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September 14, 2005

A Story of Sorrow and Sadness

Hishu Monogatari
Suzuki Seijun - 1977
Panorama Entertainment Region 0 DVD

That Suzuki Seijun is quite a joker. Based on the title alone, one would expect a different kind of film. With someone like Mizoguchi, a film called A Story of Sorrow and Sadness would be about an unhappy geisha, probably committing suicide by a body of water. Ozu would show Setsuko Hara and Chishu Ryu stoicly enduring the domestic tragedy of somebody moving out of the house. Only Suzuki would make a film titled A Story of Sorrow and Sadness about . . . golf!

More precisely the film is about a professional woman golfer who is also a swimsuit model and television personality. I think Suzuki was trying to say something about the fleeting and mercurial nature of celebrity. In any event, this film is significant as the return to theatrical film making for Suzuki after Branded to Kill got him fired for being "incomprehensible". The ten years between these two films made no difference. If anything, A Story of Sorrow and Sadness makes even less sense than Suzuki's nutty gangster films.

That this is not a yakuza film makes it an unlikely part of the Suzuki canon. This being Suzuki, A Story of Sorrow and Sadness hadly fits into that normally unwatchable genre of golf movies. Even a comedy like Happy Gilmore has more respect for the game. Instead, Suzuki goofs with the audience with scenes of gratuitous sex and nudity (not that there's anything wrong with that), and shots of the reflection of a neighbor that indicate she may be otherworldly. This strange neighbor ingratiates herself and eventually blackmails Reiko to glom onto Reiko's celebrity status. For Suzuki, being a celebrity is a worthless goal. Reiko signs up with a promoter who informs her that she will earn thirty million yen in exchange for losing her freedom. When trying to research this film, there were no Suzuki comments on this film, and no commentary by Suzuki scholars.

I may be misreading this film, but compared to his other works, there seems to be a sense of detachment in the making of A Story of Sorrow and Sadness. Lacking the cheerful anarchy of Tokyo Drifter or Branded to Kill, or the more serious Elegy to Violence, there is no consistent attitude holding the film together. Maybe it took Suzuki a while to get his groove back as he clearly did with Pistol Opera. Only the violent finish recalls classic Suzuki. There are some brief moments of inspiration, but clearly Suzuki is more comfortable with a nine mm than a nine-iron.

Posted by peter at September 14, 2005 04:46 PM