Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell B*st*rds! (Cert 12)
1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 88 minutes approx.
Seijun Suzuki is known for being the enfant terrible of Japanese cinema in the 1960’s but he wasn’t always such a maverick. In 1963 while still on good terms with his employers at Nikkatsu, Suzuki made films that still made sense and were coherent (ish) yet still suffused with his trademark touches that he would later intensify in 1967’s Branded To Kill and get himself fired from Nikkatsu.
Originally, Suzuki planned to create a new film series based around yakuza activities and a resourceful detective bringing them down, but ended up only making two, although Suzuki’s tally for that year was four films. Detective Bureau 2-3 certainly has the feeling of being the start of something yet we will never know what that could have been.
The film begins with two rival Yakuza gangs fighting over a delivery of goods which appears to have set up by a third group trying to weasel in on this disputed turf. A low-level gang member Manabe (Tamio Kawachi) is arrested by the police during the melee and since he is suspected to be involved with this third group, members from the other two groups are waiting outside the police station for his release to murder him.
As the police have nothing on Manabe who refuses to talk, they have to release him but private detective Hideo Tajima (Jo Shishido) shows up and offers the police a solution to their problems. Posing under the name Ichiro Tanaka, Tajima helps Manabe escape from the murderous gangs, persuading him to let him in with the group he is working for, headed by Hatano (Kinzo Shin).
Suzuki was never big on plot for his films during this period and this one is no different, following a path that has been well trodden within the Yakuza flick milieu, so what makes his work stand out is the way he ekes it out with curious twists and detours that border on the surreal. In his later films, the gloves were off and Suzuki did whatever he pleased but here he remains within the parameters of “normality” to create something more enigmatic than obnoxious.
Just as Toshiro Mifune will always be associated with Akira Kurosawa, puffy cheeked Jo Shishido was Suzuki’s main man for a number of his films. Whilst the ridiculous botched cheek implants make it difficult to take him serious, Shishido somehow manages to look like the Bond-esque hero this film demands despite slightly resembling George Lazenby after a tonsillectomy.
Armed with state of the art technology for the period, quick wit, a ton of charisma and testicles the size of a tanuki’s, Tajima digs himself out of a number of deep holes with the help of his staff, androgynous Irie (Kotoe Hatsui) and errand boy Horiuchi (Hiroshi Hijikata) working wonders from the outside in assuming various role via telephone or in person.
Perhaps his most ingenious asset is former flame Sally (Naomi Hoshi), a singer and dancer conveniently performing at every venue Tajima visits with Hatano, proving cover and information where necessary. A vibrant personality, Sally also slyly narrates the ups and downs of her romance with Tajima through her songs, with one instance even ending up a duet with the pair dancing the Charleston!
It seems Tajima has a tremendous network of friends and associates willing to partake in his elaborate scams in duping Hatano and the gang when they question his identity, not limited to his Catholic priest “father” (Asao Sano), but Hatano also a sharp cookie aware that Tanaka is more than he seems. Someone who also takes an interest in Tanaka is Hatano’s girlfriend Chiaki (Reiko Sassamori), a tacit, saturnine young lass clearly stuck in a loveless relationship but with good reason as we later learn.
Unfortunately one area that Suzuki seems to have little to no interest in exploring is character development and Chiaki is a prime victim of this, despite being involved in two impressive scenes; the first is when posing as Tajima’s fiancée at his father’s church and is demonstrably moved by the sermon, showing emotion for the first time, the second is Chiaki revealing her secret to Tajima, her tortured image reflected in a broken mirror.
It’s a truly poetic and powerful tableau when viewed in tandem with Chiaki’s dialogue concerning her tragic circumstances. However most people will be more appreciative of Suzuki’s proto-psychedelic treatment of Manabe’s apartment, bathed in red to hint at the true nature of his girlfriend’s “infidelity” in his absence. The pristine HD transfer of this Blu-ray release makes this a standout retina burning experience.
Because of the swift run time, the film is ostensibly a sprint from start to finish, which is where Suzuki exposes his indifference towards narrative flow. The editing is very choppy often jumping between timeline without a care for continuity, leaping literally from the church sermon to a close up of Sally’s legs in her flapper’s outfit. Similarly, the final act sees Tajima and Chiaki in grave danger, the drama of which is actually not helped by the jaunty cuts for once.
The script is rather clever in converging the various plans to double and triple cross each other, but with not enough time for them to take form means some suffer from being mere contrivances. The other cavil is not knowing if we should be taking this seriously or not; will no doubt reading about this film conjure up images of a Bond spoof but the cast play it straight, even Jo Shishido. Despite his squirrel cheeks, he could have been the Japanese action hero he wanted to be and this film demonstrates this perfectly.
Detective Bureau 2-3 might never had made it to its proposed series but this luscious looking Blu-ray release is a wonderful reminder of why this is a shame and perhaps start a debate as to why Suzuki should have behaved a little more with his films. Sacrilege perhaps but I present to you exhibit A, in crisp HD to boot.
Japanese Uncompressed Mono Audio
Tony Rayns on Detective Bureau 2-3
Rating – *** ½
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