The Mubi Cinematheque: Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! (1963)
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It seems like Mubi alternates between pulpy oddities and lesser-known work of fairly well known directors. Many of the former have missed the mark by a fair margin.
Seijun Suzuki’s (Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter) Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! is a bit of a combination. And while it’s very rough around the edges, its grit and chaos only adds to its allure.
The set up is familiar enough. A detective infiltrates a gang when he protects a member from rival criminals as he’s released from prison. Problem is, while Detective Tajima gets Manabe’s reluctant trust, his bosses are harder to sway. They make him jump through hoops to prove he’s not a spy, which he is, and they never really trust him anyway, which he knows.
It’s part cat-and-mouse story and part exploitation film. It’s got a soundtrack with a surf-jazz sound that helps immersion into the seediness of the whole bloody affair. The sound, along with the frenetic bursts of violence in the early going (and periodically throughout), sets an off-kilter tone. The movie is off-balance, and instead of hedging Suzuki and company go headlong into its craziness.
It’s most apparent as Tajima hits his first quiver in his confidence. Most of the time, his swagger and cocksure nature keeps him afloat as the gang tries to poke holes in his story. At a club, the performer is a woman he’s had relations with — and borrowed money from — and she has no idea he’s working under an assumed name. His answer is to join her in the performance, singing and dancing like he’s been practicing for months. As a whole, his overconfident masculinity is nothing new but actor Jo Shishido is a unique presence. He is not prototypically handsome nor is he traditionally manly in his stature. But wow, does he ever ooze bravado. He thinks he’s the smartest man in the room at all times, which helps and hurts in almost equal measure.
The story piles development after development on top of one another, bringing new characters into the fold at every turn. None of the side threads really hold up under too much scrutiny, and the burning basement climax is a bit of a let down, but the journey is an energetic blast. Decades before Tarantino, Suzuki peddled the cool.
It’s also goofy. The comedy is well used to show that it’s not all dour and bleak. Tajima’s employees have a fun back and forth rapport built from the beginning. A moment that may come across as relatively polarizing occurs when the mob boss’ girl slaps Tajima and he gives her one right back before calmly saying, “I didn’t deserve that, so I gave it back.” It could be done as a bit of symmetry with his charge, the criminal Manabe who ruthlessly slaps his girlfriend around. The severity is different, but the line between who these people are is very thin.
But this is no message movie. It’s a weird, wild, and mostly fun action movie that just barely holds its various storylines together. Where it differs from a lot of the sleazy cheese movies that revel in how bad they are is that it’s well made and features a mostly coherent, and complete story. Detective Bureau 2-3 would work well as an extended pilot today, too, because there’s a lot of room for growth.
For those who haven’t had the opportunity to see a Suzuki film (shamefully, it’s my first), this will serve as an interesting introduction. But with a title as unwieldy as this, it’s clearly not meant to be taken all that seriously. Just a whole lot of fun.