By Ty Burr
January 17, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

EW reviews two classic Seijun Suzuki films

Here’s what kills me: While American art-house audiences in the mid-1960s were applauding the tasteful classic cinema of Japanese directors like Kurosawa and Ozu, Seijun Suzuki was cranking out one sweaty B-movie masterpiece after another, and we had no idea. Even his own countrymen weren’t certain how to take the guy: Suzuki’s 1967 opus Branded to Kill was so demented that his studio fired him for ”incomprehensibility.” This, of course, is what gives his movies their trippy, did-I-just-see-that power — that and a willingness to try anything, make Suzuki the missing link between Sam Fuller and Quentin Tarantino. Criterion has already released Branded and 1966’s Tokyo Drifter on DVD; now come Youth of the Beast and Fighting Elegy, both unmissable blurts of weird midnight energy. Youth is the real find — a pop-art yakuza revenge melodrama starring the vicious and puffy-faced Jo Shishido as an ex-cop playing two gangs against each other. It features gay thugs, upholstery-clawing junkie hookers, a fight where the hero uses aerosol spray to set a man’s hair on fire, and, I swear, a Martian sandstorm outside the door in one scene. What does the title mean? Even Suzuki, in a recent interview on the disc, hasn’t a clue. Elegy is comparatively restrained, since you don’t actually see the hero play the piano with his erection. A ruthlessly funny take on the repressed lust and proto-Fight Club machismo that led Japanese youth into World War II, it has twisted wide-screen black-and-white imagery and, in Hideki Takahashi’s Kiroku, a young lead of surpassing idiocy. Get ’em both, minimal extras and all, and duck. Youth: A
Elegy: A-