Cult Japanese film director Seijun Suzuki dead at 93

[TOKYO] Japanese B-movie director, Seijun Suzuki, whose prolific output from gangster films to fantasies influenced international filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino, has died, his former studio announced on Wednesday. He was 93.

Suzuki died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on February 13, the Nikkatsu studio said in a statement expressing "deep gratitude and respect to his great achievements".

In a career spanning five decades, Mr Suzuki's works "had a great influence on movie fans and film makers around the world," the company said.

Though Mr Suzuki was not widely known among audiences outside Japan, he had an impact on other directors.

The Hollywood Reporter said he inspired filmmakers including Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Wong Kar Wai and fellow countryman Takeshi Kitano.

Suzuki's cinematic style was recently described by La La Land director Damien Chazelle as "like musicals... but with guns".

Debuting in 1956, Suzuki directed B-movies at Nikkatsu for 12 years, with his films drawing attention for a unique and vivid sense of colour that his fans came to call "Seijun bigaku (Seijun aesthetic)". But his work, sometimes derided as strange and hard to understand, wasn't for everyone.

Kinema-Junposha, which publishes movie-related magazines and books, said Suzuki was fired in 1968 after releasing his gangster opus Branded to Kill.

Nikkatsu's president deemed his films to be "incomprehensible".

Suzuki did not return to filmmaking for a decade, despite an outcry from his colleagues and fans as well as court proceedings.

But he roared back in the early 1980s with the surreal mystery Zigeunerweisen, which won the Honourable Mention at the 31st Berlin International Film Festival.

His last film was Operetta Tanukigoten (Princess Raccoon) in 2005, a fantasy in which a prince falls in love with a racoon princess, starring Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi.

Suzuki, known for his long white hair, white beard and sheepish demeanour, also appeared in movies and TV dramas as an actor, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Mr Chazelle name-checked Suzuki during a visit to Japan last month when asked if he had included any references to other films in the movie.

"I feel like I took a little" from Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter as well as "his whole kind of oeuvre of movies," Mr Chazelle said.

"His super wide frames and very pop-art colours - they feel like musicals to me, but with guns," Mr Chazelle said.


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