Monday, May 16, 2011

TAKE AIM AT THE POLICE VAN (Seijun Suzuki, 1960, Japan)

A Corrections Officer is paroled from his job after a murderous attack, his moral compass leading him into the violent convolutions of the criminal underworld, inhabited by those who rarely deserve Justice but are often condemned by it. Seijun Suzuki populates the film with absurd and stylish characters that confound genre conventions and revel in the idiosyncrasy of his outlandish plot: he rewrites the noir formula and pours a new concoction onto the quicksilver screen, his alchemy the magic of transforming the mundane into the magnificent.

Suzuki begins the film through a sniper’s scope, foreshadowing the conflict but also breaking the fourth wall: a warning aimed directly at the audience. The clues to solve the deepening mystery (a mystery that doesn’t yet exist!) are revealed in the opening shots: a lonely lady dressed in shadows, a name exhaled onto glass, and a bubblegum chewing sniper. Suzuki deftly creates a typical escape sequence as prisoners are being transported in a van, but it soon becomes as assassination attempt…but against whom? Daijiro is a Prison Guard who treats the inmates fairly and with respect; he is the van’s driver who is suspended because he didn’t prevent two prisoners from being killed. He accepts his temporary suspension with a sense of humor, imaging it as a vacation, and never questions the decision of his superiors: how the hell was he supposed to prevent an ambush?

But he’s consumed with a sense of Justice and soon wanders the dark side of corrupt Japan, experiencing crime from the perpetrator’s perspective and being dragged into a police dragnet. Daijiro falls in love with a beautiful ’businesswoman” and potential assassin: unlike Cupid, her bow and arrow brings death. Through a series of false leads and fake deaths, fistfights and gunfights, flaming gas trucks and speeding trains, Daijiro finally sees his reflection in seedy eyes hidden by dark shades, and moral bottom line balances in the blood red.

Final Grade: (B+)

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