Nothing quite stings the throat and refreshes the nasal cavities like a Seijun Suzuki film, if like most of us you’re mired in contemporary pulp with an idea of style that amounts to digital inorganicity, monochromatic images, lunkhead muscles and stolid inexpression. Style is something filmmakers seem to think a lot about these days, without having any sense of what it is: not merely crisp lighting and short shots and frozen beauty, but also personality (of the actors and the filmmaker), invention, energy, pacing, wit, attitude, language, culture. (In brief, you could say that Quentin Tarantino, for better or worse, has style, but high-priced hacks like McG, Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams, etc., do not, and neither do most placid indies and mumblecorists.)
In the ’60s, when he’d often spurt out three or more movies a year, Suzuki had style to use up in a blue flame — typically, his wide-screen fumed and dashed with ironic cruelty, surreal juxtapositions, inappropriate bursts of raw color, abrupt dolly shots, lovely ugliness, raving performances and so on. There’s a pervasive, party-hearty irreverence to Suzuki, howling out of the heretofore little-seen “Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!,” just one of four films he made in 1963, like a siren. (The title is even more expressive in the Japanese credits, which switch the two halves.)
A double-cross-crazed gangster saga, Suzuki’s movie begins with a Pepsi truck shattered by gunfire, and a frame-filling burning car, and gangsters waiting outside a police station in broad daylight with “legal!” hunting rifles in anticipation of a rival mobster’s release. (Later, scores of gang thugs with swords and rifles barrel around the city clustered on top of flatbed trucks, like revolutionaries wading into battle.) Infiltrating one gang is a rogue detective the police are happy to use and let die, played by Suzuki avatar Jo Shishido. With his swollen, hording-squirrel cheeks, sloppy grin and melodramatic glare, Shishido is one of the most uproarious and distinctive action heroes in cinema history, here seen doing his own gymnastic stunts and running from machine-gun blasts in a three-piece silk suit, and even getting roped into a cheesy nightclub song-&-dance. Like the movie, Shishido’s maverick never drives and stops when he can speed and skid (in a convertible sportster, naturally), and he is blissfully, kitschily iconic.
The movie around him takes place in a world where the only bylaws are outrageousness and incongruity; it indulges in as mythical a view of the criminal underworld as Louis Feuillade and early Fritz Lang (but often in rooms of acrylic red and yellow), while boppy, Vince Guaraldi-ish jazz plays non-stop, even behind the firefights. At 86 and still making films today, Suzuki was in his heyday skilled at massive wide-screen narrative efficiency — if being efficient about harebrained hysteria is the way you want to phrase it. And “Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!” isn’t even one of the filmmaker’s best ’60s films. It’s just typical.