2016 / UCLA Screening Seijun Suzuki Retrospective at Billy Wilder Theater, Feb. 5 – Mar. 13

UCLA Film & Television Archive; the Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution; Japan Foundation; and UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies present

ACTION, ANARCHY, AND AUDACITY: A SEIJUN SUZUKI RETROSPECTIVE

Friday, February 5 – Sunday, March 13

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VENUE 

The Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood Village, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA  90024 (corner of Wilshire & Westwood Blvds., courtyard level of the Hammer Museum).

TICKETS

Advance tickets are available online for $10.

Tickets are also available at the Billy Wilder Theater box office beginning one hour before showtime: $9, general admission; FREE to all UCLA students with valid ID; $8, other students, seniors and UCLA Alumni Association members with ID.

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“To experience a film by Japanese B-movie visionary Seijun Suzuki is to experience Japanese cinema in all its frenzied, voluptuous excess.” —Manohla Dargis

In a career spanning nearly five decades, director Seijun Suzuki amassed a body of work ranging from B-movie potboilers to beguiling metaphysical mysteries.  Suzuki first became famous when he was fired by Nikkatsu Studios in 1967 for making films that, as he put it, “made no sense and made no money.”

But it was his freewheeling approach and audacious experimentation in films such as Branded to Kill (1967) and Tokyo Drifter (1966) that gained Suzuki a cult following in Japan and abroad.

In the mid-1960s, with dozens of B-movie assignments under his belt, Suzuki channeled his restlessness—and that of his regular collaborators, art director Takeo Kimura and cinematographers Shigeyoshi Mine and Kazue Nagatsuka—towards injecting deliriously disruptive stylistic innovations into studio assigned stories of battling yakuza, corrupt cops and wild youth.

In the 1980s, after an extended period of limited production, Suzuki reinvented himself again as an independent filmmaker.  Freed from the commercial obligations of studio work, he indulged his passion for the Taisho Era (1912–26) in a trio of films— Zigeunerweisen (1980), Kagero-za (1981) and Yumeji (1991)—which reflect the period’s hedonistic cultural atmosphere, blend of Eastern and Western art and fashion and political extremes through Suzuki’s own eccentric vision of the time.

In the 1990s, a traveling international retrospective brought Suzuki a new generation of devotees—most notably directors Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino—who praised Suzuki in the press and quoted his work in their films.

Perhaps inspired by this newfound attention, Suzuki returned to filmmaking in the 2000s after another decade-long absence, making two films—Pistol Opera (2001) and Princess Raccoon (2005)—that look back on his career while advancing it with new technology.

On the occasion of the publication of Time and Place are Nonsense: The Films of Seijun Suzuki by Tom Vick, UCLA Film & Television Archive is pleased to present a touring retrospective of Suzuki’s films.

Note:  Series curated by Tom Vick, curator of film, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution, and co-organized with the Japan Foundation.  Program notes adapted from notes by Tom Vick.

Additional funding provided, in part, by The Tadashi Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities.

Special thanks:  Torquil Duthie; Michael Emmerich; Seiji Lippit—UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies; Hideki Hara, director—Japan Foundation, Los Angeles.

IN PERSON:  Tom Vick (2/21 & 2/22).

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Friday, February 5

7:30 p.m.

BRANDED TO KILL  (Koroshi no Rakuin)

Japan, 1967

Production: Nakkatsu.  Producer: Kaneo Iwai.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Screenwriter: Hachiro Guryu.  Cinematographer:Kazue Nagatsuka.  Editor: Mutsuo Tanji.  Music: Naozumi Yamamoto.  With: Jo Shishido, Mariko Ogawa, Annu Mari, Isao Tamagawa, Kôji Nanbara.

This fractured film noir is the final provocation that got director Seijun Suzuki fired from Nikkatsu Studios, simultaneously making him a counterculture hero and putting him out of work for a decade.  An anarchic send-up of B-movie clichés, it stars Jo Shishido as an assassin who gets turned on by the smell of cooking rice, and whose failed attempt to kill a victim (a butterfly lands on his gun) turns him into a target himself.

Perhaps Suzuki’s most famous film, it has been cited as an influence by filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Park Chan-wook and John Woo, as well as the composer John Zorn, who called it, “a cinematic masterpiece that transcends its genre.”

DCP, b/w, in Japanese with English subtitles, 91 min.

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Print provided by Japan Foundation.

YOUTH OF THE BEAST  (Yaju no Seishun)

Japan, 1963

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Keinosuke Kubo.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Based on a novel by Haruhiko Oyabu.  Screenwriter: Ichiro Ikeda.  Cinematographer: Kazue Nagatsuka.  Production Design: Yoshinaga Yokoo.  Music: Hajime Okumura.  With: Jo Shishido, Ichiro Kijima, Misako Watanabe, Mizuho Suzuki, Shoji Kobayashi.

Director Seijun Suzuki himself claims that 1963 was the year when he truly came into his own, and Youth of the Beast is one of his breakthroughs.  In his second collaboration with the director, Jo Shishido rampages through the movie, playing a disgraced ex-cop pitting two yakuza gangs against each other to avenge the death of a fellow officer.

As the double and triple crosses mount, Suzuki fills the frame with lurid colors, striking compositions and boldly theatrical effects that signal a director breaking away from genre material to forge a pulp art form all his own.

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 91 min.

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Saturday, February 6

7:30 p.m.

TOKYO DRIFTER  (Tokyo Nagaremono)

Japan, 1966

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Tetsuro Nakagawa.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Screenwriter: Yasunori Kawauchi.  Cinematographer: Shigeyoshi Mine.  Production Design: Takeo Kimura.  Editor: Shinya Inoue.  Music: So Kaburagi.  With: Testsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Tsuyoshi Yoshida, Hideaki Nitani, Hideaki Esumi.

Tasked with making a vehicle for actor/singer Tetsuya Watari to croon the title song, director Seijun Suzuki concocted this crazy yarn about a reformed yakuza on the run from his former comrades.

The film is mainly an excuse to stage an escalating series of goofy musical numbers and over-the-top fight scenes.  Popping with garish colors, self-parodic style and avant-garde visual design, Tokyo Drifter embodies a late-1960s zeitgeist in which trash and art joyfully comingle.

“With influences that range from Pop Art to 1950s Hollywood musicals, and from farce and absurdist comedy to surrealism, Suzuki shows off his formal acrobatics in a film that is clearly meant to mock rather than celebrate the yakuza film genre.” —Nikolaos Vryzidis, Directory of World Cinema: Japan.

DCP, b/w & color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 83 min.

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Print provided by Japan Foundation.

FIGHTING ELEGY  (Kenka Erejii)

Japan, 1966

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Kazu Otsuka.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Based on a novel by Takashi Suzuki.  Screenwriter: Kaneto Shindo.  Cinematographer: Kenji Hagiwara.  Production Design: Takeo Kimura.  Editor: Mutsuo Tanji.  Music: Naozumi Yamamoto.  With: Hideki Takahashi, Junko Asano, Mitsuo Kataoka, Yusuke Kawazu, Seijiro Onda.

Set in the 1930s, this darkly comic film is the story of Kiroku, a high school kid who lusts after the pure, Catholic daughter of the family with whom he boards.  The only relief he can find for his immense sexual frustration is through fighting, which at first gets him into trouble, but later makes him perfect cannon fodder for the Sino-Japanese War.

As with Story of a Prostitute (1965), the subject of militarism inspired director Seijun Suzuki to make one of his most personal and impassioned works.  “One of Suzuki’s indisputable masterpieces, this subversively funny account of the making of a model fascist goes where no film had gone before in search of comic insights into the adolescent male mind.” —Tony Rayns.

35mm, b/w, in Japanese with English subtitles, 86 min.

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Monday, February 8

7:30 p.m.

Print provided by Japan Foundation.

KANTO WANDERER  (Kanto Mushuku)

Japan, 1963

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Kenzo Asada.  Director Seijun Suzuki.  Based on a novel by Taiko Hirabayashi.  Screenwriter: Yasutaro Yagi.  Cinematographer: Shigeyoshi Mine.  Production Design: Takeo Kimura.  Editor: Akira Suzuki.  Music: Masayoshi Ikeda.  With: Akira Kobayashi, Hiroko Ito, Daizaburo Hirata, Chieko Matsubara, Sanae Nakahara.

Based on a book by Taiko Hirabayashi, one of Japan’s most famous female novelists, Kanto Wanderer (1963) puts a Suzukian spin on the classic yakuza movie conflict between giri (duty) and ninjo (humanity).

Nikkatsu superstar Akira Kobayashi plays Katsuta, a fearsome yakuza bodyguard torn between defending his boss against a rival gang leader and his obsession with Tatsuko, a femme fatale who reappears from his past.

Director Seijun Suzuki uses this traditional story to experiment with color and to indulge his interest in Kabuki theater techniques and effects, most notably in the stunning final battle, in which the scenery falls away to reveal a field of pure blood red.

“As an example of Suzuki’s mid-period output at Nikkatsu, Kanto Wanderer offers us an inspiring sample of experimentation on assignment.” —Margaret Barton-Fumo, Senses of Cinema.

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 92 min.

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Print provided by Japan Foundation.

THE CALL OF BLOOD  (Oretachi no chi ga Yurusanai)

Japan, 1964

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Takagi Masayuki.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Based on a novel by Kenro Matsuura.  Screenwriter: Ryuma Takemori, Katsuhiro Hosomi, Michiko Ito.  Cinematographer: Shigeyoshi Mine. Editor: Akira Suzuki.  Music: Tadanori Suzuki, Hiroshi Ikezawa.  With: Akira Kobayashi, Hideki Takahashi, Chikako Hosokawa, Hiroshi Midorikawa, Yuri Hase.

Though director Seijun Suzuki created it in the midst of his stylistic breakthrough, The Call of Blood (1964) has never received the same amount of attention as other films he made around the same time.

Nikkatsu icons Hideki Takahashi and Akira Kobayashi star as brothers—one a gangster, the other an ad man—who unite to avenge their yakuza father’s death 18 years before.  The film features a bold use of color; an absurdist concluding gunfight; and, in one memorable scene, an impressively illogical use of rear projection, as the brothers argue in a car while ocean waves rage around them.

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 97 min.

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Friday, February 12

7:30 p.m.

Print provided by Japan Foundation.

GATE OF FLESH  (Nikutai no Mon)

Japan, 1964

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Kaneo Iwai.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Based on the novel by Taijiro Tamura.  Screenwriter: Goro Tanada.  Cinematographer: Shigeyoshi Mine.  Production Design: Takeo Kimura.  Editor: Akira Suzuki.  Music: Naozumi Kuzuu. With: Jo Shishido, Satoko Kasai, Yumiko Nogawa, Kayo Matsuo, Tomiko Ishii.

Part social realist drama, part sadomasochistic trash opera, Gate of Flesh (1964) paints a dog-eat-dog portrait of postwar Tokyo.  The film takes the point of view of a gang of tough prostitutes working out of a bombed-out building.

When a lusty ex-soldier lurches into its midst, the group’s most sensitive member is tempted to break one of its most important rules: no falling in love.  From the women’s bold, color-coded dresses to the unorthodox use of superimposition effects and theatrical lighting, this is director Seijun Suzuki at his most astonishingly inventive.

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 90 min.

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Print provided by Japan Foundation.

STORY OF A PROSTITUTE  (Shunpuden)

Japan, 1965

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Kaneo Iwai.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Based on a novel by Hajime Takaiwa.  Screenwriter: Hajime Takaiwa.  Cinematographer: Kazue Nagatsuka.  Production Design: Takeo Kimura.  Editor: Akira Suzuki.  Music: Naozumi Yamamoto.  With: Tamio Kawachi, Yumiko Nogawa, Isao Tamagawa, Kotoe Hatsui, Shoichi Ozawa.

Yumiko Nogawa, one of director Seijun Suzuki’s favorite actresses, gives perhaps her most ferocious performance in this scathing portrayal of Japanese militarism during the lead-up to World War II.

Sent with six other comfort women to service a garrison of some 1,000 men in Manchuria during the Sino-Japanese War, Nogawa’s Harumi is brutalized by a vicious lieutenant who wants her as his personal property.  Meanwhile, she is falling in love with his gentle young assistant.

The Taijiro Tamura novel on which the film is based was previously made into a much-sanitized film by Akira Kurosawa called Escape at Dawn (1950).  Working in the B-movie arena allowed Suzuki to use the sex and violence expected from the genre to advance the view he shared with Tamura, as Tony Rayns put it: “that the sex-drive is a crucial part of the human will to live.”

“This is the movie that proves Suzuki should be lifted out of the limiting category of the Asia Extreme cult directors, the ‘Japanese Outlaw Masters,’ and placed at the grown-ups’ table, alongside Kurosawa, Okamoto, and Kobayashi.” —David Chute, Criterion Current.

35mm, b/w, in Japanese with English subtitles, 96 min.

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Saturday, February 13

7:30 p.m.

Print provided by Japan Foundation.

TATTOOED LIFE  (Irezumi Ichidai)

Japan, 1965

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Masayuki Takagi.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Screenwriter: Kei Hattori, Kinya Naoi.  Cinematographer: Kuratarô Takamura.  Production Design: Takeo Kimura.  Editor: Akira Suzuki.  Music: Masayoshi Ikeda.  With: Hideki Takahashi, Kotobuki Hananomoto, Akira Yomauchi, Hiroko Ito, Masako Izumi.

Set in the 1930s, Tattooed Life (1965) is the story of two brothers: Kenji, an art student, and Tetsu, who is working as a yakuza to help pay for Kenji’s tuition.  When a hit job goes horribly wrong, the brothers flee.  They end up finding work in a mine—and falling in love with the owner’s wife and daughter.

But will Tetsu’s gang tattoos reveal the brothers’ secret past?  The first film to earn director Seijun Suzuki a warning about “going too far” from his Nikkatsu bosses, Tattooed Life contains one of his most iconic and audacious violations of film form: a final fight scene in which the floor suddenly and illogically disappears, and the action is filmed from below the actors’ feet.

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 87 min.

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Print provided by Japan Foundation.

CARMEN FROM KAWACHI  (Kawachi Karumen)

Japan, 1966

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Shizuo Sakagami.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Based on a novel by Toko Kon.  Screenwriter: Katsumi Miki.  Cinematographer: Shigeyoshi Mine.   Production Design: Takeo Kimura.  Editor: Akira Suzuki.  Music: Taichiro Kosugi.  With: Yumiko Nogawa, Ruriko Ito, Chikako Miyagi, Michio Hino, Shoichi Kuwayama.

A 1960s riff on the opera Carmen (including a rock version of its famous aria “Habanero”), this picaresque tale sends its heroine from the countryside to Osaka and Tokyo in search of success as a singer.

Her journey is fraught with exploitation and abuse at the hands of nefarious men—until Carmen seeks revenge.  Mixing comedy, biting social commentary and director Seijun Suzuki’s customarily outrageous stylistic flourishes, this fast-paced gem is an overlooked classic from his creative late period at Nikkatsu Studios.

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 89 min.

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Sunday, February 21

7 p.m.

Print provided by Japan Foundation.

PISTOL OPERA

Japan, 2001

Production: Shochiku.  Producer: Satoru Ogura.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Screenwriter: Kazunori Ito, Takeo Kimura.  Cinematographer: Yonezo Maeda.  Production Design: Takeo Kimura.  Editor: Akira Suzuki.  Music: Kuzufumi Kodama.  With: Makiko Esumi, Sayoko Yamaguchi, Hanae Kan, Mikijiro Hira, Masatoshi Nagase.

When Satoru Ogura suggested director Seijun Suzuki make a sequel to his most notorious film, Branded to Kill (1967), the result was this eye-popping action extravaganza, which is less a sequel than a compact retrospective of Suzuki’s style and themes, updated with CGI effects and infused with the metaphysical concerns of the Taisho Trilogy.

Makiko Esumi plays Stray Cat, the number three killer in her assassins’ guild.  She battles her way to the top against characters such as Painless Surgeon, a cowboy who can feel no pain, and the mysterious number one killer “Hundred Eyes.”

Along the way, Stray Cat detours into the land of the dead, where her victims lurk, and into the “Atrocity Exhibition,” where she battles foes amid grotesque paintings from throughout art history.  Pistol Opera (2001) proves that, even in his 70s, Suzuki’s creativity was still firing on all cylinders.

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 112 min.

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Print provided by Japan Foundation.

A TALE OF SORROW AND SADNESS  (Hishu Monogatari)

Japan, 1977

Production: Shochiku.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Based on a story by Ikki Kajiwara.  Screenwriter: Atsushi Yamatoya.  Cinematographer: Masaru Mori.  Editor: Akira Suzuki.  Music: Keitaro Miho, Ichiro Tomita.  With: Kyoko Enami, Yoshio Harada, Masumi Okada, Shûji Sano, Yoko Shiraki.

Nearly a decade after being fired by Nikkatsu Studios, Suzuki returned to the director’s chair with this titillating tale of a model who is groomed to become a professional golfer as a publicity stunt.

When she turns out to be good at the sport, her success leads a deranged fan to hatch a blackmail scheme.  “Riddled with the director’s wildly non-conformist use of non-contiguous edits, unhinged shot composition, and violent splashes of colour, crazed and chaotic and for too long buried in the sand bunkers of obscurity, this long-overlooked work simply cries out for revival.” —Jasper Sharp, Midnight Eye.

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 93 min.

IN PERSON:  Tom Vick, curator of film, Freer and Sackler Galleries, author of Time and Place are Nonsense: The Films of Seijun Suzuki.

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Monday, February 22

7:30 p.m.

Print provided by Japan Foundation.

PASSPORT TO DARKNESS  (Ankoku no Ryoken)

Japan, 1959

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Kenzo Asada.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Screenwriter: Hajime Takaiwa.  Cinematographer: Kazue Nagatsuka.  Production Design: Takeharu Sakaguchi.  Editor: Akira Suzuki.  Music: Koichi Kawabe, Taichiro Kosugi.  With: Ryoji Hayama, Chako van Leeuwen, Masumi Okada, Mari Shiraki, Tamaki Sawa.

In this stylish film noir, a trombonist goes on an all-night bender after his wife disappears during their honeymoon.  When he returns home to find her corpse in their apartment, he sets off on a frantic quest to find her killer by piecing together a night he can’t remember.  Director Seijun Suzuki used this classic noir material to play with genre tropes and make expressive use of darkness and light.

35mm, b/w, in Japanese with English subtitles, 88 min.

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Print provided by Japan Foundation.

EIGHT HOURS OF FEAR  (Hachijikan no kyôfu)

Japan, 1957

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Kenzo Asada.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Cinematographer: Kazue Nagatsuka.  Production Design: Akiyoshi Satani.  Editor: Akira Suzuki.  Music: Takio Niki.  With: Taizo Fukami, Hisako Hara, Nobuo Kaneko, Minako Katsuki, Sumiko Minami.

When their train is trapped by a landslide, passengers—including a murderer escorted by police officers—pile into a bus to proceed through the rugged countryside.

Meanwhile, two bank robbers are loose in the vicinity.  As the travellers’ journey continues, the danger mounts and tempers begin to fray.  Bizarre camera movements and compositions provide a glimpse of the experimentation that took over in director Seijun Suzuki’s later films, but Eight Hours of Fear (1957) stands on its own as a gripping, eccentric adventure yarn.

35mm, b/w, in Japanese with English subtitles, 77 min.

IN PERSON:  Tom Vick, curator of film, Freer and Sackler Galleries, author of Time and Place are Nonsense: The Films of Seijun Suzuki.

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Saturday, February 27

7:30 p.m.

Print provided by Japan Foundation.

THE SLEEPING BEAST WITHIN

Japan, 1960

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Takiko Kaburagi.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Screenwriter: Ichiro Ikeda.  Cinematographer: Shigeyoshi Mine.  Production Design: Kimihiko Nakamura.  Editor: Akira Suzuki.  Music: Hajime Kaburagi.  With: Hiroyuki Nagato, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Shoichi Ozawa, Shinsuke Ashida, Hisano Yamaoka.

A businessman vanishes upon his return from an overseas trip, and his daughter hires a reporter to help find him.  When the father reappears, the reporter becomes suspicious and starts digging deeper, uncovering a secret world of heroin smuggling and murder—all tied up with a mysterious Sun God cult.  This proto-Breaking Bad moves to an energetic pulp fiction beat all the way to its spectacular conflagration of an ending.

35mm, b/w, in Japanese with English subtitles, 86 min.

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Print provided by Japan Foundation.

SMASHING THE O-LINE

Japan, 1960

Production: Nikkatsu.  Producer: Shozo Ashida.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Screenwriter: Yasuro Yokoyoma.  Cinematographer: Shigeyoshi Mine, Toshitaro Nakao.  Production Design: Kazuhiko Chiba.  Editor: Akira Suzuki. Music: Taichiro Kosugi.  With: Hiroyuki Nagato, Mayumi Shimizu, Yuji Odaka, Sanae Nakahara, Tomo’o Nagai.

This crime thriller features one of the most nihilistic characters in director Seijun Suzuki’s early films: Katiri, a reporter so ambitiously amoral that he’ll sell out anyone—including his partner and the drug dealer he’s sleeping with— to get a scoop.

But what happens when an even more ruthless female gang boss kidnaps his sister?  With its jazzy musical score and sordid milieu of drug smuggling and human trafficking, Smashing the O-Line (1960) is one of Suzuki’s darkest urban tales.

35mm, b/w, in Japanese with English subtitles, 83 min.

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Sunday, March 6

7 p.m.

Print courtesy of the Kawakita Memorial Film Institute.

ZIGUERNERWEISEN

Japan, 1980

Production: Cinema Placet Prods.  Producer: Genjiro Arato.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Screenwriter: Yozo Tanaka.  Cinematographer: Kazue Nagatsuka.  Production Design: Takeo Kimura.  Music: Kaname Kawachi.  With: Yoshio Harada, Naoko Otani, Toshiya Fujita, Michiyo Okusu, Kisako Makishi.

Named the best film of the 1980s in a poll of Japanese film critics, Zigeunerweisen (1980) takes its title from a recording of violin music by Pablo de Sarasate.  The piece haunts the film’s two main characters: Aochi, an uptight professor at a military academy, and his erstwhile colleague Nakasago, who is now a wild-haired wanderer and possible murderer.

The movie’s plot is a metaphysical ghost story involving love triangles, doppelgangers, and a blurred line between the worlds of the living and the dead.  “Underlying the teasing riddles,” writes film critic Tony Rayns, “is an aching lament for the sumptuous hybrid culture of the 1920s that was swept away by the militarism of the 1930s.”

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 144 min.

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Monday, March 7

7:30 p.m.

Print provided by Japan Foundation.

KAGERO-ZA

Japan, 1981

Production: Cinema Placet Prods.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Based on a novel by Kyoka Izumi.  Screenwriter: Yozo Tanaka.  Cinematographer: Kazue Nagatsuka.  Production Design: Noriyoshi Ikeya.  Editor: Akira Suzuki.  With: Yusaku Matsuda, Michio Ogusu, Katsuo Nakamura, Eniko Kusuda, Mariko Kaga.

According to film critic Tony Rayns, Kagero-za (1981), “may well be Suzuki’s finest achievement outside the constraints of genre filmmaking.”  In this hallucinatory adaptation of work by the Taisho Era writer Kyoka Izumi, a mysterious woman named Shinako invites Matsuzaki, a playwright, to the city of Kanazawa for a romantic rendezvous.

While Matsuzaki is on his way, his patron Tamawaki appears on the train, claiming to be en route to witness a love suicide between a married woman and her lover.  Matsuzaki suspects Shinako is Tamawaki’s wife, and the trip to Kanazawa may spell his doom.  As in Zigeunerweisen (1980), reality, fantasy, life and afterlife blend together in Kagero-za—most spectacularly in the grand finale, in which Matsuzaki finds his life morphing into a deranged theatrical extravaganza.

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 140 min.

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Saturday, March 12

7:30 p.m.

Print provided by Japan Foundation.

YUMEJI

Japan, 1991

Production: Cinema Placet Prods.  Producer: Genjiro Arato.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Screenwriter: Yozo Tanaka.  Cinematographer: Junichi Fukisawa.  Editor: Akira Suzuki. Music: Shigeru Umebayashi.  With: Kenji Sawada, Tomoko Mariya, Yoshio Harada, Tamasaburo Bando, Masumi Miyazaki.

Made 10 years after its predecessor, the final film in the Taisho Trilogy spins a fantastical tale from the life of a historical figure.  Takehisa Yumeji (1884–1934) was an artist known as much for his paintings of beautiful women as for his bohemian lifestyle.  As played by rock star Kenji Sawada, the Yumeji of director Seijun Suzuki’s film is a serial seducer haunted by thoughts of his own death while pursuing ideals of beauty in his art.

Traveling to Kanazawa to meet his lover, he instead falls for a widow whose murdered husband inconveniently returns from the dead.  Love, desire, life and death collapse into one another as Yumeji’s art takes on an uncanny existence of its own.

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 128 min.

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Sunday, March 13

3 p.m.    • note later screening this same day

Print provided by Japan Foundation.

CAPONE CRIES A LOT  (Kapone oi ni naku)

Japan, 1985

Production: K Enterprise, Nippon Columbia, System Japan.  Producer: Kenichi Makamura.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Based on a novel by Sueyuki Kajiyama.  Screenwriter: Takeo Kimura, Atsushi Yamatoya.  Cinematographer: Junichi Fukisawa, Akira Takada.  Production Design: Takeo Kimura, Yuji Maruyama.  Editor: Akira Suzuki.  Music: Takayuki Inoue.  With: Kenichi Hagiwara, Yuko Tanaka, Kenji Sawada, Akira Emoto, Kai Ato.

In this surreal comic confection, a traditional naniwa-bushi singer moves to Prohibition-era San Francisco.  He goes in search of Al Capone, whom he mistakenly believes is president, hoping to impress the gangster with his singing and popularize the art form in the States.

Filmed mostly in an abandoned amusement park in Japan, director Seijun Suzuki’s vision of 1920s America is an anarchic collage of pop culture images, from cowboys to Charlie Chaplin.  One reason Capone is so rarely seen is that it reflects the racial attitudes of the time in which it is set by including, for example, a minstrel band in blackface.  Such discomfiting images are balanced by scenes featuring an actual African American jazz ensemble that joins the film’s hero in jam sessions mixing blues, jazz and naniwa-bushi.

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 128 min.

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Sunday, March 13

7 p.m.    •note earlier screening this same day

PRINCESS RACCOON  (Operetta Tanuki Goten)

Japan, 2005

Production: The Princess Raccoon Production Committee, Geneon Entertainment, Dentsu, Nippon Herald Films, Shochiku Co. Ltd., Eisei Gekijo, Ogura Jimusyo, Dentsu Tec.  Producer: Satoru Ogura, Ikki Katashima.  Director: Seijun Suzuki.  Screenwriter: Yoshio Urasawa.  Cinematographer: Yonezou Maeda.  Production Design: Takeo Kimura.  Editor: Nobuyuki Ito.  Music: Michiru Oshima, Ryomei Shirai.  With: Zhang Ziyi, Joe Odagiri, Hiroko Yakushimura, Mikijiro Hira, Saori Yuki.

This “energetic, inventive and ever-so-slightly insane mishmash of music, magic and madness” (Frank Kermode, The Guardian) stars Jo Odagiri as a prince.  After being exiled, he comes across a magical land of shape-shifting raccoons and falls in love with their princess (Zhang Ziyi).

Rooted in Japanese folklore, studded with tunes that range from operetta to hip hop, and set in a fantastical Edo period of the imagination, this film shows director Seijun Suzuki at his most kindhearted and whimsical.  Although he was pitching a project as late as 2008 (at the age of 85!), this is most likely Suzuki’s final film, and it’s a fittingly friendly way to say goodbye.

35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 111 min.

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VENUE 

The Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood Village, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA  90024 (corner of Wilshire & Westwood Blvds., courtyard level of the Hammer Museum).

TICKETS

Advance tickets are available online for $10.

Tickets are also available at the Billy Wilder Theater box office beginning one hour before showtime: $9, general admission; FREE to all UCLA students with valid ID; $8, other students, seniors and UCLA Alumni Association members with ID.

PARKING

At the Billy Wilder Theater for a $3 flat rate on weekdays after 6 p.m. and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.  Enter from Westwood Blvd., just north of Wilshire.

INFO | PROGRAM UPDATES

cinema.ucla.edu | 310-206-FILM (-3456)

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