"It was 1968, and rebellion was the order of the day. Moviemakers and their fans had launched a protest against Nikkatsu, Japan's oldest full-fledged movie studio and the leading force in its program pictures. There was even a meeting held to denounce the company for the crime of unfairly firing one of its directors.
The director in question was Seijun Suzuki. He had been filming action movies at Nikkatsu for more than a decade when he was accused by the company's president for making "incomprehensible rubbish." The firing came shortly thereafter, and it coincided with a retrospective of his work at a theater specializing in retrospective screenings. At about the same time in Paris, Henri Langlois, the director of Cinematheque Francaise, was also being fired by Andre Malraux, the Minister of Culture, provoking an outcry in French cinematic circles. The "Seijun Problem" became Japan's version of the Langlois Affair.
Within the Nikkatsu system, it was Suzuki's job to make the B movies that are part and parcel of the business. He was not allowed to use famous stars, and his scripts and titles were selected for him. His job was to bring them in on low budgets and tight schedules. Suzuki himself, however, leaned strongly towards defamiliarization in his presentations. He was obsessed with non-realism giving his films an aspect of "auteur cinema" not found in the usual mass-produced action flick. In short, Suzuki was Japan's first cult movie director.
His fans were unsuccessful at returning Suzuki to his old job. He spent a dozen or more years in exile from the studios of the declining Japanese movie industry. Then, in 1980, he made his sudden come-back with Zigeunerweisen, a fantasy film that was the year's runaway best picture
Zigeunerweisen is completely different from the B action films that Suzuki had made in the sixties. The characters in the story are able to go back and forth between this world and the world beyond. The differences between ghosts and living people are erased. It is a film that must be compared to a vision glimpsed briefly under a high fever, a film filled with nostalgia for the modernism of 1920s Tokyo."
YOMOTO INUHIKO April 2000
"When director Seijun Suzuki's long association with Nikkatsu Studio and its commercial restraints were at last behind him, Suzuki went all out for art for art's sake with the utterly amazing, highly challenging and thoroughly dazzling 1980 "Zigeunerweisen,"
Taking its title from a piece of Gypsy violin music, named after the 1904 composition by Spanish composer Pablo de Sarasate. Zigeunerweisen is set in a beautiful rural region of Japan in the '20s and is a fable verging on the supernatural that deals with the shifting interplay between two men and three women. The men are friends, one a handsome wanderer, Nakasago (Yoshio Harada), the other, Aochi (Toshiya Fujita), a brooding professor of German literature.
Nakasago marries an uninhibited flapper (Naoko Otani), complete with a Louise Brooks/Colleen Moore Dutch bob, while Aochi takes a traditional-seeming wife (Kisako Mikashi). The third woman is an ex-geisha who figures in the story's beginning and ending.
Role-play and role-exchange - a consideration of the relationship between death and desire, the blurring of the line between life and death. The impact of the West upon Japanese culture.
Most remarkably, this beautiful, eerie and erotic tale evokes, way beyond sexual desire, the ceaseless tug within us between the need to preserve our sense of self and our longing to bond with another to break through that pervasive sense of isolation that seems such an inescapable aspect of being alive. No doubt about it, "Zigeunerweisen" is a major work.
KEVIN THOMAS 1997