Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards
directed by Seijin Suzuki
starring Jo Shishido, Tamio Kawaji, Reiko Sassamori
After years of toiling in Nikkatsu Studio’s B-movie until cranking out forgettable genre movies, Seijin Suzuki began adding an unmistakable visual to style to otherwise forgettable formula pictures. The first film that could really be considered a Seijin Suzuki auteur piece is 1963’s Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards. Made just prior to his real breakout masterpiece, Youth of the Beast, Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards is a strong genre effort with flashes of the expressionistic excess that would make Seijin such an influential force in Japan and around the world.
Conceived as an ongoing film series featuring private detective Hideo Tajima, played by Jo Shishido, working undercover on cases where the regular police couldn’t operate. The plot has something to do with stolen weapons from a U.S. Army base and warring crime families requiring Tajima to go undercover to infiltrate one of the clans. The gangsters in this world are far closer to the gangsters in 1940s and 1950s American movies than the usual image of the honor bound Yakuza. The entire affair harkens back to 1950s American culture which is understandable as the US Occupation was still a fresh memory and Japan had more access to American film in the post war years than home grown product.
Seijin, as a director, has never been one to be accused of letting the plot get in the way of the story as fights, shoot outs, and even song and dance numbers populate the sub-90 minute run time. There are some big action scenes that are carried out “live” and on tv screens while news reporters excitedly narrate the action and fill in valuable exposition. Think Isle of Dogs in live action. This gimmick not only helps to cover the budget restraints, but makes the scenes more visually interesting and doesn’t require the movie to stop cold in order to flesh out some much needed exposition,. Though not as overtly stylized as his later films like Youth of the Beast it is still visually fun and inventive with its influence still being felt today in the works of Japanese and Western directors including Quentin Tarantino, Joel and Ethan Coen, and Wes Anderson. Expressionistic use of color, unconventional camerawork, and frenetic editing punctuate the film and help raise it up above it’s humble lineage and even more humble budget.
The film never takes itself too seriously though not a comedy it is certainly a romp, it’s just breezy cool fun with plenty of great action, quirky character bits, lavish nightclub routines and cool to spare. The most memorable, audacious, and WTF moment of the film is when Tajima is in a nightclub with the gang he’s infiltrated where his ex girlfriend is performing. In order to not have his cover blown her joins he on stage to sing a duet and dance a Charleston and the whole thing is played as if perfectly understandable. The entire sequence feels more Dick Van Dyke than Japanese Yakuza, but Seijin somehow makes it work. The film oozes sixties mod Japanese culture complete with an infectious jazz score by Harumi Ibe.
The Blu-Ray from Arrow Video looks amazing but is somewhat lacking in the volume of high quality extras that so often accompany Arrow releases, with a discussion by Japanese film historian Tony Rayns being the only extra of value on the disc.