If you enjoy the films of Quentin Tarantino, Park Chan-wook, John Woo, Takashi Miike, and Jim Jarmusch, then you might want to check out the man who influenced them all—Seijun Suzuki. Suzuki is responsible for some of Japan’s most stylish and sometimes downright insane action movies of the 1960s.

He was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1923. Suzuki failed the entrance exam for the University of Tokyo, so a friend convinced him to try taking film classes at Kamakura Academy. He started working as an assistant director in 1948 for a major studio named Shochiku.

In 1954, Suzuki started working for Nikkatsu—Japan’s oldest major studio. He started out as an Assistant Director at Nikkatsu, but in 1956, he directed his first feature film, a B movie called ‘Harbour Toast: Victory is in Our Grasp.’

In 1963, Suzuki worked with the chipmunk-cheeked Joe Shishido in the lead role of ‘Detective Bureau 2–3: Go to Hell, Bastards!’ about a private investigator who infiltrates a Yakuza clan. He teamed up with Shishido again for his next film, made in the same year, titled ‘Youth of the Beast.’ Even though both of these films share a very similar story and came out in the same year, ‘Youth of the Beast’ represents a turning point in Suzuki’s style.

Stunning use of color and creative shot choices made ‘Youth of the Beast’ stand out against the many other movies Nikkatsu released. And ‘many’ is an undserstatement—Nikkatsu’s schedule had them releasing two new films every single week.

That style would fully develop in ‘Tokyo Drifter’ where we see a beautiful use of color and modern art production design in a way that appears almost theatrical. This film showcases his western influences and we even see an homage to the Hollywood western in this bar room brawl.

Shishido starred in only four Suzuki films, but despite their short-lived collaboration, their movies would be among Suzuki’s greatest and most well-known. Suzuki’s most well-known film—and let’s face it, clearly his best—was a huge financial failure. Its screenings were sparsely attended and Nikkatsu president, Kyusaku Hori called the film, ‘incomprehensible’ and fired Suzuki from Nikkatsu. It was his 40th film for the studio. The film is called ‘Branded to Kill’ and follows Hanada, the Yakuza’s number three best hitman on the run after a hit gets botched when a butterfly lands on the barrel of his sniper rifle causing him to miss his shot.

Suzuki’s experience and the perfecting of his style shines through in this creative masterpiece that includes everything you could want from an action movie—lots of sex, violence, and general badassery, but there is another level with ‘Branded to Kill’ that didn’t exist in his earlier program pictures. In order to write the film, Suzuki assembled a team of writers he called Hachiro Guryu (or ‘Group of Eight’). Suzuki didn’t spend a lot of time on pre-production and he never storyboarded his scenes, opting instead to come up with ideas as he shot. Since Nikkatsu was releasing two films a week, the shooting schedule was at a breakneck pace—the whole film from pre to post production was only 25 days and all of the editing and looping lines was completed in one day, which happened to be the day before its release.

Suzuki sued Nikkatsu for wrongful termination and won, but he was blacklisted by every studio for ten years. In 2001, he made a sequel to ‘Branded to Kill’ called ‘Pistol Opera’ and his latest film, ‘Princess Raccoon,’ (made in 2005) is a musical based on a folk tale from Japan. He’s still kicking at 92 years old with 54 films under his belt. While his days of filmmaking are over, there is no doubt that his work will continue to inspire others for many years to come.

Clips used:
Reservoir Dogs (1992 Dir. Quentin Tarantino)
Oldboy (2003 Dir. Park Chan-wook)
Hard Boiled (1992 Dir. John Woo)
Ichi the Killer (2001 Dir. Takashi Miike)
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999 Dir. Jim Jarmusch)
Branded to Kill (1967 Dir. Seijun Suzuki)
Harbour Toast: Victory is in Our Grasp (1956 Dir. Seijun Suzuki)
Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell, Bastards! (1963 Dir. Seijun Suzuki)
Youth of the Beast (1963 Dir. Seijun Suzuki)
Tokyo Drifter (1966 Dir. Seijun Suzuki)
Youth of the Beast (1963 Dir. Seijun Suzuki)
Pistol Opera (2001 Dir. Seijun Suzuki)
Princess Raccoon (2005 Dir. Seijun Suzuki)

Music used:
Branded to Kill (1967 Dir. Seijun Suzuki)
Tokyo Drifter (1966 Dir. Seijun Suzuki)
Youth of the Beast (1963 Dir. Seijun Suzuki)

Sources used:
Schilling, Mark. No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema. Godalming, England: FAB, 2007. Print.