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Suzuki crams as much style as substance in this underrated yakuza drama.
The versatility and pathos Suzuki displays for what would otherwise be run of the mill yakuza flicks, never ceases to amaze me. Tattoed Life from 1965 is no exception to the rule of stylistically superior and emotionally powerful films he has under his belt.
The movie begins with the story of two brothers on the run after they murder a yakuza higher-up. One of them is the older, seasoned yakuza veteran. The other is the younger, sensitive artist. The older brother knows he's a no good criminal and thus wants to see his younger brother fulfill his dreams of becoming a sculptor. Trying to hide from the yakuzas that want their heads on a spike, first they get conned from a professional conman that promises transportation to China and then they join a construction crew that builds tunnels for another family. The story can be roughly divided into three acts. The escape from the yakuzas and their mishaps until they settle with the tunnel workers. The romance that develops between the brothers and the daughter and wife of their boss. And the final showdown.
The middle with its focus on romance and the dramatic relationship between the brothers may appear to drag a little, but it's every bit as important in establishing characters and setting up the final act. Suzuki elaborately constructs his characters, piece by piece, every scene adding to their personality and motives so when they final climax arrives, it's as powerful as it can possibly be.
Speaking of the final climax, it's easily the best part of the movie and a stylistic achievement in and off itself. Suzuki concocts an action opera full of psychedelic images, colourful lighting, deep shadows and peculiar camera angles to bring the story to a conclusion. Transformed in a Japanese Achilles, the older brother storms the enemy clan stamping grounds and aided with Suzuki's imaginative direction, skilled composition and set design, transforms a long combo of swordfight and gunfight action into a maelstrom of psychedelic images. It seems as if he was trying hard to restrain himself during the entire movie, so he could go out with all guns blazing for the finale. Fabulous.
A sprawling combination of drama and yakuza action with a dash of romance, Tattoed Life is the whole package. This is substance AND style at its best.
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