01 July 2006

“Suzuki is a director who seems to have known the future before it happened…” Baz Luhrmann.

On Thursday night I attended the ICA's preview screening of 'Princess Raccoon' (Operetta Tanuki Goten) with Seijun Suzuki there to answer questions with Tony Rayns prior to the screening.

Suzuki is 83 years old and his breathing is aided by some kind of portable respiratory device, once he made himself comfortable making his way to the stage he was at home answering questions via an interpreter from Rayns and some from the audience. Rayns is well known for championing Asian cinema and even though he admitted he’d asked some of the questions before the responses always seemed to be fresh from Suzuki. When asked why he was making films within his first year of contract (sometimes as many as six per year) at Nikkatsu and Shohei Imamura wasn’t allowed to direct until his fourth year Suziki replied in a matter of fact fashion that I couldn’t tell whether he meant it or was partly joking “Because I was better than he was”. Rayns also interviewed Suzuki for his Sight and Sound article ‘Deep Seijun’ where he notes that Suzuki’s films were often B-movies shown alongside Imamura’s main features.

Rayns opened the evening with a clip from ‘Tokyo Drifter’ back to back with ‘Princess Raccoon’ to demonstrate the role that music plays in Suzuki’s work. Later he showed a clip from his second film ‘Pure Emotions of the Sea’ which is set on board a whaling ship and also included musical interludes. Which Rayns pointed out was not available on DVD, his source was a video recording from Japanese television. Sadly Suzuki’s films are few and very far between at least here in UK ‘Tokyo Drifter’, ‘Branded to Kill’, ‘Gate of Flesh’ and ‘Pistol Opera’ the film he made in 2001 are available but that’s a pretty poor showing out of a possible 56 films.

Well done to the ICA for championing Suzuki’s work in UK, they hosted a season of his films 12 years ago and gave ‘Tokyo Drifter’ and ‘Branded to Kill’ a release on VHS. To coincide with the release of ‘Princess Raccoon’ they are showing ‘The Flower and the Angry Waves’, ‘Fighting Elegy’, ‘Tokyo Drifter’ and ‘Branded to Kill’.

When asked about the future of cinema Suzuki replied “Ask God”, when asked if he’d make another film he seemed to imply it was unlikely, certainly the Japanese in the audience I spoke to agreed with Rayns when he refers to Suzuki as the greatest living Japanese film maker.

Links and references:

Sight and Sound ‘Deep Seijun’ by Tony Rayns, July 2006 issue, p26-28.
IMDB entry for Seijun Suzuki, link.
Seijun Suzuki: Authority in Minority by Stephen Teo on Senses in Cinema, link.
Man on the Moon, overview of Seijun Suzuki in yesterday's Guardian, link.

ICA, link.
The Diawa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, link.

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