Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 2 - Border Crossing: The Crime and Action Movies Review
As expected, Arrow promised a second volume to Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years and have delivered. This set is not necessarily a progression on the first but centres on a different theme. Instead of being solely focussed on the youth of Japan, contained here are the Crime and Action films that Suzuki made between 1957- 1961, produced and distributed by Arrow Academy under the name Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 2 - Border Crossing: The Crime and Action Movies. The five film collection contains Eight Hours of Terror (1957), The Sleeping Beast Within (1960), Smashing the 0-Line (1960), Tokyo Knights (1961) and The Man With the Shotgun (1961).
This collection is interesting for two key reasons - one, this is the first time that these films have been put on home video format outside of Japan and (according to Tony Rayns’ introduction), some of these films haven't even been released on DVD in Japan. The second reason is in the subtitle - Border Crossing - this refers to the Nikkatsu genre Mukokuseki Akusho (or borderless action). There have been essays written about the term Mukokuseki, but know that the basic translation means statelessness. It is most common in Anime when characters and settings do not have a specific nation of origin, however, in regards to Suzuki films it refers to a blending of both Japanese and American genres in films like The Man with a Shotgun, which is both a Yakuza film and a Western.
It is in this collection that we really see what Suzuki's position at Nikkatsu was. Those familiar with the Classic Hollywood studio system will know about the structures in which filmmakers like John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hughes made films. Similarly at that time, Japanese studios that included Nikkatsu were more like a production line film company, pumping out A and B pictures, with a stable of talent under contract to the studio to make films. Suzuki was under contract to make the B-pictures that are collated in this set under a gruelling 25-day production, three-day post-production schedule.
While the previous volume contained a youthful creative energy that foreshadowed Suzuki's most famous films, this collection in Tony Rayns’ own words does not really contain any stand out films. It is clear from the quality of the films that while Suzuki was still obsessed with the moving image his love for Nikkatsu was running out.
Eight Hours of Terror is a tale almost Hitchcockian in nature, with a group of travellers trying to get to Tokyo, however, due to an avalanche blocking the train tracks they have to take a rickety bus over treacherous roads. The Sleeping Beast Within concerns a newspaper reporter investigating the disappearance of his girlfriend's father and finds himself connected to drug smuggling. Similarly in Smashing the 0-Line two reporters dealing with a drug story differ in their approach and morals, finding themselves too involved for their liking. The next film, Tokyo Knights is about a young student who is asked to take over as head of his father's crime syndicate but instead investigates how his father died. Finally, The Man With the Shotgun, feels like a Western with our main character seeking revenge for the death of his fiancée.
These tales, though perhaps not as artistic as Suzuki's most well-known work, still provide a glimpse of what was to come as well as some solid entertainment. We have Suzuki dealing with his challenging of Japanese society and tradition; we have his glib sense of humour and his need to push the boundaries of creativity even in a restrictive genre like a detective story. The statement from Rayns feels a little unfair; while certainly not reaching the peaks of The Incorrigible or The Wind of Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass, there is still plenty to recommend, though it may be along historical and auteurial lines rather than plain enjoyment.
Whether that be the performance of Hideaki Nitani as the titular man with a shotgun, or Hiroyuki in various roles throughout the collection as a morally bankrupt journalist in Smashing the 0-line or a reporter with a cause in The Sleeping Beast Within. There are also those space and time-bending elements that Suzuki would become famous for which crop up in The Sleeping Beast as one interviewee flashes back to when she saw the crime take place.
In regards to the disc, those who have experienced an Arrow Films release know that they produce high-quality discs. Here is no exception, presenting all the films in 1080p with a monoaural soundtrack that does not have any digital errors. There are some slight analogue issues with the picture, though that might be due to the film elements used to transfer the video over. It is not incredibly distracting and those not looking for it will probably not notice. Moving onto the extras, we have a similar amount to the first volume, including a Tony Rayns conversation for each entry providing context for the films themselves as well as the cast and crew that was involved in them. Alongside this, there is a commentary track on Smashing the 0-Line from Jasper Sharp, who also provided the writing within the 60-page booklet included with the box set. Though not copious these extras do provide a great deal of context for those interested in Japanese Cinema.
While Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol.2 - Border Crossing: The Crime and Action Movies is targeted at those interested in film history, it is safe to say that the films will be of interest to those looking for a collection of well-crafted romps. These films offer glimpses at what was to come as well as some standout visual flourishes that make this a highly entertaining collection. I said previously about the Youth Movies collection having an accessibility issue and the same thing applies to this collection as well, but thanks to the commentary by Jasper Sharp and the introduction by Tony Rayns, there is enough to keep film fans entertained for a long while yet.