Nippon Nights: BORN UNDER CROSSED STARS
March 27 only
Nippon Nights presents in March, the first month of Spring and the time of renewal, a look at a true caterpillar rising from the chrysalis into a butterfly story with BORN UNDER CROSSED STARS, which was considered at the time routine genre picture by an obscure B-movie director that would in fact produce stylistic wonders and thrills that would later turn it’s little-known filmmaker, Seijun Suzuki, into a world renowned cultural icon and favorite of cineastes for years to come!
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Japan’s Nikkatsu studios rose to prominence with a series of genre pictures, mainly yakuza or rebel youth films, mostly promoting handsome and charismatic male leads like Akira Kobayashi and Jo Shishido. The studio gave many industry professionals stuck in dead end jobs at other studios a chance at quick promotions. One of these down on his luck filmmakers was Suzuki, who quickly rose to the status of director by turning routine scripts into interesting movies quickly (average entire production time for a Nikkatsu movie at the time was just over one month!). In 1963, Suzuki’s fifth year as a director, he made THE INCORRIGIBLE, a movie about an idealistic rebellious youth fighting against the hypocrisy and corruption of a small town whose ecosystem is governed by a totalitarian military school, a theme resonating with many Japanese young people at the time who grew up in the aftermath of WWII. Suzuki cites this movie as the first in which his directorial style would start to fully emerge. After taking critics by storm as his style more fully emerged with the subsequent GATE OF FLESH and STORY OF A PROSTITUTE, Suzuki returned to the youth vs. small town military school story with BORN UNDER CROSSED STARS, in which basically the same story in THE INCORRIGIBLE becomes something entirely different and wonderfully bizarre, as the tale of one character’s struggles turn into a wild exploration of an entire community using film techniques that could be seen as prime examples of what the great Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein would call “overtonal” or “intellectual” montage, in which discreet cinematic elements within and between shots are combined to produce an emotional and intellectual total experience greater than the sum of it’s parts.
From a fight scene in a fencing gymnasium intercut with a wildly shot cockfighting sequence that brings Stan Brakhage’s groundbreaking experimental films to mind to a seduction sequence using a fountain and a bathhouse to produce both erotic and comic effects to a “Lover’s Lane” sequence using a moving camera and bizarre soundtrack editing with hilarious results, CROSSED stars continually surprises, challenges and delights in a way many people expecting a routine B-movie experience probably were not prepared for. Indeed, Suzuki would be fired from Nikkatsu two years later for making BRANDED TO KILL, deemed by the studio boss to be “incomprehensible” but would later be regarded as a baroque masterpiece and would turn Suzuki into an international icon revered and imitated decades later by filmmakers Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, Wong Kar-Wai, Takeshi Kitano, and many others.
A recent retrospective at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles put on by American Cinematheque of Suzuki’s films actually paired BRANDED TO KILL and BORN UNDER CROSSED STARS as a double feature, citing in it’s program description Doc Film’s appraisal of BORN as “hilarious” and one of “Suzuki’s most underrated” movies. We hope you will join us for this rare Spring treat by one of the cinemas greatest talents and will be as surprised and thrilled as unsuspecting 1965 B-movie audiences were or even as thrilled as this slightly jaded programmer was when I watched it just last week!
Directed by Seijun Suzuki. With Michi Azuma, Yôko Benisaw & Hiroshi Chô. 1965. B&W. HD Digital. 98 mins.
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