Pistol Opera (Japan 2001)

Rating: **
Review Date: 9/1/03
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Cast: Makiko Esumi

In this remake of Suzuki's own "Branded To Kill" (1967), Stray Cat (stellar Makiko Esumi) is a professional killer who's ranked number three in the assassin's guild. An internal struggle within the organization has the assassins killing each other off, giving Stray Cat a shot at becoming the number one killer - that is, if she can take out the current champ, Hundred Eyes. What follows is a dreamy and surreal journey through the Tokyo underground as Stray Cat hones her skills and tracks the elusive Hundred Eyes. She also picks up an utterly adorable young girl named Sayoko who wants to follow in her footsteps, but like everyone else in the film, can she be trusted?

Reminiscent of Go Nagai's work, this drug induced film is beyond bizarre and totally defies explanation. Having never experienced Seijun Suzuki's controversial and unconventional filmmaking before, I was in for quite a shock. You're immediately bombarded with his incredible eye for cinematography and color, which wavers somewhere between brilliance and madness. While his visual flair is astounding, the eccentric characters, quirky dialog, and bizarre editing give the film an uncomfortable and dream-like atmosphere that keeps the viewer constantly guessing at what's going on. It has a serious art film vibe which forces you to view everything metaphorically rather than objectively, which just makes the experience even that much stranger. The gun-penis metaphor is explored quite thorougly, as Cat's pistol represents lust and a means of sexual satisfaction. There's a strong sexual current running throughout the film, with lesbian undertones, oral fixations, and the thirst for blood. The symbolism surrounding the other characters was completely lost on me, which made much of the movie difficult to watch and comprehend. Definitely a bizarre journey that requires a very patient and open mind to watch (or at least a better understanding of Japanese art and culture than I have).