Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pistol Packin' Mama

Seijun Suzuki's 2001 Pistol Opera is, in some sense, a remake of his 1967 Branded to Kill, the story of the Assassin Guild's Number 3 Killer getting a chance to advance a few ranks. The '67 version, stars chipmunk-cheeked Jo Shishido as a killer who loves the smell of rice cooking. It was a stylish 60's black-and-white noir exercise in absurdism. The studio gave it to Suzuki along with a minimal budget to make a violent B-movie. The finished movie got him blackballed for 10 or 20 years.

The 2001 version makes a few changes. The Number 3 Killer, nicknamed Stray Cat, is a woman this time. The movie is in glorious, psychedelic color. But it is still an abstract absurdist exercise in style.

Stray Cat is a beautiful young woman who favors simple kimonos that still manage to show a little leg. A beautiful older woman hiding behind a scarf gets her jobs killing people, using a combination of threats and sexual innuendo - Stray Cat has a thing for pistols. Stray Cat meets a little girl who wants to be a killer. Number One Killer, Hundred Eyes, drops by for a visit, and pantomimes drinking tea. He has a laser sight on his gun, and a case of the sniffles. Et cetera.

In case you couldn't tell that this movie is far from realistic, several characters recount dreams, and some are even shown to the audience. Kabuki theater is referenced, in case you wondered about the strange mannered acting style. In fact, the movie ends with Butoh performers - Butoh is a Japanese avant-garde dance form featuring near nude, bald actors writhing ingrotesque stylized agony.

Have I forgotten to give you any reason to want to see this? Here it is, then: The film is beautiful. The colors are vibrant. Stray Cat tends to wear black or navy, but seems surrounded by yellows, possibly her theme color. I wonder if Kill Bill's yellows are a reflection of this. Deep blues may represent death, or sleep. Water, smoke (yellow smoke), a decaying bath house, a farmhouse, themes stated and revisited.

If this seems pretentious or boring, skip it. If it's intriguing, give it a few minutes. Within the first 10 minutes you should know whether it is your kind of thing.

Be aware that there is plenty of violence, but not a single drop of blood.

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