[box cover]

Underworld Beauty

Seijun Suzuki was introduced to many cinephiles through the release of two Criterion Laserdiscs: Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter (which were subsequently released on DVD). They announced a wild, pop-art, American-influenced auteur to be examined and taken seriously. And with the recent release of Suzuki's Pistol Opera (2001), another wave of titles has made their way to DVD. Underworld Beauty(1958) finds Suzuki in strict potboiler mode, featuring less of the out-there (one wants to call it drug-induced) sensibilities of those Criterion titles, but it's a great deal of fun nonetheless. Michitaro Mizushima stars as Miyamoto, a criminal who was just released from jail and has returned to his hidden stash, which includes three impeccable diamonds and a gun. Wanting to make amends, he plans to sell the diamonds to help his old partner — who lost a leg in the process of getting them — so Miyamoto sets up a deal, which quickly turns south when other gangsters try and harp in on the deal by sending masked thieves to shoot up the place. To save the diamonds, his legless friend swallows them and jumps to his death. Miyamoto then plans to split his earnings with his comrade's sister Akika (Mari Shiraki), who's slimy boyfriend saves the diamonds by performing an unofficial autopsy. Akika and Miyamoto get the diamonds back, but the Oyane gang wants them too — and will stop at nothing to get them. Suzuki's deft hand for elaborate plotting is on display here, as the film wiles its way through this fascinating Japanese underground world. Though Mizushima character is in the classic "older gangster who wants to make right" mode (think Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra), Akika is a fascinating girl with no moral center who spends much of her time modeling nude for her amoral boyfriend. And though the film doesn't have the way out sensibilities of his later work, Suzuki is still a very playful director: The conclusion has Akika escaping through a coal room, emerging in the streets, very much like the diamond in the rough she is. Presented by American Cinematheque, and released by Home Vision Entertainment, Underworld Beauty is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and monaural DD 2.0 audio with optional English subtitles. The only extra is a Seijun Suzuki filmography Keep-case.

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