To those of you unfamiliar with the catalog of Japanese director Seijun Suzuki, please be assured that I did not vomit up that title in a fit of text-based Tourette's Syndrome. Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! is an example of Suzuki's work at the peak of the Nikkatsu Action boom, before he got bored with the cookie-cutter scripts he was being handed and created those surreal provocations -- Branded To Kill, Tokyo Drifter -- that would not only insure he'd forever have the term "maverick" affixed to his name, but also get his ass fired by his masters at Nikkatsu. The film amply demonstrates those strengths that made Suzuki an asset to the studio's stable of directors in the first place -- namely his ability to turn out a tightly constructed and expertly paced genre picture with a not inconsiderable amount of style. In other words, exactly the type of film that Nikkatsu, at that point in its history, had staked its reputation upon. At the same time, Detective Bureau also evidences the mordant humor and flamboyant use of color that would come to be considered trademarks of his more challenging and legend-building works.
Suzuki's leading man of choice, Nikkatsu tough guy Jo Shishido, stars here as a wily private detective who convinces the police to let him take part in an undercover operation in order to get the goods on a mysterious gang. The gang has been making its fortune by robbing other, more established criminal outfits of their ill-gotten loot -- most recently a large cache of stolen military weapons -- with the result that Tokyo's underworld has been turned upside down and is now boiling on the brink of full-blown war. Shishido gains entrance into the gang when he steps in to stop one of its captured members from being the victim of a jailhouse lynching at the hands of a Yakuza mob. From this point the film takes us through all of the close scrapes and tense masquerades that are familiar from other "deep cover" type cops and robbers tales, though frequently these episodes play out in a fashion that is more humorous than suspenseful. The rakish detective's former conquests keep turning up at inconvenient moments, for instance, and the efforts of his two oddball assistants often threaten to be more hurtful to his cause than helpful.
Detective Bureau could definitely be described as a comic action film. But its comedy, I'm happy to report, derives more from the absurd twists of its plot and the quirkiness of its characters than from, as is all too often the case, any unnecessary funny business being inserted into it. As such, that humor lends a breezy, irreverent tone to the proceedings that makes the story seem to careen along that much faster -- and which adds an extra bit of "pop" to the film's already bristling sense of pop art style. This more whimsical approach to the genre should not, however, lead you to expect any skimping on the violent action that was Nikkatsu's -- and Suzuki's -- stock in trade, as the film's raucous final act conclusively demonstrates.
I loved Detective Bureau 2-3. It's not Suzuki's best, but it's resoundingly successful at what it sets out to be. It's an example of how, when handled with this level of assurance, simple genre cinema can evoke in the viewer the pure, giddy delight that comes from knowing you're in the hands of a master. It's a point at which you know you can just sit back and enjoy the ride for all its colorful, stylish and attitude-dripping turns, secure in the knowledge that you're not going to be let down. Highly recommended.
Past Misdeeds: Night of Horror (1978) - *Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious **Exploder Button** and the ensuing server changes, some of my old column...
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