(Seijun Suzuki, 2001, Japan, 112 minutes)

It is hard to write about a film like this without falling back on words that describe the purely visual. But although "Pistol Opera" is a visually arresting film, its cinematography does not function as an end in itself. Much like in Terrence Malick's films, style is used in an almost expressionistic fashion to suggest a more concrete idea. But Malick uses his cinematic meditations to explicate his characters; here, Suzuki puts even his characters in service of an abstract idea, which is in this case the notion of looking. This creates a triple abstraction, in which the camera presents abstract images, which are abstractions of an already abstract idea. In short, the film is complex.

The plot of "Pistol Opera" is that there is a guild of assassins, who operate much like a ladder tournament with rankings. Stray Cat, the lead character, is Number 3 but wants to take over the position of Number 1. Killing ensues.

It is important to note that "Pistol Opera" is a follow-up of sorts to Suzuki's 1967 film "Branded to Kill," which takes place in the same filmic universe. The main character of "Branded to Kill," originally played by Jo Shishido, appears in "Pistol Opera" played by Mikijiro Hira. This earlier iteration cost Suzuki his job at the famed Nikkatsu studio (where he had directed films at the rate of almost four per year) because it was, according to Nikkatsu president Kyusaku Hori, "incomprensible." Suzuki's career barely recovered from this dismissal.

Those who enjoy surreal artwork will certainly find plenty of interest in this film. In my opinion it is an almost perfectly realized example of surrealism; Suzuki maintains complete control over the mise en scène, sometimes shooting in a style that is overtly theatrical. I feel that this is an excellent example of modern cinema from a director who, at age 80, has mastered the art.

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