The title of Seijun Suzuki’s film may be the cheekiest joke in his long, cheeky career. The film features a character named Takehisa Yumeji, who appears to be based on the famous early 20th-century painter and poet of the same name. But Yumeji isn’t about Yumeji in the same sense that Edvard Munch is about Munch or Frida is about Kahlo. This is the artist film to end all artist films: a big middle finger pointed at all the biopics that claim to know what made their subjects tick.
In Yumeji, characters die and come back to life without batting an eye. Wild dream sequences become suddenly, hilariously mundane. Characters scream, or run away, or have sex for no reason—after a while, you realize that Suzuki couldn’t explain his own artistic choices, let alone Yumeji’s.
Perhaps the most important reason for the enduring popularity of movies about artists is that they purport to let theatergoers into one of the most mysterious places in the world: the mind of a genius. In his final masterpiece, Suzuki offers a cannier point of view: As much as we like to pretend otherwise, none of us knows exactly what makes great artists great. If we did, would we still idolize them?