×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Pistol Opera

Still gonzo after all these years, Nippon cinema cult idol Seijun Suzuki's first film since 1995 is a loose sequel to his most famous pulp-maximalist endeavor "Branded to Kill" (1967), the B&W 'Scope classic so cryptic and bizarre that enraged Nikkatsu Studio execs fired their longtime contractee.

With:
With: Makiko Esumi, Sayoko Yamaguchi, Kan Hanae, Masatoshi Nagase, Mikijiro Hira, Kiki Kirin, Kenji Sawada, Tomio Aoki, Haruko Kato.

Still gonzo after all these years, Nippon cinema cult idol Seijun Suzuki’s first film since 1995 is a loose sequel to his most famous pulp-maximalist endeavor “Branded to Kill” (1967), the B&W ‘Scope classic so cryptic and bizarre that enraged Nikkatsu Studio execs fired their longtime contractee. Less wide of frame but at least as eye-poppingly stylized (in flaming color this time), yakuza saga “Pistol Opera” is too abstract and self-referential for the average action fan’s comprehension. But buffs will be delighted by a package that finds the near-80-year-old helmer giddily tipping hat to the genre conventions, themes and over-the-top aesthetics that long since lent him mad-visionary status.

Characteristically senseless plot involves murderous dissention among the ranks at an agency of hired assassins whose hierarchy is determined by number. Nobody knows who #1, or “Hundred Eyes,” is. But either someone is trying to capture the top spot by eliminating lower-ranked competition, or Numero Uno him/herself is indulging in some sportive co-worker carnage.

Beauteous loner Stray Cat (Makiko Esumi, from “Maborosi”), #3, finds herself fending off attacks from a series of eccentric superhero-like rivals, among them wheelchair-hotrodding Teacher, hulking longhaired Westerner Painless Surgeon and allergy-sniffling Dark Horse (Masatoshi Nagase). Her apparent allies are a very young wannabe assassin (Kan Hanae), motherly older woman (Kiki Kirin) and crippled former agency topper Goro Hanada or “The Champ” (Mikijiro Hira, taking over the “Branded” lead played originally by Jo Shishido). Possibly controlling all their destinies is middle-aged femme fatale Sayoko Uekyo (Sayoko Yamaguchi).

Narrative cogency not being a priority here, pic consists of a lineup of outrageous set pieces, each more surreal than the last.

Highlights include a misty-forest faceoff between heroine and Dark Horse, with on-site organ accompaniment from the barely adolescent Hanae, and climactic battle between Stray Cat and Sayoko — a riot of visual abstraction that features Kazuo Yabe’s most hot-colored theatrical lighting, pop-art sets and a male butoh dance troupe.

About half the scenes are staged in the highest soundstage artificiality, with delirious contribs from d.p. Maeda Yonezo and production designer Takeo Kimura, plus some computerized FX. Even exterior sequences, however, are rendered bizarre by arresting location choices and helmer’s always-dynamic compositional sense. If the surreal silliness here sometimes approaches Ken Russell terrain, and occasional dry spots occur due to lack of any real narrative propulsion, there’s still never a doubt that Suzuki’s tongue rests firmly in cheek.

Pic is aesthetically stimulating and impudently funny enough to hold auds who only get some of its nonstop insider refs — which encompass myriad Nippon historical/cultural touchstones (Yukio Mishima, Hiroshima) as well as the director’s own almost half-century ouevre.

Perfs are stylized to a choreographic degree, with Esumi impressively handling lead char’s quicksilver, inorganic mood shifts. Amusingly eclectic soundtrack swerves from solo trumpet tracks to reggae and beyond.

Popular on Variety

Pistol Opera

Japan

Production: A Shockiku Co. presentation of a Victor Company of Japan, Shochiku, Eisei Gekijo, Television Tokyo Channel 12, Dentsu and Ogura Jimusyo production. Produced by Ogura Satoru, Katashima Ikki. Directed by Seijun Suzuki. Screenplay, Kazunari Ito, Takeo Kimura.

Crew: Camera (color), Maeda Yonezo; editor, Suzuki Akira; music, Kodama Kzufumi; production designer, Takeo Kimura; lighting designer, Kazuo Yabe; special effects supervisor, Shinji Higuchi. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival, April 22, 2002. Running time: 112 MIN.

With: With: Makiko Esumi, Sayoko Yamaguchi, Kan Hanae, Masatoshi Nagase, Mikijiro Hira, Kiki Kirin, Kenji Sawada, Tomio Aoki, Haruko Kato.

More Film

  • Rugrats. Nickeoldeon Animation Studios

    Film News Roundup: 'Rugrats' Writer David N. Weiss Honored by Animation Writers

    In today’s film news roundup, David N. Weiss is honored, Rin Tin Tin is getting a modern movie and “The Shasta Triangle” finds a home. WEISS HONORED David N. Weiss will receive the animation writing award from the Animation Writers Caucus of the Writers Guild of America West. The award will be presented by Weiss’ [...]

  • Marrakech Chief on Selecting Arthouse Films

    Marrakech Chief on Selecting Arthouse Films With a Big Stress on the Word 'Art'

    The 18th edition of the Marrakech Film Festival (Nov. 29-Dec. 7) – one of the leading cultural events in the Africa and Middle East region – will screen 98 films from 34 countries. The fest is also reinforcing its industry presence this year through the second edition of the Atlas Workshops, sponsored by Netflix, which [...]

  • Emma Stone Brad Pitt Damien Chazelle

    Paramount Lands Damien Chazelle's 'Babylon,' Dates It for Christmas 2021

    Paramount Pictures has landed the worldwide rights to Damien Chazelle’s next feature film “Babylon,” sources tell Variety. Insiders add the studio has dated the film for a Dec. 25, 2021 limited release, with plans to go wide on Jan. 7. The release date puts in prime position for another awards season run for Chazelle, who [...]

  • Chris Pratt

    Chris Pratt's Sci-Fi Film 'The Tomorrow War' Gets Release Date

    Chris Pratt’s upcoming sci-fi actioner, which was recently retitled “The Tomorrow War,” has set a Christmas Day 2020 release date. The Paramount film was formerly titled “Ghost Draft.” It follows a man (played by Pratt) who is drafted to fight a future war in which the fate of humanity may rely on his ability to [...]

  • Kim Dong-Ho of GIFF Chairman of

    Inaugural Gangneung Film Festival Pays Tribute to Pierre Rissient

    The opening ceremony of the first edition of the Gangneung International Film Festival was dominated by a tribute to the French film scout and festival selector Pierre Rissient, who died in May 2018. The new festival, 240 km from Seoul, counts former Busan festival co-founder Kim Dong-ho as its chairman and former Bucheon festival head [...]

  • 'Waves': Sterling K. Brown and Trey

    'Waves' Cast Reflects on the Making of the Tragic Family Drama

    “Waves,” a partially autobiographical film written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, is a visually arresting look at the fraying of an upper-middle class black family in South Florida in the aftermath of a violent tragedy. It examines themes of grief, domestic violence, substance abuse and modern-day pressures on kids to succeed. “Propelled by color, [...]

  • Gaston Pavlovich

    Gaston Pavlovich Talks About Producing 'The Irishman'

    Through his production company Fabrica De Cine, Gastón Pavlovich is one of the producers on Martin Scorsese’s two most recent movies: 2016’s “Silence” and 2019’s “The Irishman.” The 51-year-old native of Mexico first gained notice as an executive producer on the Tom Hanks comedy-drama “A Hologram for the King.” Pavlovich also began working with Scorsese [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content