Inflato-faced Jô Shishido is at it again, here in a typically precocious, spoofy crime adventure by Japan’s playful Seijun Suzuki. If the eccentric color scheme doesn’t do the trick, the antic comic relief and wild musical numbers will. Shishido dances the Charleston, and the nightclub rocks with a terrific twist number. The music under Nikkatsu’s logo is more progressive than that in a Hollywood picture of 1963.
Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!
Arrow Video USA
1963 / Color / 2:35 widescreen (Nikkatsuscope) / 89 min. / Kutabare akutô-domo – Tantei jimusho 23 / Street Date July 10, 2018 / 39.95
Starring: Jô Shishido, Tamio Kawaji, Reiko Sassamori, Nobuo Kaneko, Kinzô Shin, Naomi Hoshi,Asao Sano.
Cinematography: Shigeyoshi Mine
Film Editor: Akira Suzuki
Original Music: Harumi Ibe
Written by Iwao Yamazaki from a book by Haruhiko Ôyabu
Produced by Shôzô Ashida
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
One can always count on Seijun Suzuki for something different, and even in this early ’60s Nikkatsu crime thriller the emphasis is on sheer genre fun. Tony Rayns identifies the genre style addressed here as ‘borderless action,’ which basically indicates a semi-realistic crime thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously. As always the Japanese genre filmmakers have copied American trends so well, that they end up anticipating us. Thus the action in Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! has the outlandish, slightly comic-book flavor of James Bond pictures. Sober yakuza sagas step aside, for this action hybrid plays fast and loose. For my money Seijun Suzuki’s brand is really his visual stylization, which we’re told hit its peak a few years later with the more idiosyncratic Branded to Kill. By then Suzuki’s experimental style was making him unpopular with the Nikkatsu brass. This earlier show has fewer pretensions — plus goofy comic relief.
Hotshot private dick Hideo Tajima (Jô Shishido) runs his own office, where his loyal assistants continually cook up shady shakedown scams. Hideo gambles when not buzzing around town in his spiffy white roadster, and borrows money from his showgirl-pal Sally (Naomi Hoshi). But he also amuses himself by performing tough undercover work for Inspector Kumagai (Nobuo Kaneko). Yakuza gangs are stealing U.S. Army weapons, and Hideo thinks he can infiltrate the gang responsible by befriending Manabe (Tamio Kawaji), a sharp- dressing young member of the gang. Hideo goes through the usual ritual of proofs and suspicions, with both Sally and a priest helping to back up his phony identity. He also falls in love with Chiako (Reiko Sassamori), the gang boss’s moll, who proves to be a virgin innocent orphaned by the boss. Just as Hideo learns the identity of the ‘Mr. Big’ behind the arms racket, he’s discovered and set up for murder. But like everything else, he takes it in stride.
Since the plot synopsis sounds like every cheap gangster picture ever made, take it under advisement that the graces of Go to Hell Bastards! lie elsewhere, mainly in the inventive, genre-wise fun elements added by the creative director. Truckloads of yakuza punks waving weapons picket the police station, waiting for their chance to kill the witness Manabe, and the Inspector says he can’t arrest them. The evil smugglers bribe a black U.S. soldier to sneak out the guns. Wild free-for all gunfights break out in the street when a rival gang tries to horn in, crashing the motorcade with a Pepsi Cola truck. In proven detective fashion, our hero Hideo soft-talks his showgirl Sally into anything he needs, including risking her life. He also tries to rape the innocent leading lady, apologizing only when she tells him the sob story of her life. Topping that off, Hideo’s diminutive female office assistant always has a cynical remark ready, as when live TV coverage of a yakuza riot is interrupted by a meddlesome commercial break.
Our hero Hideo is none other than Jô (or ‘Joe’) Shishido, Japan’s strangest action star. By now I’ve heard at least three explanations for his bizarre act of self mutilation to ‘enhance’ his appearance — Shishido is the star that shot collagen into his cheeks to change the shape of his face. I’ve never heard anybody say that this makes him more handsome, but it sure as Jigoku makes him distinctive. Is this how a Japanese might try to morph himself into the likeness of Bobby Darin? Shishido looks more like a chipmunk, or someone who just had four wisdom teeth pulled. Or maybe that breath mint he just popped in his mouth was really a firecracker sent by Wile E. Coyote. The possibilites are endless. Yes, the photo just above is an exaggeration — hey, it’s the Nikkatsuscope Mumps!
Even in his silk suit Shishido is fast on his feet. Hideo is more of a sneak than a fighter, but he does pull some fancy sleight of hand when fooling the crime boss. The fun is in the trimmings, which are way-cool for 1963. The principal nightclub puts on conventional girlie-show performances, but Sally also croons a couple of songs, the lyrics of which directly relate to the crime intrigues presently in play. When Hideo shows up with his new gang cronies, he joins her in singing and dancing a Charleston, slipping her the money he owes her and tipping her off that he’s working incognito. Shishido’s voice is weak and he’s a klutz on his feet, but that’s not the point.
When Sally comes out in a bright sweater to dance the twist, Go to Hell Bastards! shows more class than most U.S. films that tried to affect a ‘wild and shakin” dance vibe in 1963 — think of all those Beach Party pictures that are now major embarrassments. Harume Ibe’s rock music score lays down a bouncy beat, from the title sequence forward. For the mass yakuza shootout scene slow jazz plays, striking an ironic, almost humorous contrast. Some Japanese attempts at humor seem terribly broad, but the movie stylistics of various rebel directors are way ahead of the game. Find me an American comic crime film from 1963 or so that isn’t totally square… Robin and the 7 Hoods?
Director Suzuki doesn’t ‘cross borders’ into forbidden sex or violence as Nikkatsu would do a few years later, when it tried to energize a failing movie audience. He instead brings in unexpected bits of musical fun and knockabout comedy. Hideo’s dopey assistants don’t hurt the film, but instead help us understand that we’re watching is not to be taken too seriously. Are some laughs intentional? A phone rings in a room packed with yakuza punks, resting with their weapons. The polite kid that answers says,“Hello, Sakura clan here!”
Seizuki’s play with Yankee pop music is exceeded only by his formal visual style. He plays with the color scheme as if obsessed with the design fetishes of Vincente Minnelli. Most locales, even what look to be real exteriors, have been painted in dull, drab colors, mostly gray — but somewhere in the shot is always a blast of red. Even random scenes will have a red accent, somewhere. Hideo wears a red tie in a silvery suit. The office for the 2-3 bureau is mostly gray, except for a red calendar near the door. There’s no aesthetic for this beyond signifying that what we’re seeing is not real — it’s as if a comic book could only afford one color, red. The bluish-gray nightclub has some accents, mostly the bright colors worn by Sally. She even appears for one song in a Cyd Charisse- like crimson dress. On the other hand, the ‘good girl’ Chiako’s outfits stick with the drab color format assigned to walls and floors. Does her lack of bright color signify her status as a virgin?
Hideo finds himself in a conflagration in the gang’s basement contraband warehouse. He shoots his way out with one of those ’60s Japanese movie machine gun props that’s far too large; I think it was made big to accommodate a Roman candle to simulate gunfire. Apparently, Japanese gun laws were even tougher back then. The gangs of yakuza killers routinely brandish swords and rifles while careering around in flatbed trucks; at one point the circle a fountain, as in a Jacques Tati picture.
The cheerful ending sees Hideo walking away from a yakuza battle that must entail a hundred combatants — ah, he’s done his job, the cops will take over from here. The rockin’ finish sees him tooling away in his roadster with his new girlfriend, in what is either a very hazy, or very smoggy Tokyo. We see the giant globe atop the department store, that features in Sam Fuller’s House of Bamboo eight years before!
What make of car is Hideo’s slick white roadster? Is it Japanese? I want one.
Arrow Video USA’s Blu-ray of Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! is a sharp and peppy transfer of a film in great shape. In many older DVDs of Japanese genre pictures the color looks greenish and the grain is a little rough; the color and texture here are a major improvement. Nikkatsu did the transfer, according to Arrow.
The main course extra is a half-hour interview with Japanese film expert Tony Rayns, who seems quite amused by Go to Hell Bastards! even if the film’s comic relief leaves him cold. There’s a lot of lore to be dispensed about Jô Shishido, Nikkatsu and the tangle of hybrid genre films pouring out of Japanese studios, at a time when that country was making more movies than any other, even the U.S.A.. Un-billed online is a good, informative insert booklet essay by Jasper Sharp. My education in arcane international crime pix proceeds apace. I can’t wait to spring the word mokukokuseki on somebody. But who?
Also present is a stills gallery and an original trailer; the cover art reverses to opt for an original Japanese poster design. In this case the commissioned new art by Matthew Griffin is quite good. And who can resist a disc cover that says ‘go to hell bastards!’? It’s the kind of thing you want to ‘accidentally’ leave on the coffee table when unwanted guests show up, to send a message.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!
Movie: Very Good and for its type Excellent
Supplements: Interview with historian and Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns, Gallery of original production stills, trailer, Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin; insert pamphlet essay by Jasper Sharp.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed: July 2, 2018
Text © Copyright 2018 Glenn Erickson