I don’t think the French have made a great film since Godard got boring, but they’ve long-been cinema’s arbiters of what’s lasting and good: they built up Tarantino’s reputation, pointed out the genius of Erich von Stroheim, Samuel Fuller, Budd Boetticher, and Don Siegel. They informed America that they’d a Genre called Film Noir. Taught us to care about a film’s Mise-en-scène.
So where are the French with Seijun Suzuki? Nowhere.
Seijun Suzuki may be the greatest living filmmaker you’ve likely never heard of. Most of his work was done in the early to mid-nineteen sixties—and they were frankly bizarre. Start with his best, Branded to Kill (that’s the film that got Suzuki blackballed and left unemployed for ten years—his studio basically concluded he was too freaky to make profitable films). It’s poetic and (and something the French respect) existential. It also stars the Japanese Bogart, Joe Shishido (Shishido, who had his face altered to look more menacing).
Suzuki’s films: the wildly beautiful Tattooed Life, and one of my favorites, Tokyo Drifter—one of the more “Tarantino” of Suzuki’s films. (Almost every frame Tarantino shoots is an homage to Suzuki.) They’re mostly on Netflix. Some are even available for streaming.
And this director is still alive: he should be lauded, if not by the pros, then by us.