Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
Detective Tajima (Jo Shishido) is tasked with tracking down a consignment of stolen firearms; as the investigation progresses, things take a turn, leading to a blood-drenched grudge match. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Seijun Suzuki may be the most well-known Japanese filmmaker of his era who didn’t earn his popularity and acclaim making period-set samurai/chambara movies. A dyed-in-the-wool modernist, Suzuki preferred to update classic narrative traditions, while tending to stick to noir-themed yakuza (aka: jitsuroku) and juvenile delinquent movies throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. He developed a reputation with the rough ‘n tumble crime epic Youth of the Beast (Japanese: Yajū no seishun, aka: Wild Youth, 1963) and prostitute gang classic Gate of Flesh (Japanese: Nikutai no mon, 1964), before coming into worldwide attention with two of his more experimental and satirical films – Tokyo Drifter (Japanese: Tōkyō nagaremono, 1966) and Branded to Kill (Japanese: Koroshi no rakuin, 1967).
The same year that he broke through with Youth of the Beast and The Bastard (Japanese: Akutarō; aka The Young Rebel, The Incorrigible One, and Bad Boy) – two films Suzuki considers to be his real creative turning points – he made another career-redefining, anarchic cops & robbers flick called Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards (Japanese: Tantei Jimusho 23: Kutabare Akutōdomo; aka Detective Bureau 23: Down with the Wicked). Detective Bureau 2-3 opens with a chaotic shoot-out, then runs its credits over the backdrop of a burning car as the boogie rock soundtrack preps us for a tongue-in-cheek ride through a world of post-WWII angst. Within the frame of pure pop entertainment, Suzuki acknowledges serious social issues, while Iwao Yamazaki’s screenplay (built on the narrative foundation of Haruhiko Oyabu’s original novel) tells a complete story without being waylaid by its message or overbearing style. Detective Bureau 2-3 sets itself apart from Suzuki’s earlier, more generic films with the broadened scale and eclectic nature of its action scenes (some are finely tuned, others are utterly discordant), but, as is usually the case, it is his offbeat sense of humour (culminating about halfway through the movie when tough guy lead Jo Shishido takes a break from infiltrating a violent gang to sing & dance in a musical floor show), his impeccable use of colour, dynamic framing, and use of period fashion make the film a must-see.
Detective Bureau 2-3 was mastered for HD in-house at Nikkatsu and supplied directly to Arrow via digital file. We don’t have much more information on the process than that, but some of the other Arrow/Nikkatsu discs had additional restoration performed at R3store Studios in London, so it might be safe to assume that happened here. On the other hand, unlike many of those films, Detective Bureau 2-3 is reasonably popular and may have been better maintained over the years to facilitate multiple home video releases – including a stateside DVD from Kino. This Blu-ray debut is definitely a small step up from the already acceptable ‘bulk rate’ Arrow/Nikkatsu transfers, correcting some previous releases’ issues with splice damage, lumpy grain, and softened edges. Color quality is another notable improvement, which is important, given Suzuki and cinematographer Shigeyoshi Mine’s use of primary gels and the pastel set-decoration. Hues are vivid, yet consistent, are well-supported by deep blacks, and exhibit few signs of bleeding. Textures and details appear accurate (note that the distortion along the edges of some moving camera frames are a natural anamorphic lens effect), and gradations are evenly spread without appear over-smoothed.
Detective Bureau 2-3 is presented in its original mono Japanese and uncompressed LPCM 1.0 sound. There are some relatively obvious issues with the mix, such as inconsistent dialogue volume, overlapping sounds blocking each other out, and pops between reels, but none of this is really the fault of Nikkatsu’s restoration or Arrow’s authoring – this is just the way the movie sounds. These problems aside, there’s little distortion and Harumi Ibe’s soundtrack is rich, despite being tightly packed into a single channel. This is important, because music is an outstanding element; one that very nearly supersedes the importance of performance at times. The original score itself (rather than the big band/ragtime standards flecked throughout) is a near-parody of other popular rock scores from the era, like the Batman TV show, and I imagine that Quentin Tarantino’s use of the Japanese retro rock group The 18.104.22.168's was something of a nod to films like this one.
Tony Rayns on Detective Bureau 2-3 (29:01, HD) – The critic, Asian cinema expert, and co-author of Branded to Thrill: The Delirious Cinema of Suzuki Seijun (with Simon Field; British Film Inst, 1995) discusses Suzuki and actor Jo Shishido’s careers, Nikkatsu’s failed attempt at making Detective 2-3 into a series, before offering a critique of some of the film’s failed comedy (I tend to agree with him), running through the film’s plot, and comparing it to Suzuki’s later work.
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