‘Tattooed Life' begins with a parasol wielding Yakuza assassin attacking a rickshaw. It almost looks like feudal Japan until somebody pulls a gun and we're reminded that it's the 20th century. Post-shooting, the assassin delivers his bounty to his brother (to pay for his art school education) before getting ambushed in one of the few rickshaw-jacking incidents in film history, and being rescued by his art-student brother.
In the aftermath, one brother is marked for death by the Yakuza, and the other brother won't go to art school with blood on his hands, so they decide the perfect way to deal with such hardships is to become fugitive construction workers in northern Japan . And why not?
Director Seijun Suzuki was known for his stylized Yakuza films, but this is not one of his better ones. The set up is awkward and wooden, and the Yakuza heavy simply looks ridiculous in what is essentially a Western, complete with a saloon and a few shootouts (sword-outs, if you want to be picky). There's also an overcooked attempt at social commentary involving a cranky labour union, a sinister red-shoed cop in a Mao jacket, and a college-graduate Yakuza flunky with a pocket full of pencils.
This disc is light on extras, containing only a filmography and some rather pretentious liner notes (the names Antonioni, Jarmusch, Tarantino and even Malick are evoked) by Ray Pride. It's not that Suzuki's work isn't worth praise, but even a pulp master must be expected to sometimes deliver, well, plain old pulp. Suzuki's grand point appears to be that the working man is good, and businessmen are often corrupt. Did we need it spelled out for us?
Even Suzuki's usual touches of poetry feel rather simplistic, boiling down to ‘Don't wear the red shoes of the law if you haven't earned them,' and ‘Oedipus, Shmoedipus, I want my mom.'
HVE's Seijun Suzuki collection includes 'Kanto Wanderer,' 'Tattooed Life,' and 'Underworld Beauty.'
© 2004 Michael John Derbecker