Seijun Suzuki: B-moive before blockbusters Copyright 1991 Times Newspapers Limited
                                                                The Times

                                                          February 11, 1991, Monday

SECTION: Features

LENGTH: 662 words

BYLINE: Geoff Brown

B-movies before blickbusters

   Nine am. Rotterdam is cold and grey. At the Lumiere cinema, a nubile young Japanese
lady golfer swipes her ball and faints in the glory of CinemaScope and colour. Seijun
Suzuki's sublimely foolish Tale of Sorrow and Sadness has got underway. The golfing
sprite becomes a media star, succumbs to blackmail from an outraged fan, and dies, along
with most other characters, at the hands of her kid brother. Slack-jawed with awe, I
remain in my seat, calculating that if Suzuki is perverse enough to make such a film, then
I am perverse enough to watch it.

7.30pm. Rotterdam is cold and dark. At the Luxor cinema, the pinched face of a
bewildered Russian fills the screen for what seems an age. He is visiting Siberia to bury
his father. Slowly the camera probes the flat's dingy rooms: bare boards and dejected
furniture, the debris of a miserable life. In a mesmerising scene, the lady undertaker spells
out the hard economic facts about getting a body buried; the poor boy sees his small stock
of kopecks whittled away to nothing. After scene upon scene of shadow and gloom,
colour finally enters with a brick-red coffin.

The audience is watching the Western premiere of The Second Circle, latest feature by
the prolific and wayward Aleksandr Sokoevrov, one of the Soviet art cinema's rising
stars. It would never pull a full house at the Odeon in Omsk, but I remain in my seat:
uneven and downbeat, the film still casts an extraordinary spell.

This is a festival for those in love with cinema's outer limits: the safe parade of familiar
directors and Hollywood big-guns is not Rotterdam's way. The impassioned simplicity of
Sokoevrov's filmin stark contrast to earlier features such as Heartbreak Houseduly
received its reward: the Fipresci jury of international critics voted The Second Circle the
festival's best film.

The Cinema of the Ridiculous kept its end up through sheer numbers: 20 other Suzukis
were on show, in a retrospective salute to ''Japanese Kings of the Bs''. Suzuki, born in
1923, forged his unusual career by thumbing his nose at all the rules. Sets are heavily
stylised, lit with primary colours that suddenly change; if a plotline lingers over a year,
the seasons unfold out of order. In Story of a Prostitute and Tokyo Drifter, the violence is
swift, brutal, cartoon-sharp, while the narrative habits of Japanese gangster movies are
pilloried with glee, though not much wit.

Suzuki provided a happy feast for lovers of the outre, though for cinematic skill he
shrivelled alongside Yuzo Kawashima

another so-called ''King of the Bs''. For Kawashima, however, the label hardly fits: how
could A Geisha's Diary, a subtle account of a geisha girl struggling towards
independence, resplendently acted and shot, or the bustling, neo-realist Red Light
District, ever be lumped with potboilers?

Kawashima, who died aged 45 in 1963, was blessed with a marvellous eye for
composition. His CinemaScope frames dance with life and elegant design. Suzuki, for all
his charms, simply chucks actors and props onto the screen and hopes for the best.

Elsewhere in the festival, Nicholas Ray, maverick director of Rebel Without a Cause, was
saluted alongside other Hollywood renegades. A new print of Paramount's 1927 Changan
astonishing jungle drama shot in Thailand by the King Kong team of Ernest Schoedsack
and Merian Cooper, was a valuable revival, revealing anew some of cinema's most
audacious wildlife photography.

The chief business of film festivals, though, is looking to the future: uncovering new
talent, showcasing films that travel on to other festivals and public screenings. Maybe
Kracht will make some headway: this striking directorial debut by the Dutch playwright
Frouke Fokkema delighted with its wry, comic tale of a widowed farmer's fateful affair
with a woman painter from the big city. The title translates as Strength; Fokkema shows a
muscular gift for encapsulating the ingrown rural scene in laconic images and words.