen to watch them without subtitles, even with a fairly decent knowledge of Japanese. I’m looking forward to renting Pistol Opera when it gets out of the NEW section in the video store. I really need a week’s rental to contemplate any of Seijun’s films. They are brilliant and people who walk out obviously thought “Japanese movie+Pistols=Takeshi” Not a chance. Pure surrealist art, absolutley fantastic. And I HAVEN’T YET seen Branded to Kill OR Tokyo Drifter!!
June 11, 2002, 11:42 a.m. CST
Suzuki is one of the greats!
I had the fortune to meet him at a screening of his films at the Nuart Theater in West L.A. a few years ago. I sat down with him and though he didn’t speak english and my japanese is rusty, we were able to communicate. He was honored that I asked him for an autograph, which sits framed along with a calendar from the Nuart showing the events. Quite a prize to have from the master. Looking forward to seeing Pistol Opera. Sounds like another great flick from the great one! Considering that Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter took two weeks to prep, two weeks to shoot and three weeks in post, they’re quite impressive!
June 11, 2002, 12:15 p.m. CST
pistol opera complaints
yeah, it was an interesting movie and a beautifully composed movie.
but it had some terrible acting from the painless surgeon; i mean really horrible acting.
it only had one song as far as i can remember. i liked that song – a nice dubby piece – but it was repeated ad nauseum with no real change, and that got frustrating after a while. an aesthetic exercise, i guess, because i can’t understand why also suzuki would have skimped on the music, but it was a very annoying aesthetic exercise.
the movie also dragged after the first 80 or 90 minutes. i really thought it was brilliant, one of the greatest things i had ever seen, for the first 30 minutes. for the next 30 minutes i still thought it was really good and was just wondering when things would build up. and then it went on… and on… and on… and that was cool in a way, because it was still beautiful in all the ways it had been from the start, but after all that time and all those repeated playings of the one song, it just got tiring.
those scenes with the little girl were a little creepy, too.
June 11, 2002, 1:02 p.m. CST
Man…both of these flicks sound really cool.
by Sod Off Baldric
I wish I lived somewhere cool so I could go to all these film festivals (and if my plans hadn’t fallen through, I would be living in Seattle right now). God damn, do I hate Wisconsin.
June 11, 2002, 1:11 p.m. CST
Like PISTOL OPERA, LOVED the SUICIDE CLUB
Pistol Opera was interesting, had some beautiful and funny scenes, as well as some great Japanese social commentary and great music. but i didn’t love it. SUICIDE CLUB, on the other hand, is absolutely brilliant. i fell totally inlove with this film. dare i say even better than BATTLE ROYALE? yes, i dare say it. oh btw, the RING sucked, but UZUMAKI is fun.
June 11, 2002, 2:25 p.m. CST
Vern’s sight is REALLY worth looking at
by otis von zipper
That guy has a great take on the world. In his recent column he mentions an interesting article called “The Bush 9/11 Scandal for Dummies”. The link went no-where, but a search will find it easily. You may find it funny or you may find it scary, but it is worth reading.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.