Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tokyo Drifter/Tokyo nagaremono (Japan, 1966)

A Pop Art masterpiece amongst Japanese gangster films. Director Suzuki Seijun was a studio director who assembly-lined some 40 productions between 1956 and 1967 before finally getting sacked by studio bigwigs who found his style becoming too extreme. (As a result, he spent the next ten years working in television before finally returning to the cinema with Hishu Monogatari in 1977.) Tokyo Drifter is relatively bloodless, more so by standards present than past, but by the standards of any given generation it is an aesthetically bizarre and fascinating film indeed. The film tells the story of Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari), a Yakuza gangster — you know, those Japanese gangsters that like to implant pearls under the skin of their pricks — who, to help his beloved boss, decides to drift off around Japan, whistling or singing the film’s theme song and pondering about life until the end finally comes. Leaving his sweetheart behind, the nattily dressed Tetsu wanders through snow covered landscapes and western saloons without any real destination in mind, followed by "Viper" Tatsu (Tamio Kawaji), an enemy hitman out for blood. Whenever the end seems near, though, Tetsu whips out his guns and either shoots or fights his way to freedom. At times melancholic and often rather funny, the film is a violent contemplation about love, trust, honor and betrayal. However, the inane locations, total lack of any logic and continuity, extreme colors, stylized violence and overall inanity remove any vestiges of reality from the film. Tokyo Drifter is actually more a surreal, visual presentation of a gangster’s multicolored acid inspired nightmare than a normal crime film. The first five minutes alone, filmed in a greyless black and white and ending with the remnants of a neon orange gun lying on the ground, let the viewer know that they are in for one strange narrative roller coaster ride. Sixties Pop Inspired Avante-Garde Style-Conscious Japanese Gangster Cinema—what more can you ask for? (Tits, maybe, but back then you didn't find stuff like that in Japanese films.)

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