Assassination Tangos


An inexplicable pageant of extraterrestrial coolness, Pistol Opera is pulp artiste Seijun Suzuki’s first film to see a U.S. release in more than 35 years, and fierce befuddlement will surely foam in its wake. Suzuki was 78 when the movie sprouted up at 2001 film festivals, and in virtually every way, it’s the work of a cantankerous, self-pleasing coot, dismissing narrative conveniences in favor of gumball-colored vogue-noir, goofy digressions, bulldozing sight gaggery, and an inexhaustible tank of style. That is, Suzuki has made the ultimate meta-movie, a self-parodying, surrealist gangster daydream as intoxicating and insubstantial as an absinthe swoon.

Whatever plot there is is borrowed piecemeal from Suzuki’s own Branded to Kill (1967), in which obsessive hit men jockey for top rankings in some ill-defined guild by offing one another. Branded is unchecked lunacy, and it squelched Suzuki’s exploding career as a New Wavey pulp stylist. Pistol Opera could be seen as the older film’s absurdist-futuristic sequel, as if Jo Shishido’s yesteryear antihero had dreamt it in one of his concussed stupors. Here, the assassins are almost all willowy women, Sapphically vamping around butoh sets that could’ve been decorated by Man Ray and chatting about the hierarchy’s quarterly results. After a hippie-dippie paint-box title sequence, it’s every long-barrel-brandishing, enrobed assassinatrix for herself, as Suzuki jump-cuts his film into laconic chaos, mixes mountainous landscapes with color-wheel theater sets, and shovels a ton of blood-red tulip petals with a payloader. Once you get to a shoot-out in an iodine-yellow-misted bamboo forest intersected with laser-sight beams, the equation could read as Godard + Fellini + Makavejev + Ken Russell + a duffel bag of hash.

Suzuki’s dialogue is like Dada verse (“Your silver bullet’s crying,” one liquidator tells another), and his imagery is discomfitingly unique—you’re rarely sure at first what you’re looking at. The final duel is essentially indescribable, if only because it remakes itself visually and rhythmically in every shot. On the other hand, Pistol Opera is utterly devoid of the berserkoid electricity his ’60s films are loved for; rather, it’s a free-associative sleepwalk, druggy, silly, and abstracted. Expect the unexpectable, and it may be your movie of the year.

Pavel Lounguine, in Tycoon: A New Russian, also makes lyrical use of laser sights: Briefly, we see a kitten chase the skittering red dot before a nearby character gets popped. Enjoy this morsel; the rest is dreck. Though a relatively sober essay on criminal organization, Tycoon is also thoroughly pulpy—that is, crass, unimaginative, corner-cutting, and simplistic, with the visual vocabulary of daytime soap. Accustomed to the lazy-punk aesthetic of Taxi Blues and Luna Park, Lounguine is hardly suited for a Citizen Kane-like flashback portrait of a post-Soviet oligarkh‘s rise to power on the eve of his murder. Targeting corrupt mob capitalism, the film merely tracks the titular young turk (Vladimir Mashkov) as he parties, meets shady government figures, and woos women. Many key incidents happen offscreen; as it is, many of the scenes we do see, hobbled already by posturing buffoonery, continuity flaws, and untranslatable jokes, never come to a conclusion. The Kremlin is represented repeatedly by a paneled office with a flag tacked to the wall. An impression lingers that Lounguine was trying to heroize the Boris Berezovsky-based protag, but I couldn’t swear to it.