Seijun Suzuki knew how to work fast and cheap. As a contract director for Japan’s Nikkatsu studio in the 1950s and ’60s, Suzuki cranked out yakuza thrillers, juvenile-delinquent melodramas, pop musicals, and other lowbrow entertainments at the rate of four, five, even six movies a year. Like fellow low-budget auteurs Mario Bava and Edgar G. Ulmer, he fought an endless creative battle against the formulaic scripts he was handed, and over the years a growing surrealistic bent began to alienate him from his bosses at Nikkatsu. All this month Gene Siskel Film Center has been revisiting Suzuki’s rocky last years at the studio, from Smashing the O-Line (1961) to Branded to Kill (1967), which would be recognized as a masterpiece but also cost him his job. Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Fighting Elegy (1966), showing this week, were both made when Nikkatsu, hoping to rein in Suzuki’s extravagant visuals, cut his production budgets. But as with Bava and Ulmer, financial constraints only pushed Suzuki to more ingenious, imaginative, and expressive extremes. Continue reading >>