As a writer who has become well versed in film language over four decades, it is often a welcoming moment when you are introduced to a radical filmmaker who is as contrasting in his own culture as the films he directed can be interpreted in yours.
Arrow Video, under their sister label Arrow Academy, have managed to assemble a brand-new Blu-Ray release of maverick director Seijun Suzuki’s three late-in-the-career Taisho Trilogy films, Zigueunerweisen (1980), Kagero-Za (1981) and Yumeji (1991). It is a welcome opportunity for UK fans of Far Eastern cinema to get a lovingly assembled box-set and if you are keen to learn more about radical filmmaking from the region, then by all means delve into the films here.
However, please be aware that these are in turns visually stimulating and slow-burning affairs, where plot and character are merely a small part of the artistic, cinematic and theatrical canvas that Suzuki has put together. At times you might find that ideas and narrative are lost in a haze of weird and wonderful ambiguity and the mild touches of sexual idealism can throw you.
This writer must confess that he was not too familiar before viewing these films with the director’s work, nor with the ‘Taisho’ Era (1912 – 26) which defined a lot of change to the Japanese cultural mind-set in much the same way that the ‘Renaissance’ periods of centuries past might have defined change in the UK and Europe.
Zigueunerweisen tells of the relationship between a college professor and an old colleague who has been accused of killing a fisherman’s wife. The title refers to a recording featured in the film by Spanish composer Sarasate. Kagero-Za focuses on a man’s obsession with a woman who may or may not exist and his desire to travel to acquaint himself further with her, with dark consequences, whilst Yumeji is a fusion of visual collages based loosely on the life of poet and painter Takehisa Yumeji.
Your appreciation and acknowledgement of the films in the trilogy may well be coloured by your desire to seek out the films, coupled with what your mood might be. This writer certainly feels that another viewing of each is in order, at least to delve further into what the filmmaker’s intentions were. Visually they provide interesting concepts that are both cinematic and poetic, even if at times you are finding the whole experience a little hazy as each film evolves from start to finish.
Indeed, it appears that the films were a reaction by Suzuki to his own artistic frustrations when dealing with the local studio system. Thanks to the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch and others, the films found an outlet internationally which enabled further appreciation and it is nice that Arrow have put an affectionate collection together.
On balance though, these are films aimed at a limited core group of arthouse cinema fans firstly, but worth a look overall anyway.
THE TAISHO TRILOGY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: SEIJUN SUZUKI / SCREENPLAY: Yōzō Tanaka / STARRING: YOSHIO HARADA, YŪSAKU MATSUDA, KENJI SAWADA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW