One of the early announcements out of Cannes was that of a new picture on its way from director John Woo. Known for over the top action scenes, fine cheese and crates of doves, Woo will be looking to remake one of the classic films from Japanese movie studio Nikkatsu as part of its centenary celebration. Entitled Day Of The Beast, the film will be an English language take on Seijun Suzuki’s superb 1963 film Youth Of The Beast. Of its many great scenes, one of my favourites is when Jo Shishido’s main character survives being blown up in a house while he’s hanging upside down, manages to swing himself to a gun, fight off two remaining yakuza and then shoot himself free before finishing them both off. How can Woo top that?
Of course, I’m kidding when I tell Woo to tread carefully. I’m not one to believe that the original film can be wrecked by any attempt to remake it. In fact, any attention a remake can bring to an earlier film is definitely welcomed – especially when it’s something by one of my favourite directors. Though he was a studio director – in other words, he had to film whatever script they gave him with whatever cast they gave him – Seijun Suzuki figured out early on how to keep things interesting even when the scripts were standard B-movie fare. Akin somewhat to Hitchcock in viewing the role of the director to be more technical in nature (where does the camera sit, when does it move, how do I frame things, etc.), Suzuki was able to play with storytelling conventions a great deal by adding subtext and context via his images and visual style while avoiding exposition like the plague. The classic story is that Nikkatsu fired him upon seeing his 1967 film Branded To Kill after having warned him to play by the rules (his previous film Tokyo Drifter wasn’t exactly a straight line narrative either). His methods of telling his story made generic plots into interesting ones and I’ve never seen a film of his that didn’t make me broadly smile at something totally unexpected, make me think “Whoa, that was cool…” and yet still convey relevant information about the story or character.
So in anticipation of John Woo’s re-imagining of one of the classic yakuza films, here’s just a few examples of Suzuki’s work: