Film Review: ‘Sailor Suit and Machine Gun’ captures the evanescent state of a demure teenage orphan inheriting her father’s yakuza clan and forced into the trials of adulthood.
A ‘dramedy’ in the truest sense, the movie is one part light humor, two parts somber melancholy distilled into a sailor fuku.
No visual film aesthetic stronger than the traditional sailor uniformed Izumi Hoshi armed with a machine gun ready to ’cause a bit of trouble’.
This ‘Sailor Suit and Machine Gun’ movie review contains spoilers. It’s based on the 1981 theatrical cut. The 1982 complete version will screen in Japan Society NYC tonight (April 29) at 7:00 pm and the theatrical cut will screen on May 5 at 6:00 pm.
Sailor Suit and Machine Gun has an abundance of memorable moments and we’ve selected a few highlights without giving away too much of the film.
While everyone else at Izumi Hoshi’s school yard backs away from the gang of men donned in black suits, Hoshi can’t help but approach them. In turn, she’s walked without choice into their vehicle and presumed to be kidnapped. Yet, she’s not under duress in the least. Instead she’s given an offer: to lead her recently deceased father’s yakuza clan… Or what’s left of it, just four members, into resurrection.
At first, Hoshi refuses, citing her lack of inexperience and the fact that she’s just an ordinary teenage girl. The clan decides to disband after one last hurrah, walking straight into enemy lines to certain doom.
Hoshi immediatley has a change of heart, and agrees to be their boss. All in a spontaneous, subtle rescue attempt of their lives. Saving them from themselves.
One of the movie’s strongest visual scenes is when one of Hoshi’s men procures a motorcycle for her to ‘feel the wind’ and clear her head. The cinematography is picturesque, youthfully rebellious yet calming. Even though it’s a shot of the headlights, it’s subdued. Not blaring light like in much of these kind of shots in modern cinema.
The Death of Naive Innocence
The same man is found dead the next morning with Hoshi’s place ransacked. Meanwhile, Hoshi is abandoned by her abrupt adoptive mother ‘Mayumi Sandaiji’ (actress Yuki Kazamatsuri) that suddenly appeared at her doorstep days earlier… Mayumi had been supposedly summed per a last letter request by Hoshi’s father to take care of her. Everything is left upside down.
When Hoshi requests a sit-down talk with a rival clan leader about the man’s death, she is told directly to her face that he called the hit on him.
Confronted by her limitations as a teenager, Hoshi is called naive by the rival leader. He laughs off Hoshi’s words and casually disregards her as anything serious. A running theme of this film is clan leaders calling Hoshi ‘cute’ in a mocking tone and making passes.
Then a dark moment, the rival clan leader has Hoshi tormented by setting her, chained into a water soluble gray mixture that looks like cement. They all laugh at her humiliation until told to stand down by a boss above.
Later in the film, a bodyguard for Hoshi is badly injured defending her hideout. Engaging in an emotional moment where he tells Hoshi she reminds him of his mother. Embracing Hoshi as she tends to his wounds. After he’s all bandaged up and ready to go, a rival leader enters the hideout and shoots him dead.
Major Spoilers Ahead:
The last spark of light into the night
When Hoshi discovers the remnants of her father’s inherited clan were murdered over a $100 million worth of opioids, she decides to cause “a little bit of trouble.”
Hoshi goes to the top of a skyscraper along with two men set on vengeance.
Losing another friend in the process. However, the last hurrah is seen as what the original clan leader intended when he set the group into the hands of his nephew, Hoshi’s father.
The clan decides to disband, as the last member decides to move on to the countryside… But promising to see Hoshi again someday.
Lost in the future
Hoshi resumes her life as a regular high school student, playing soccer… When one day a detective asks her questions about a brawl that took a man’s life. It turns out the last member of the clan was on the way to see her but tried to stop a bar brawl between two rival clans and was killed in the process.
Hoshi gives the lifeless body a kiss on the lips. The film ends in the future with Hoshi over a steam vent, her skirt flying up like Marilyn Monroe’s. Surrounded by onlookers, as she plays ‘war’ with neighborhood street kids.
Hoshi has an internal monologue toward the audience about ‘her first kiss being to a middle aged man’. The movie ends with Hoshi saying, “I’ll be a stupid woman… The End!’ with a big smile on Hoshi’s face.
Conclusion: Leaping between youthful naivety into themes of the dark twilight of adulthood, Sailor Suit and Machine Gun’s spotlight is the buildup into Hoshi’s casually, barely planned revenge.
Japan Society NYC Screenings Info
1982 Complete Version on Saturday, April 29 at 7:00 PM – Japan Society NYC Tickets
1981 Theatrical Cut on Friday, May 5 at 6:00 PM – Japan Society NYC Tickets
Ticket prices are listed as: $15 Non-Japan Society members, $10 Japan Society Members, $12 for Students & Seniors, and $10 for individuals with a disability.
Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street, New York, NY 10017.
‘Sailor Suit and Machine Gun‘ is part of the Globus Film Series: Rites of Passage at Japan Society running from April 28 — May 13, 2023
“Rites of Passage showcases the work of Shinji Somai, an iconic Japanese director who remains largely unrecognized in the West.
A pioneering filmmaker in the 1980s—a period sometimes described as Japanese cinema’s lost decade—Somai has had a persistent influence on filmmakers that followed, including Shunji Iwai, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Ryusuke Hamaguchi.
Encompassing a mix of genre and stylistic conventions from independent art dramas to idol vehicles, Somai’s films are tied together by his potent depictions of the turbulence and volatility of youth growing up in an increasingly chaotic world.”
– The movies for Rites of Passage: The Films of Shinji Somai were supported, in part, by a generous gift from The Globus Family.
Film Trailer and Official Plot Synopsis
“Sailor Suit and Machine Gun
『セーラー服と機関銃』 (Serafuku to Kikanju)
Dir. Shinji Somai, 1981/1982, 112 min. (Theatrical) / 130 min. (Complete), DCP, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Hiroko Yakushimaru, Tsunehiko Watase, Akira Emoto. Theatrical & Complete Cuts.
Based on the popular youth novel by Jiro Akagawa, Sailor Suit and Machine Gun focuses on the life of schoolgirl Izumi Hoshi (Kadokawa idol Hiroko Yakushimaru) who inherits the reins of a dying yakuza clan and is thrown headfirst into a gangster feud. Vying for respect in an adult world, Izumi takes charge and challenges the violent drug cartel that threatens her clan.
Between Somai’s skillful direction, a hit theme song and Yakushimaru herself—dressed in her iconic sailor fuku, Sailor Suit and Machine Gun had all the makings of a smash hit, emerging as a cultural phenomenon that catapulted Yakushimaru to widespread popularity and perfectly captured the zeitgeist of ’80s Japan.”
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