Kamatari FujiwaraAkira EmotoYuki KazamatsuriTsunehiko Watase
Sailor Suit and Machine Gun
Also known as: Sailor Fuku to Kikanjuu
Medium: film
Year: 1981
Director: Shinji Somai
Writer: Jiro Akagawa, Yozo Tanaka
Keywords: yakuza
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Hiroko Yakushimaru, Tsunehiko Watase, Rentaro Mikuni, Yuki Kazamatsuri, Kazuo Kitamura, Akira Emoto, Masaaki Daimon, Makoto Sato, Minori Terada, Kamatari Fujiwara, Shinpei Hayashiya, Ken Mitsuishi, Tatsuya Oka, Yosuke Saito, Toshiya Sakai, Shingo Yanagisawa
Format: 111 minutes
Url: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083021/
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 27 March 2019
It's a cult film, pretty famous in Japan although less so internationally. It's based on a novel that's since been adapted into two TV series (1982 and 2006) and got a sort-of-sequel film in 2016. (That novelist, Jirou Akagawa, is ridiculously prolific, incidentally. Last I heard, he'd been averaging 18 or 19 novels a year for a career that started in 1976 and is still going.)
Anyway, "sailor suit" is the standard schoolgirl uniform in Japan. (The film's heroine, played by Hiroko Yakushimaru, is indeed a fairly normal schoolgirl. Well, maybe tougher than most.) As the film opens, two relatives of hers are either dead or close to death. Shortly after both men pass on, Yakushimaru finds herself inheriting a yakuza gang. At first she's not interested, but then the gang decide that having no leader, their duty is to go out in a blaze of glory by declaring war on a gang ten times bigger than they are.
Reluctantly, Yakishimaru agrees to become a gang boss. It then turns out that they might be heading for that gang war anyway, thanks to some inconveniently missing heroin. Yakishimaru's opposite numbers aren't the kind of people to overlook something like that.
The tone's interesting. It's a serious yakuza flick. You'd be scared if these people walked in the room, someone gets tortured and killed (albeit offscreen) and there won't be many survivors at the end of the film. Despite this, though, the film has a slightly parodic sense of humour. They're not guaranteed to kidnap the right man, for instance. At the start of the film, they've abducted a doctor to examine their sick boss. Unfortunately there's nothing that can be done, says their victim. "I'll give him an injection." Everyone's then amazed by the chap's syringe.
"I don't have a needle for humans. I'm a vet."
Yakuza #1 hits Yakuza #2.
"The sign said hospital!"
"Pet hospital."
Our anti-heroes' car is amusingly rubbish too. You could read this either as commentary on unintelligent yakuza in general, or as characterisation of this particular gang. They're dangerous and you wouldn't want to go near them, but they're not going to be conquering the world. Serious criminal organisations don't usually recruit their leaders from schools. Even their rivals start laughing when they meet Yakushimaru.
"Yakuza all have a front these days. The boss is always chairman of a company." Yes, Sakuma, that's correct... EXCEPT WITH YOU.
It's a strong film. It's about men who'll shoot you dead in your hallway before you've even said "hello", but it's also about women who are the most important people in the cast. It's got complicated characterisation and some startling scenes for Yakishimaru, who became an icon with this movie and she's still remembered by an entire generation of Japanese women. It's about fluidity of roles, both gender and otherwise, in a criminal world where someone not being what they appear is probably a sign that someone's going to die. There are knives, pistols, landmines and, yes, machine guns. There's a final confrontation that's doing a bit of trippy 1960s optical illusion set design and may or may not be a hint that we've left objective reality. It's almost dreamlike. (This sequence also has someone shutting a door on a bunch of gunmen, then leaning against that door for several seconds. Is he crazy? However it's possible that he'd answer "yes" to the answer to the question "do you want to get killed?")
It's a cool, menacing and funny gangster film, all at once, while also giving a kicking to their movie image. It's lots of fun.
"Why did you become a gangster?"