tokyo drifter

Pistol Operas and Puffy Cheeks: The Films of Seijun Suzuki

The cult Japanese filmmaker known for his stylish 1960s gangster films gets a 14-film retrospective at the Northwest Film Center

I used to have a laser disc collection.

Laser discs were those LP-sized silver things that Roger Ebert thought looked like the dinner service from the space ship in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” They played movies. (LPs are those 12” diameter chunks of petroleum that music used to come on.)

Anyway, time passed, and I, like most other movie nuts at the time, got a DVD player. (You do still remember them, right?) Eventually, I offloaded all my laser discs, except for three that I kept for purely nostalgic purposes, no longer being in possession of a laser disc player.

One was the boxed set of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, still the last time those films were officially released in their pre-“Special Edition” cuts. One was the Criterion Collection edition of “Taxi Driver,” which has a Martin Scorsese-Paul Schrader commentary track you couldn’t get anywhere else until it showed up on a Blu-ray release in 2011. And the third was (and is) Japanese director Seijun Suzuki’s batshit-crazy, black-and-white 1967 yakuza fever dream “Branded to Kill.”

The sleeve for the Criterion Collection laserdisc of "Branded to Kill."

The sleeve for the Criterion Collection laserdisc of “Branded to Kill.”

It’s a Criterion release, but there isn’t any fancy-pants supplemental content, merely a brief filmed interview with the director. It’s a fantastically bizarre movie, and it has a cool sleeve illustration, but that’s not why I’ve continued to hold on to this piece of media I’m sure I’ll never be able to play again. “Branded to Kill,” and Suzuki’s films in general, were revelations to me when I first saw them on VHS in the mid-1990s, proof that even after several years of hardcore cinephilia, there were still hidden nuggets galore to be unearthed.


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