It has been a banner year for Seijun Suzuki thanks to Arrow (Academy & Video), with the release of two boxsets featuring 10 of his early Nikkatsu movies [video], the Taishō Roman Trilogy and now, the latest of the bunch, Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell, Bastards! There’s no getting around that title. If that was the moniker of a Western release, it would undoubtedly be a self-knowing nostalgia-baiting exploitation title. Probably with a synth score too. Luckily it is none of those things. Instead, it was made in 1963 just a few short years before the whole debacle Suzuki endured after making Branded to Kill. The effects of making that legendary movie saw his ultra-prolific days of making 40 movies between 1956 and 1967 slow right down to one new movie every couple of years, at best.
During those final years in the system, you can see the provocative iconoclast director stretch the limits of what he was able to do with studio pictures. Detective Bureau 2-3 counts among that group of films, along with Tokyo Drifter, Story of a Prostitute, Youth of the Beast, Tattooed Life and, Gate of Flesh. In many ways, Detective Bureau 2-3 can be lumped together with Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill to form a highly stylised pop-art infused Yakuza trilogy, with each pushing its idiosyncrasies a little further than the last. Using that framing device, it makes this Arrow Video release the beginning of that uphill climb and that suits this light Yakuza romp right down to the ground.
In Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell, Bastards! A gang attacks and steals from a U.S. military munitions outpost, kicking off a volatile Tokyo gang war in which the police are so powerless they have a literal army camped outside the precinct where they are holding the one thief they were lucky enough to catch. That unlucky soul is going to be released at 10 pm and when that happens hell will surely be unleashed. The police force, including a lot of Suzuki mainstays, is stuck between a rock and a hard place – or they would be if private detective Tajima (the irreplaceable Jo Shishido) didn’t have a plan to go deep undercover. It doesn’t sound like the other two wild films in my proposed pop-art Yakuza trilogy, does it? However, what it does shares is a vivid colour pallet – which is almost omnipresent in his work of the era- the music, and that leading man giving one of the most devil-may-care performances of his career.
I have to return to the music as that man knew how to score a movie. Look at a contemporary movie score and it will fit in one of two camps. The first is filled with larger than life orchestral compositions by directors from an elite of well-established names. On the other end are the leagues of electronic musicians who came up and rose through the ranks after Nicolas Winding Refn and Cliff Martinez blew the doors off the establishment with their breakout hit, Drive. Both are fine but after a while, they ultimately sound rather cookie cutter. Seijun Suzuki is a jazzman. The smooth drums, bass and horn section gives each and every one of his films a unique footprint so prominent that it becomes a joy just spending time in his movies. As a man in his early 30’s, the concept of a Jazz dance club didn’t even begin to appeal, but thanks to Suzuki that idea has been planted deep in my subconscious as an impossibly cool scene. And all of this comes to life through his glorious club scenes. This feeling arises in any of his 1960s crime films, so what about Detective Bureau 2-3? What does he do differently here? And the simple answer is traditional musical numbers sung by members of the cast. There are two such songs, both by Naomi Hoshi with one featuring Shishido himself. And the only way I can describe these scenes is to recall my response at the time – upon realising what was afoot I couldn’t wipe the massive beaming smile off my face even if I wanted to.
This a joyous, energetic crime comedy romp that could be spiritually intertwined with Peter Sellers work on the Pink Panther (the earlier ones, anyway), only instead of a wacky Inspector Inspector Clouseau, it is an effortlessly cool and fearless Jo Shishido character who makes the exact same over-estimations of his abilities. His assistants at the detective bureau too, Shishido is joined by two very broad characters who are not above wearing disguises as part of this convoluted plot to bring down a Yakuza family. For it to be relatable to both Blake Edwards films and the likes of Kinji Fukusaku or (looking to the present day) Sion Sono at the same time truly does speak volumes.
Seijun Suzuki was an amazing director, it is criminal that he finally garnered a deserved critical regard when he was too old to do anything about it or make new films for new generations to discover. He will forever be one of the great outsiders of cinema albeit one with a body of work that is a joy to dive into. It’s boggling to think that the wild man who came up with the likes of Zigeunerweisen could also direct a film as energetic, fun and flexible as Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell, Bastards! Seijun Suzuki is the gift that keeps on giving and this is a film that is up there will the brightest, breeziest and most enjoyable that anyone has put out in 2018.