Directed by Shinji Sōmai
Produced by Kei Ijichi
Written by Jirō Akagawa andYōzō Tanaka
Cast: Hiroko Yakushimaru, Tsunehiko Watase, Akira Emoto,Yuki Kazamatsuri,Rentarō Mikuni,Masaaki Daimon,Ken Mitsuishi,Toshiya Sakai,Kazuo Kitamura,Kamatari Fujiwara,Yôsuke Saitô and Makoto Satō
A young schoolgirl’s life changes after the untimely death of her father and then she inherits a dying Yakuza group.
If I’m not mistaken, Sailor Suit and Machine Gun is Hiroko Yakushimaru’s most iconic picture. Her role as the naive but charming brassy Izumi Hoshi made quite an impression on Japanese audiences according to some. I first suspected Sailor Suit and Machine Gun to be some kind of sporadically violent B movie in the style of the ”girls with guns” genre. Much to my shock, the violence is subdued in favor of some down to earth drama.
As Izumi Hoshi’s position as the Yakuza boss serves as her journey to push her from adolescence to adulthood. Luckily, it isn’t just a low-brow coming of age story. The coming of age angle is only one aspect of the narrative. The darker side of inheritance is explored. There are slight additions that try to satirize the Yakuza akin to a black comedy, but this does little to distract rather from the serious tone. The infrequent satire is rather surreal, but not in a way that is jarring.
The plot unfolds rather mundanely which may annoy those who want a faster pace. The slow pace isn’t as irritating as I would have guessed since the narrative uses the slower moments for important character development and introspection. Also, the slow pace despite the unnatural scenario gives the feeling at least of a ”slice of life”. This quasi-hyper realism does fade quickly once something dramatic happens. However, in spite of all that unsettling events that happen this uncinematic atmosphere persists.
Izumi is the right kind of cute and innocence. It isn’t used to pander to the audience. Izumi becomes a worthy person of praise for her moral virtue in the face of the sleazy opposing Yakuza. The relationships Izumi ends up creating with the people around after she enters the underworld is heartfelt, and yet existential. They do reevaluate their lives afterward. The Yakuza life for its false bravado is an empty one.
The appearance of the missing heroin is a bit undeveloped, but deepens the criminal element to an otherwise teen drama fueled narrative. And, the resolution to the missing heroin could have been more satisfying, but leads to a worthy finale. Sailor Suit and Machine Gun’s finale avoids the urge for an over the top bloodbath. The ending rather takes time to revel in Izumi’s new found maturity with a brilliant showcase of her bravery.
Sailor Suit and Machine Gun is a worthy look into the Yazuka’s underworld that parallels a young woman into her hard-earned maturity.
PS: This also spawned several remakes.