TOKYO — Seijun Suzuki, a maverick director who was notoriously fired from the Nikkatsu studio for a film many consider his masterpiece, the 1967 actioner “Branded to Kill,” died in Tokyo on Feb. 13 at age 93. The cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
After failing to launch a directing career at Shochiku, Suzuki joined Nikkatsu in 1954, and made 40 films for the studio, mostly supporting pictures in double bills. With production designer Takeo Kimura and, beginning with 1963 film “The Bastard,” the two men together shaped the ‘Suzuki style,’ with its surreal visuals, Kabuki-esque staging, bold colors and action that seemed to be unfolding in a dreamscape.
Suzuki was fired after the flop of “Branded to Kill,” which starred Joe Shishido as a hitman who finds himself caught in a bizarre life-or-death struggle with a higher ranked rival. He won an out of court settlement, but was essentially banned from the industry for a decade.
In 1980 Suzuki began a comeback with “Zigeunerweisen,” a period ghost story that played at the Berlin Film Festival and was awarded four Japan Academy prizes. In 2001 he made “Pistol Opera,” a loose remake of “Branded.”
Among the directors influenced by his work were Wong Kar-wai and Quentin Tarantino. Jim Jarmusch featured references to “Branded” in “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” (1999.)
Asked by a reporter if he wanted to work until his end, Suzuki once replied: “It’s better to die like an ordinary person.. dying on the job just causes problems for those around you.”