And now a red band trailer from long before the invention of red band trailers for “Branded to Kill” — you’ve got your violence, you’ve got your sex, you’ve got your art.
Knocking around the cinephile blogosphere this morning, I happened upon the sad news, via Toronto Japanese cinema maven Chris Magee, that Takeo Kimura has passed on at age 91. Now, if you don’t know Mr. Kimura’s name immediately, don’t feel too bad. I didn’t recognize it either. However, when I found that he was Seijun Suzuki‘s art director, I had to take notice.
Now, if you don’t know Mr. Suzuki’s name right of the bat, don’t feel bad either. It just perhaps means you’re not a movie geek with a strong interest in Asian genre cinema of the 1960s and beyond. The world probably has enough of those anyway. What it doesn’t have enough of, however, is filmmakers with Suzuki’s boldness and off-kilter but (often) entertaining sensibility. A acknowledged influence on Quentin Tarantino (whose birthday this is, by the way), Jim Jarmusch, Wong Kar-Wai and probably many others. His best films, like the truly bizarre and compelling black and white “Branded to Kill” play a bit like Sam Fuller thrown into a cuisinart with David Lynch and Jean-Luc Godard. The color ones are weirder.
However, film is a collaborative media, once you seen one of his films, or even a moment from them, you’ll understand why Suzuki’s art director would be his most crucial collaborator. We’ll move backwards in time, starting with a clip for 2001’s “Pistol Opera,” also co-written by Kimura, which is not an everyday contribution for a production designer to make.
Its reputation is somewhat mixed to say the least (I have yet to see it myself) and ordinary coherence in storytelling is not really Suzuki’s strong-suit in any case. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that what you’re about to say is not something you see everyday, not without the right mix of rare herbs and mushrooms, anyhow and that’s primarily thanks to the late Mr. Kimura.
I’m still trying to work out how that film is supposed to be a remake of sorts of “Branded to Kill,” as that was an absurd but relatively low-key film about a troubled hitman with a sexual attachment to the smell of rice being cooked (really), but there you go. More to come.
Despite some highly questionable packaging (three discs on a spindle), this collection is a must for serious fans of the cycle of the monster and science fiction films released by Japan’s Toho in the fifties and sixties — and optional for everyone else. It’s certainly nice to see finally see these in widescreen and the original Japanese. (Slightly shorter English versions are also included for those who want to set the movies on “extra-campy.”)
All three films included in this set were directed by Ishirô Honda, the creator of the often disrespected Japanese monster genre, starting with 1954’s “Godzilla,” who also happened to be best friends with Toho’s resident cinema god, Akira Kurosawa. 1961’s “Mothra” is the only actual monster tale in the set and a favorite of aficionados. It’s a genre-blending variation on “King Kong” in which a giant caterpillar (later a multicolored moth) becomes highly problematic for Japan and a fictional stand-in for the U.S when its two incredibly small fairy protectors, “tiny beauties” played by singing duo the Peanuts, are held captive and forced to perform on stage by a greedy not-American explorer/impresario (Jerry Ito). Honda was tiring of straight-up antinuclear grimness and his addition of comedy and some enchanting musical numbers makes for added fun. 1958’s “The H-Man” is another stylish and mostly entertaining genre-combo, in which police investigate a series of purported yakuza murders that are actually the doing of a creepy atomic slime. Early SFX geeks may adore “Battle in Outer Space” — and that certainly includes authors Steve Rylie and Ed Godziszewski who recorded two commentaries for this set. As for the rest of us, this forerunner of “Independence Day” is rather leaden and easily the least entertaining offering of the three.