Friday 18 July 2008

Tattooed Life

Seijun Suzuki's 1965 film "Tattooed Life" is like many of his films of the late 50s and 60s. Though its story is not overly complicated or original and contains a number of stock themes (such as destiny, loyalty and sacrifice), it's the style and methods of telling the narrative that grab the attention. Suzuki liked to play with the rules, so he developed little shorthand ways of moving the plot along and avoiding long sequences of exposition. He might edit a scene in an unexpected way or drop in a totally out of context image and it would impart the information you needed to know - just not necessarily in the way you would normally receive it. For most of "Tattooed Life" these techniques are kept to a minimum...But the last 15 minutes are an explosion of colour, violence and a marvel of creativity.

I'm leaving out the story though and it's actually a pretty decent tale...In order to help put his younger sibling through art school, Tetsu has become a low level yakuza (and has been adorned with identifying tattoos). By command of the Owada family, he assassinates the head of the Totsuka clan. With the job complete, another member of the Owadas tries to clean things up by killing Tetsu, but fails in the attempt and is in turn killed by Kenji - Tetsu's younger brother who witnessed everything. After those opening scenes the brothers decide to escape to Manchuria, wind up stuck in a fishing port on the sea of Japan and fall in love with a mother and daughter. But Tetsu knows no good can come from sitting still while their past catches up with them. After all, his tattoos have marked his destiny for him and his brother.

So when the brothers make a final attempt to escape before the final act, you kinda know where things are about to head. And when it begins, it feels like Suzuki has been saving it all up for that last stretch and he just can't hold it back anymore. Camera angles become severe, rooms and characters get bathed in saturated colours (guess what red signifies?) and the pace quickens. Suzuki opens the floodgates and emphasizes the emotional high point of the film. All of the following images are taken from the last 10-15 minutes of the film.

An example of red light indicating the death of a character. The red light creeps across all the white bricks.

All 4 of these images are in the same scene with the camera still. The light changes from red backdrop, to a backlit window to foreground lit Tetsu who has just pulled off his black robe to reveal his fighting outfit.

It's really a joy to watch.


James Hansen said...

Fascinating images here for sure. I'll have to check this one out.

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi James, thanks for the comment.

I'd be curious to hear what you think if you see it.

Ben D'Alessio said...

They do not fall in love with a pair of sisters. One is the mother and the other is the daughter.

Bob Turnbull said...

Hey, where were you 3 years ago when I posted this Ben? B-)

Thanks for the comment and correction...I guess the story was a bit more complicated than I thought, eh? Strange though, because as soon as I read your comment I thought "Of course they are", so I was surprised to see my original review had them down as sisters. It's now been corrected.