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Review: Zigeunerweisen

Just got back in from my final Japan Cuts screening. This one wasn’t a recent production, but it was making its North American debut in its gorgeous digitally-restored state: Zigeunerweisen, one of the late Seijun Suzuki’s most successful films in his native country.

I won’t attempt to summarize the “plot,“ which would be a lot like describing a fever dream immediately after waking up. Rather than presenting a conventional narrative, Suzuki assaults the viewer with a kaleidoscope of recurring themes and ideas: doppelgängers, disembodied voices, malevolent spirits, infidelity, hedonism, hallucinations, nightmares, and the inherent conflict between tradition and progress all intermingle and interweave, adding up to… frankly, I don’t know what.

The Nikkatsu Corporation famously fired Suzuki for making “incomprehensible” movies. That isn’t an entirely inaccurate accusation… but it’s also exactly why I adore the director’s work: his cinematic style is unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered. His nonlinear approach to editing (refined to near perfection in Zigeunerweisen) is particularly fascinating: he cuts not to tell a coherent story, but to evoke a certain mood, continuity be damned. The result is disorienting in the very best way—hypnotic and intoxicating. It’s a shame we lost him earlier this year (at the ripe old age of ninety-three!); his voice truly was one of a kind.

[Originally written July 23, 2017.]

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