We’ve got details for Action and Anarchy: The Films of Seijun Suzuki, which comes to the Film Society of Lincoln Center November 6-17.

In a career spanning nearly five decades, Suzuki amassed a body of work ranging from B-movie potboilers to beguiling metaphysical mysteries. On the occasion of the publication of Tom Vick’s new book Time and Place Are Nonsense: The Films of Seijun Suzuki, the Film Society will present a retrospective of Suzuki’s films, ranging from his greatest hits to a selection of seldom-seen rarities.

“To experience a film by Japanese B-movie visionary Seijun Suzuki is to experience Japanese cinema in all its frenzied, voluptuous excess.” — Manohla Dargis

Seijun Suzuki first became famous when he was fired by Nikkatsu Studios for making films that, as he put it, “made no sense and made no money.” But it was his freewheeling approach and audacious experimentation that gained Suzuki a cult following in Japan and abroad. Suzuki’s job at Nikkatsu was to make B movies out of scripts that were assigned to him. In the mid-1960s, with dozens such films under his belt, Suzuki’s restlessness began to come through as he and his collaborators, art director Takeo Kimura and cinematographers Shigeyoshi Mine and Kazue Nagatsuka, began experimenting with the assigned material. These films established Suzuki as a stylistic innovator working within—and rebelling against—the commercial constraints of B-movie studio work.

In the 1980s, Suzuki reinvented himself as an independent filmmaker. Freed from the commercial obligations of studio work, he elected to indulge his passion for the Taisho era (1912–26), a brief period of Japanese history that has been likened to Europe’s Belle Époque and America’s Roaring Twenties. Though not linked by plot, these three films—Zigeunerweisen, Kagero-za, and Yumeji—embody the hedonistic cultural atmosphere, blend of Eastern and Western art and fashion, and political extremes of the 1920s, infused with Suzuki’s own eccentric vision of the time.

In the 1990s, a traveling retrospective brought long-overdue attention to Suzuki’s films in the United States and Europe. A new generation of devotees, most notably Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino, praised Suzuki in the press and referenced his work in their films. Perhaps inspired by this newfound attention, Suzuki returned to filmmaking after another decade-long absence, making two films—Pistol Opera and Princess Raccoon—that look back on his career while advancing it with new technology.

This traveling retrospective is programmed by Tom Vick, Curator of Film, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution, and co-organized with the Japan Foundation.

Tickets will go on sale Thursday, October 22. An All Access Pass and a 3+ film discount package will be available.

Action and Anarchy: The Films of Seijun Suzuki:

Branded to Kill
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1967, DCP, 91m
Japanese with English subtitles
This fractured film noir is the final provocation that got Suzuki fired from Nikkatsu Studios, simultaneously making him a counterculture hero and putting him out of work for a decade. An anarchic send-up of B-movie clichés, it stars Joe Shishido as an assassin who gets turned on by the smell of cooking rice, and whose failed attempt to kill a victim (a butterfly lands on his gun) turns him into a target himself. Perhaps Suzuki’s most famous film, it has been cited as an influence by filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Park Chan-wook, and John Woo, as well as the composer John Zorn, who called it “a cinematic masterpiece that transcends its genre.”
Friday, November 13, 5:00pm & 9:00pm

The Call of Blood
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1964, 35mm, 97m
Japanese with English subtitles
Though Suzuki made it in the midst of his stylistic breakthrough, The Call of Blood has never received the same level of attention as other films of his from around the same period. Nikkatsu icons Hideki Takahashi and Akira Kobayashi star as brothers—one a gangster, the other an ad man—who unite to avenge their yakuza father’s death 18 years earlier. The film features a bold use of color; an absurdist climactic gunfight; and, in one memorable scene, an impressively illogical use of rear projection as the brothers argue in a car while ocean waves rage around them. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Tuesday, November 10, 4:45pm & 9:00pm

Capone Cries a Lot
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1985, 35mm, 128m
Japanese with English subtitles
In this surreal comic confection, a traditional naniwa-bushi singer moves to Prohibition-era San Francisco. He goes in search of Al Capone, whom he mistakenly believes is president, hoping to impress the gangster with his singing and to popularize the art form in the States. Filmed mostly in an abandoned amusement park in Japan, Suzuki’s vision of 1920s America is an anarchic collage of pop-culture images, from cowboys to Charlie Chaplin. One reason Capone is so rarely seen is that it reflects the racial attitudes of the time in which it is set by including, for example, a minstrel band in blackface. Such discomfiting images are balanced by scenes featuring an actual African-American jazz ensemble that joins the film’s hero in jam sessions mixing blues, jazz, and naniwa-bushi. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Sunday, November 8, 8:00pm

Carmen from Kawachi
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1966, 35mm, 89m
Japanese with English subtitles
A 1960s riff on the opera Carmen (including a rock version of its famous aria “Habanera”), this picaresque tale sends its heroine from the countryside to Osaka and Tokyo in search of success as a singer. Her journey is fraught with exploitation and abuse at the hands of nefarious men—until Carmen seeks revenge. Mixing comedy, biting social commentary, and Suzuki’s customarily outrageous stylistic flourishes, this fast-paced gem is an overlooked classic from his creative late period at Nikkatsu Studios. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Tuesday, November 17, 2:30pm & 6:30pm

Eight Hours of Fear
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1957, 35mm, 77m
Japanese with English subtitles
When their train is trapped by a landslide, passengers—including a murderer escorted by police officers—pile into a bus to proceed through the rugged countryside. Meanwhile, two bank robbers are loose in the vicinity. As the travelers’ journey continues, the danger mounts and tempers begin to fray. Bizarre camera movements and compositions provide a glimpse of the experimentation that took over in Suzuki’s later films, but Eight Hours of Fear stands on its own as a gripping, eccentric adventure yarn. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Wednesday, November 11, 3:00pm & 7:00pm

Fighting Elegy
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1966, 35mm, 86m
Japanese with English subtitles
Set in the 1930s, this darkly comic film is the story of Kiroku, a high-school student who lusts after the pure, Catholic daughter of the family with whom he boards. The only relief he can find for his immense sexual frustration is through fighting, which at first gets him into trouble, but later makes him perfect cannon fodder for the Sino-Japanese War. As with Story of a Prostitute, the subject of militarism inspired Suzuki to make a highly personal and impassioned work. “One of Suzuki’s indisputable masterpieces, this subversively funny account of the making of a model fascist goes where no film had gone before in search of comic insights into the adolescent male mind” (Tony Rayns). Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Thursday, November 12, 3:00pm & 7:00pm

Gate of Flesh
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1964, 35mm, 90m
Japanese with English subtitles
Part social-realist drama, part sadomasochistic trash opera, Gate of Flesh paints a dog-eat-dog portrait of postwar Tokyo. The film takes the point of view of a gang of tough prostitutes working out of a bombed-out building. When a lusty ex-soldier lurches into their midst, the group’s most sensitive member is tempted to break one of their strictest rules: no falling in love. From the women’s bold, color-coded dresses to the unorthodox use of superimposition effects and theatrical lighting, this is Suzuki at his most astonishingly inventive. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Thursday, November 12, 5:00pm & 9:00pm

Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1981, 35mm, 140m
Japanese with English subtitles
According to film critic Tony Rayns, Kagero-za “may well be Suzuki’s finest achievement outside the constraints of genre filmmaking.” In this hallucinatory adaptation of work by the Taisho-era writer Kyoka Izumi, a mysterious woman named Shinako invites Matsuzaki, a playwright, to the city of Kanazawa for a romantic rendezvous. While Matsuzaki is on his way, his patron Tamawaki appears on the train, claiming to be en route to witness a love suicide between a married woman and her lover. Matsuzaki suspects that Shinako is Tamawaki’s wife, and the trip to Kanazawa may spell his doom. Like Zigeunerweisen before it, reality, fantasy, life, and the afterlife blend together in Kagero-za—most spectacularly during the grand finale, in which Matsuzaki finds his life morphing into a deranged theatrical extravaganza. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Saturday, November 14, 5:15pm (Introduction by Tom Vick)
Sunday, November 15, 4:45pm

Kanto Wanderer
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1963, 35mm, 92m
Japanese with English subtitles
Based on a book by Taiko Hirabayashi, one of Japan’s most famous female novelists, Kanto Wanderer puts a Suzukian spin on the classic yakuza movie conflict between giri (duty) and ninjo (humanity). Nikkatsu superstar Akira Kobayashi plays Katsuta, a fearsome yakuza bodyguard torn between defending his boss against a rival gang leader and his obsession with Tatsuko, a femme fatale who reappears from his past. Suzuki uses this traditional story to experiment with color and to indulge his interest in Kabuki theater techniques and effects, most notably in the stunning final battle, in which the scenery falls away to reveal a field of pure blood red. “As an example of Suzuki’s mid-period output at Nikkatsu, Kanto Wanderer offers us an inspiring sample of experimentation on assignment” (Margaret Barton-Fumo, Senses of Cinema). Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Tuesday, November 17, 4:30pm & 8:30pm

Passport to Darkness
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1959, 35mm, 88m
Japanese with English subtitles
In this stylish film noir, a trombonist goes on an all-night bender after his wife disappears during their honeymoon. When he returns home to find her corpse in their apartment, he sets off on a frantic quest to find her killer by piecing together a night he can’t remember. Suzuki used this classic noir material to play with genre tropes and make expressive use of darkness and light. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Wednesday, November 11, 5:00pm & 9:00pm

Pistol Opera
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 2001, 35mm, 112m
Japanese with English subtitles
When Satoru Ogura suggested that Suzuki make a follow-up to his most notorious film, Branded to Kill, the result was this eye-popping action extravaganza, which is less a sequel than a compact retrospective of Suzuki’s style and themes, updated with CGI effects and infused with the metaphysical concerns of the Taisho Trilogy. Makiko Esumi plays Stray Cat, the number-three killer in her assassins’ guild. She battles her way to the top against characters such as Painless Surgeon, a cowboy who can feel no pain, and the mysterious number-one killer, Hundred Eyes. Along the way, Stray Cat detours into the land of the dead, where her victims lurk, and into the “Atrocity Exhibition,” where she battles foes amid grotesque paintings from throughout art history. Pistol Opera proves that even in his seventies Suzuki’s creativity was still firing on all cylinders. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Monday, November 16, 1:00pm & 6:00pm

Princess Raccoon
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 2005, 35mm, 111m
Japanese with English subtitles
This “energetic, inventive and ever-so-slightly insane mishmash of music, magic and madness” (Mark Kermode, The Guardian) stars Joe Odagiri as a prince. After being exiled, he comes across a magical land of shape-shifting raccoons and falls in love with their princess (Ziyi Zhang). Rooted in Japanese folklore, studded with tunes that range from operetta to hip-hop, and set in a fantastical Edo period of the imagination, this film shows Suzuki at his most kindhearted and whimsical. Although he was pitching a project as late as 2008 (at the age of 85!), this is most likely Suzuki’s final film, and it’s a fittingly friendly way to say goodbye.
Monday, November 16, 3:30pm & 8:30pm

The Sleeping Beast Within
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1960, 35mm, 86m
Japanese with English subtitles
A businessman vanishes upon his return from an overseas trip, and his daughter hires a reporter to help find him. When the father reappears, the reporter becomes suspicious and starts digging deeper, uncovering a secret world of heroin smuggling and murder—all tied up with a mysterious Sun God cult. This proto–Breaking Bad moves to an energetic pulp-fiction beat all the way to its spectacular conflagration of an ending. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Saturday, November 7, 5:00pm & 9:00pm

Smashing the O-Line
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1960, 35mm, 83m
Japanese with English subtitles
This crime thriller features one of the most nihilist characters in Suzuki’s early films: Katiri, a reporter so ambitiously amoral that he’ll sell out anyone—including his partner and the drug dealer he’s sleeping with—to get a scoop. But what happens when an even more ruthless female gang boss kidnaps his sister? With its jazzy musical score and sordid milieu of drug smuggling and human trafficking, Smashing the O-Line is one of Suzuki’s darkest urban tales. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Saturday, November 7, 3:00pm & 7:00pm

Story of a Prostitute
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1965, 35mm, 96m
Japanese with English subtitles
Yumiko Nogawa, one of Suzuki’s favorite actresses, gives perhaps her most ferocious performance in this scathing portrayal of Japanese militarism during the lead-up to World War II. Sent with six other comfort women to service a garrison of some 1,000 men in Manchuria during the Sino-Japanese War, Nogawa’s Harumi is brutalized by a vicious lieutenant who wants her as his personal property. Meanwhile, she is falling in love with his gentle young assistant. The Taijiro Tamura novel on which the film is based was previously made into a much-sanitized film (with an Akira Kurosawa script) called Escape at Dawn (1950). Working in the B-movie arena allowed Suzuki to use the sex and violence expected from the genre to advance the view he shared with Tamura: “that the sex-drive is a crucial part of the human will to live” (Tony Rayns). “This is the movie that proves Suzuki should be lifted out of the limiting category of the Asia Extreme cult directors, the ‘Japanese Outlaw Masters,’ and placed at the grown-ups’ table, alongside Kurosawa, Okamoto, and Kobayashi” (David Chute, Criterion Current). Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Tuesday, November 10, 2:30pm & 6:45pm

A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1977, 35mm, 93m
Japanese with English subtitles
Nearly a decade after being fired by Nikkatsu Studios, Suzuki returned to the director’s chair with this titillating tale of a model who is groomed to become a professional golfer as a publicity stunt. When she turns out to be good at the sport, her success leads a deranged fan to hatch a blackmail scheme. “Riddled with the director’s wildly non-conformist use of non-contiguous edits, unhinged shot composition, and violent splashes of colour, crazed and chaotic and for too long buried in the sand bunkers of obscurity, this long-overlooked work simply cries out for revival” (Jasper Sharp, Midnight Eye). Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Sunday, November 8, 6:00pm

Tattooed Life
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1965, 35mm, 87m
Japanese with English subtitles
Set in the 1930s, Tattooed Life is the story of two brothers: Kenji, an art student, and Tetsu, who is working as a yakuza to help pay for Kenji’s tuition. When a hit job goes horribly wrong, the brothers flee. They end up finding work in a mine—and falling in love with the owner’s wife and daughter. But will Tetsu’s gang tattoos reveal the brothers’ secret past? The first film to earn Suzuki a warning about “going too far” from his Nikkatsu bosses, Tattooed Life contains one of his most iconic and audacious violations of film form: a final fight scene in which the floor suddenly and illogically disappears, and the action is filmed from below the actors’ feet. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Friday, November 6, 9:00pm
Sunday, November 8, 4:00pm

Tokyo Drifter
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1966, DCP, 83m
Japanese with English subtitles
Tasked with making a vehicle for actor-singer Tetsuya Watari to croon the title song, Suzuki concocted this crazy yarn about a reformed yakuza on the run from his former comrades. The film is mainly an excuse to stage an escalating series of goofy musical numbers and over-the-top fight scenes. Popping with garish colors, self-parodic style, and avant-garde visual design, Tokyo Drifter embodies a late-1960s zeitgeist in which trash and art joyfully comingle. “With influences that range from Pop Art to 1950s Hollywood musicals, and from farce and absurdist comedy to surrealism, Suzuki shows off his formal acrobatics in a film that is clearly meant to mock rather than celebrate the yakuza film genre” (Nikolaos Vryzidis, Director of World Cinema: Japan).
Friday, November 13, 3:00pm & 7:00pm

Youth of the Beast
Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1963, 35mm, 91m
Japanese with English subtitles
Suzuki himself claims that 1963 was the year when he truly came into his own, and Youth of the Beast is one of his breakthroughs. In his second collaboration with the director, Joe Shishido rampages through the movie, playing a disgraced ex-cop pitting two yakuza gangs against each other to avenge the death of a fellow officer. As the double and triple crosses mount, Suzuki fills the frame with lurid colors, striking compositions, and boldly theatrical effects that signal a director breaking away from genre material to forge a pulp art form all his own. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Friday, November 6, 7:00pm
Sunday, November 8, 2:00pm

Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1991, 35mm, 128m
Japanese with English subtitles
Made 10 years after its predecessor, the final film in the Taisho Trilogy spins a fantastical tale from the life of a historical figure. Takehisa Yumeji (1884-1934) was an artist known as much for his paintings of beautiful women as for his bohemian lifestyle. As played by rock star Kenji Sawada, the Yumeji of Suzuki’s film is a serial seducer haunted by thoughts of his own death while pursuing ideals of beauty in his art. Traveling to Kanazawa to meet his lover, he instead falls for a widow whose murdered husband inconveniently returns from the dead. Love, desire, life, and death collapse together as Yumeji’s art takes on an uncanny existence of its own. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Sunday, November 15, 2:00pm & 7:35pm

Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 1980, 35mm, 144m
Japanese with English subtitles
Named the best film of the 1980s in a poll of Japanese film critics, Zigeunerweisen takes its title from a recording of violin music by Pablo de Sarasate. The piece haunts the film’s two main characters: Aochi, an uptight professor at a military academy, and his erstwhile colleague Nakasago, who is now a wild-haired wanderer and possible murderer. The movie’s plot is a metaphysical ghost story involving love triangles, doppelgängers, and a blurred line between the worlds of the living and the dead. “Underlying the teasing riddles,” writes film critic Tony Rayns, “is an aching lament for the sumptuous hybrid culture of the 1920s that was swept away by the militarism of the 1930s.” Print courtesy of the Kawakita Memorial Film Institute.
Saturday, November 14, 2:00pm & 8:00pm (Introduction by Tom Vick at 8:00pm screening)