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Review: Sailor Suit and Machine Gun

Let’s get this out of the way: the premise of Sailor Suit and Machine Gun is patently absurd. No self-respecting yakuza family—no matter how meager its numbers or desperate its circumstances—would ever elect an orphaned schoolgirl as its chairman. The very idea is inherently ridiculous!

Which is, of course, the entire point. The film is a quintessential postmodern genre deconstruction, residing somewhere between “pastiche” and “parody.” The programmer at the Japan Society screening that I attended described it as “satire.” Indeed, that label has merit: the narrative explores how capitalism has tainted and corrupted every level of society; even criminal organizations are now (circa the 1980s, at east) operated like corporations. The gentlemen thieves of yore have become an endangered species; profit and revenue take priority over honor and chivalry. (Hideo Gosha and Kinji Fukasaku covered similar thematic ground in Violent Streets and Cops vs. Thugs, respectively.)

However you choose to classify it, Sailor Suit and Machine Gun is a stylistic triumph. Director Shinji Somai’s command of framing, blocking, and camera movement is sublime, pushing Kenji Mizoguchi’s “one scene, one shot” philosophy to its maximalist limits. One sequence, for example, begins with our heroine reclining in the lap of a colossal Buddha statue, proceeds to track her through several streets and alleyways, and concludes with her cruising down the highway astride a motorcycle—all in a single, seamless, unbroken take.

It’s unapologetically excessive, needlessly showy… and absolutely fucking awesome, producing a cinematic high that sets the viewer’s veins ablaze. What a mind-melting, skull-shattering experience!

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