Friday, February 18, 2005

Pistol Opera

Seijun Suzuki's Pistol Opera is a stylish blend of genre cinema and Japanese Avant Garde (Butoh) theatre and a deadpan (off-the-wall) sense of humour reminiscent of Canadian director Guy Maddin.

The plot is quite simple. Stray Cat, the #3 assassin in the guild is trying to rise to the #1 position by killing those above her. Of course, those below her are trying to do the same. She gets her advice and information from her female guild handler which wears a disguise in the form of a purple scarf and white robe and compulsively flirts with her while giving information. That's it. There really isn't more to say about the story because it is barely there and not really the point of a film like this.

The fight sequences are also quite funny, including a westerner who feels no pain and isn't afraid to prove it to people (even it it means stabbing through himself to get to the target), as well as (at the risk of sounding politically incorrect) an assassin who chases after people in a racing wheelchair while shooting at them. The final sequece jumps fully into the realm of performance art which really shows off the films Butoh influences and is a stylish kicker of a sequence.

There are constant digressions which appear to allude to either gender politics, social commentary or just the whims of the director (I especially loved the hazy yellow underworld where Stray Cat hangs out with her victims, and the bulldozer which instead dumps rose petals on the to-be-destroyed house). One can never be sure as to what it all means, as I really don't have a handle on Japanese culture, though the film never failed to engage me at some level.

Suzuki is an interesting fellow who really doesn't give a shit about the narrative in his films, opting more to focus on the mood of individual scenes and compositions. This sensibility got him fired from Nikkatsu studios when he released the assassin epic Branded to Kill. He worked in Japanese television for about a decade before beginning to sporadically direct films again in the late 1970s. Pistol Opera (2001) is in fact a loose re-envisioning / sequel to Branded to Kill which carries over a couple characters but discards the black and white cinematography for splashy colour, and most of the male assassins are now women. There is mournful jazzy score over the film which is reminiscent of Chinese director wai kar wong for it's resonance through repetition. Like wkw, the Criterion Collection loves Suzuki and have put several of his films out, a good enough sign for any self-respecting film fan to have a look at the body of his work.

It takes a pretty open mind to get through this film, you have to be willing to go with the flow and breathe in the imagery. For those brave enough to take that journey, the rewards are ample.

One last note. I'm really looking forward to Suzuki's next film, a filmed operetta starring Zhang Ziyi called Princess Raccoon.


Blogger Milo said...

Thanks for recommending this!
The "westerner who feels no pain"'s accent sounded very familiar to me, so I did a little searching; turns out he's a Dutch artist whom Suzuki Seijun met by chance. Check out his on-set photos.

5:44 a.m.  

Post a Comment

<< Home