Sexual Surrealist

For most of us the story of Japanese New Wave genre berserker Seijun Suzuki leaps from his artistic death as a yakuza hyperbolist fired from Nikkatsu Studio in 1967 for the abject lunacy of Branded to Kill to his reincarnation, more than three decades later, as the decor-crazed surrealist behind Pistol Opera and Raccoon Princess. In Japan, Suzuki never disappeared altogether, and re-emerged with a defiant splat in 1980 with Zigeunerweisen, the first chapter in a loosely knit trilogy all set during the affluent, decadent 1920s, and all intensely, drowsily tripped out on reflexive slippage, narrative Dada, and gender-combat ambiguity. The title is pulled from violinist Pablo Sarasate's early-century recording of “gypsy airs,” in which you can hear the musician speak—but what? “Don't you get it?” one of Suzuki's two male protagonists says off camera, and of course, nobody does. Stuck in a seaside resort village, the two old university cohorts—one on vacation, one a mad, potentially homicidal wanderer—fall for the same grieving geisha, and from there the doppelgänger mistaken identities, wives, children of questionable birth, eyeball-licking foreplay, and languid enigmas proliferate. Astonishingly, it swept the Japanese Academy Awards. The subsequent films, Kagero-za (1981) and Yumeji (1991), are both similarly predicated on sexual confusion and Brechtian disruptions, and despite their shared sense of cultural context, they are all less social commentary than visions from Suzuki's rubber-walled skull, free of genre demands and mad for the kind of dislocation only Luis Buuel was managing in the mid-century. Essays, interviews, trailers, and artwork come in the box.

Also recommended this week: Bob Newhart Show: Season 3; In Living Color: Season 5; The Insomniac Tour; Mission Impossible: CE  

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