Sailor Suit and Machine Gun is a film built on dichotomy. The lead character, Izumi (Hiroko Yakushimaru), is a high school teen, suggesting innocence or, at the least, a touch of naiveté. She’s not old enough to have been touched by the horrors of the world, but old enough to do some damage, given the opportunity and means. The central conceit: Izumi takes on the role of chairman for a yakuza family after both her great-uncle and father die. Theirs is a world of honor and blood and here is Izumi, trying to come to terms with her family’s legacy and what it means in contrast to her usual problems. Based on a novel by Jirô Akagawa and adapted by Yôzô Tanaka (The Last Ronin), director Shinji Sômai’s 1981 cult classic is coming to Western shores thanks to a restoration from Arrow Video that includes the original theatrical version and the 1982 Complete Version (kanpeki-ban). Whether North American and U.K. audiences are ready or not, Sailor Suit and Machine Gun is aiming for you.
Average high schooler Izumi has her entire life turned upside down when a group of yakuza arrive at her school grounds to take her home. Before this moment, all she had to deal with is the sudden death of her father in an automotive accident on his way home from a trip. Turns out the two incidents are connected as her father was next in line to oversee a yakuza family. With his passing, Izumi takes the reigns. As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours, and it turns out that Izumi has only four men in her command and all five of them have targets on their backs as it is believed they possess something incredibly valuable. Moved from the schoolyard to the backrooms of Japan, Izumi is out-gunned and out-manned, but she’s not going to let that stop her.
In case you were wondering, the discordance in Sailor Suit isn’t just the primary character against their circumstances, nor is it just that it’s Izumi set up against a series of violent adults. It’s the tone of the film which jumps between traditional yakuza crime drama to teen romance to comedy. It’s also what’s known as an “idol movie,” in that the lead actor, Yakushimaru, is herself a pop icon, one whose end credit song “Sailor Fuku to Kikanjū” was a huge Japanese hit. This film sought to satirize the grim yakuza stories, resulting in a film that’s incredibly grounded while also being weirdly outlandish. In their parts, Sailor Suit makes little sense, but when connected together, they create a fascinating symphony of tone and content. Should we be surprised that the villain turns out to be Izumi’s father’s former lover and now the lover of her right-hand man Makoto Sakuma (Tsunehiko Watase)? We would be if so much of the film weren’t comprised of such wildly dramatic swings. Neither would we be surprised by the way in which the film ends, with Izumi becoming the very title of the film, combining the iconography of the then traditional Japanese school girl uniform with the violence of the criminal underworld. These are two forms which should not work, yet blend together far more naturally than one might expect.
For those familiar with the film, let’s talk contents on this restoration.
As mentioned, there are two versions included on this release: the 1981 theatrical version and the 1982 recut edition that’s roughly 19 minutes longer. According to the liner notes, both versions are presented in their original 1.85:1 ratio with original mono audio. The main difference between the two, outside of the length, is that the remixed 5.1 audio is only available for the 1981 edition. So while you can check out the restored 1982 extended cut, it will only include the mono audio. As with previous Arrow Video releases, Kadokawa Pictures created the remastered editions. For those familiar with the film prior to this release, the black bar that appears during the single sex scene is maintained in this release in keeping with the Japanese censorship practices from the era the film was released. I was unaware of this and was surprised when the black bar appeared, initially thinking something was wrong with the disc until I noticed the bar moving to keep its location within the frame as the camera shifted. Outside of this surprise, the restoration is solid with artifacting present but not to a distracting degree. This may be a matter of the source material, but where restorations for Irezumi (1966) or The Last Starfighter (1984) possessed visible grain and artifacting without distraction, there are certain moments within Sailor Suit where it is impossible to ignore. Otherwise, as a 1080p restoration of a 1981 release, it’s a solid improvement over the bootlegs that’ve likely been traveling the globe for four decades.
As for other bonus materials, it’s best to look at the total package, specifically the first printing, as it may look slim at first glance. There is a photo gallery, as well as trailers, teasers, and tv spots for both versions of the film, making up the bulk of the on-disc materials. The only remaining piece is a 51-minute documentary titled “Girls, Guns and Gangsters” with film director Shinji Sômai. So if you’re looking for a deep dive into the film from the mind behind it, this is where you’re going to want to either begin or end, depending on your relationship with Sailor Suit. Where the on-disc material ends, the first-pressing only liner notes include three bits of writing you won’t want to miss. The first two are essays from East Asian cinema scholar Aaron Gerow and East Asian Languages and Civilizations scholar Alex Zahlten, whose specific perspectives provide some insight and context for modern audiences. The third piece is the part that’s going to be desirable for fans of the film or of director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (whose new film Wife of a Spy is submitted by distributor Kino Lorber for several award categories including International Director). This portion is a conversation between then-assistant director Kurosawa and lead actor Yakushimaru in a brand-new interview conducted specifically by Arrow in April 2021. Where the release may feel light in one way, it more than makes up for it in another.
In terms of physical releases, Arrow Video does its best to make the purchase worth the investment of both time and money. In this case, it’s a double restoration of a film not officially available outside of Japan (its original and extended versions) and includes a good amount of written and visual bonus materials. If you’re already a fan of the film, this is likely an insta-purchase. If you’re a fan of Asian cinema or just a collector, you might want to wait for the semi-annual Barnes & Noble sale to snag it. (FYI: the November 2021 sale is going on right now until November 29th.)
Sailor Suit and Machine Gun Special Features:
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Aaron Gerow and Alex Zahlten, and a discussion between the film’s star Hiroko Yakushimaru and acclaimed director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who was an assistant on the film
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of the Original Theatrical Version and the 1982 Complete Version (kanpeki-ban) re-issue of the film, restored by Kadokawa Pictures from a 4K scan of the original negative
- Original uncompressed Japanese mono and 5.1 audio
- Optional English subtitles
- Girls, Guns and Gangsters: Shinji Somai & Sailor Suit & Machine Gun, an exclusive new 50-minute documentary (51/14)
- Original Trailers and TV spots for both versions
- Image Gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Michael Lomon
Available on Blu-ray November 16th, 2021.
For information, head to Arrow Video’s website.
To purchase a copy, head to MVD Entertainment Group.