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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Tattooed Life (Irezumi ichidai) (1965)

Midori: You do like me, don't you? Or do you dislike me?
Tetsu: Like or dislike, it doesn't matter. I'm not good enought for you.

- Unknown, Akira Yamauchi

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: October 07, 2004

Stars: Hideki Takahashi, Masako Izumi, Yuji Odaka, Hiroko Ito
Director: Seijun Suzuki

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:26m:27s
Release Date: January 20, 2004
UPC: 037429186428
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- C+B+B- D

DVD Review

Maverick Japanese director Seijun Suzuki is best known in the West for his absurdist 1966 western Tokyo Drifter and the bizarre yakuza thriller Branded to Kill, released the following year, but these films are only the tip of the Suzuki iceberg. By their release, he had been cranking out low-budget B movies for the Nikkatsu studio at an astonishing rate for over a decade, increasingly experimenting with narrative discontinuity and theatrical artifice, until Nikkatsu fired him shortly after Branded to Kill for making "incomprehensible movies." While that film may be the ne plus ultra of Suzuki's audacious style, he had begun his descent into movie madness a few years earlier, and 1965's Tattooed Life is a welcome addition to the Suzuki DVD cannon.

Suzuki's reputation for ignoring the niceties of story construction is certainly justified, and indeed, a second viewing of some of his films in needed not only to understand certain plot elements, but sometimes just to figure out what's going on. Tatooed Life isn't too bad in that respect. It's the story of Tetsu (Hideki Takahashi), a yakuza who's just been betrayed a mob associate, and his brother Kenji (Akira Yamauchi), who comes to Tetsu's rescue by killing his would-be assassin. The two try to escape to Manchuria, but their money is swindled away, and they end up working for the Yamashita family, whose construction crew is blasting a tunnel through the mountains. Kenji is instantly smitten with the beautiful Mrs. Yamashita (Masako Izumi), while Tetsu is doggedly pursued by her younger sister Midori. There's more potential trouble: the rival Kanbe family, who are none too happy about the Yamashita family's success in the construction business, is willing to do what's necessary to stop it. Relations between the two families go from bad to worse, with Tetsu and Kenji stuck in the middle.

In a film that's filled with a standard-issue macho yakuza and other stock figures, the character of Kenji certainly stands out. He's an innocent, forced to abandon his plans to attend art school after he murders to save his brother, and desperately in love with Mrs. Yamashita despite the impossibility of a happy resolution to his desire. Caught between warring factions through no fault of his own, he pays the ultimate price and becomes a martyr to his brother.

Compared with the delirious visual excess of Suzuki's best works, Tattooed Life is rather more conventional. The opening of the film, with Tetsu hiding behind an umbrella in order to carry out a mob killing, is certainly striking, but after the first few minutes the framing and editing become less flashy. This is not to say that Suzuki's compositions and camera placement are uninteresting, and indeed there are some fairly bizarre shotsóone of the construction gang framed by railroad tracks and the underside of a train comes to mindóbut it's only in the last 20 minutes or so that things get completely wacko. After Kenji insults both Mr. Yamashita and the head of the rival Kanbe family, there's a bright red flash of lightning, and that color begins to saturate parts of the image. Once Tetsu has to take revenge, the film's composition and lighting become extremely theatrical and completely non-realistic, as the lights go down and Tetsu is illuminated by a spotlight. As he continues his rampage, there's a succession of striking scenes: Tetsu opening pair after pair of brightly-colored sliding doors, gunshots punctuating the darkness, and in the most audacious shot of the entire film, Tetsu and his opponent shot from below through a glass floor.

While it never reaches the insanity of Suzuki's best works, Tattooed Life is great fun to watch, and important in understanding Suzuki's development as a filmmaker. Home Vision has released three of his late 1950s/early 60s films on DVD, and a further four on VHS. Let's hope they'll continue to serve Suzuki fans well, and that we won't have to wait too long for more discs of this unique filmmaker

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic image looks quite good, although skin tones tend to be bit too orange, and the color in some scenes seems a bit under-saturated. There's some grain, but it never becomes distracting, and there are no compression artifacts or annoying edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Japaneseno

Audio Transfer Review: The mono sound is okay, but at times a bit harsh, which is probably a limitation of the source materials rather than a fault in the transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Four-page printed insert with chapter listing and notes
Extras Review: The printed insert contains a chapter listing and two pages of notes by Ray Pride, in which he situates Tattooed Life in the context of Suzuki's career and analyses the film's visual style.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Japanese filmmaker Seizun Suzuki concocted some of the most outlandish and wildly inventive films ever. While Tattooed Life isn't the best of his films, it does contains several outstanding sequences and is thoroughly enjoyable.


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