Arrow Video: Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! (1963) - Reviewed

Years before Nikkatsu’s contract player Seijun Suzuki and frequent leading man Joe Shishido got the filmmaker blacklisted for his still bizarre and anarchic surrealist jaunt Branded to Kill, the maverick, anarchic auteur first joined forces with the rough and tough Nikkatsu Diamond Guy for his 1958 mystery thriller Voice Without a Shadow before taking on a leading role in the director’s whimsical, jazzy and increasingly goofy police procedural about detective Tajima (Joe Shishido) who on assignment to locate stolen firearms happens upon long standing grudges and scores being settled out, all the while trying to remain one step ahead of the curve before fellow yakuza grow increasingly suspicious of Tajima’s comings and goings as his bubbly ex-girlfriend stage performer threatens to blow his cover at every opportunity.

Partially an old-fashioned yakuza action flick and something of an early warning sign to Nikkatsu suits that hired hand Seijun Suzuki was beginning to stir the pot and turn the tables on expectations of the genre picture, Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! from the get go announces itself as a hyperkinetic screwball musical comedy of sorts that doesn’t begin to remotely take itself seriously.  Playing off of the plasticine cool of Joe Shishido’s cheekbones that could kill and his suave, debonair leading man personality, the second collaborative effort by Suzuki and his chief actor exists during a transitional period in the director’s career where the by-the-numbers drudgery began to take its toll on the filmmaker who gradually began populating his films with increasingly wacky plot as well as audiovisual elements. 

A playful yakuza/police romp with a sharp sense of humor featuring throughout the occasionally violent proceedings between warring yakuza factions and silly banter between Tajima and his partners, this more or less is the Japanese yakuza pictorial equivalent of François Truffaut’s equally playful thriller Shoot the Piano Player.  Not purely due to the director’s snarky, often fourth-wall breaking comic asides but for how it doesn’t let anyone off of the hook despite having its tongue firmly planted in cheek.  In a rare feat, Suzuki’s yakuza detective story achieves a keen balance between being a solid gangster picture and a witty send up of the genre conventions and clichés undertaken in the plotline.

Kaleidoscopic, wild and often unhinged, Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! is arguably the first true Suzuki picture that somehow managed to find room amid the proceedings for some truly irreverent and increasingly bizarre asides.  While ostensibly a straightforward genre picture, in the time honored tradition of it’s madcap surrealist provocateur one goes into a Suzuki film expecting a straightforward procedural only to find the rug pulled out from under you time and time again in ways that aren’t always easy to keep up with.  

Seen in light of the towering artistic achievements the director would deploy with his still revered Taisho Trilogy, Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! is from Nikkatsu’s perspective at the time a fairly harmless and vibrant romp.  Seen now however, one is inclined to point to this as among the earliest chapters in the director’s career where he stopped simply laying down for the drudgery and began inserting subversive, surreal and at times anachronistic comedy into his films to challenge the system while setting himself apart from the pack. 

- Andrew Kotwicki