Tetsu has joined his Yakuza boss in giving up the gangster life and going straight, but when a rival gang threatens to bring them back into the gang wars, Tetsu must become a drifter to keep the pressure off his old boss.
In 1966, Nikkatsu Studios requested that one of their more “difficult” directors “calm down” on his next project. The director was Seijun Suzuki and the project was ‘Tokyo Drifter’. The result was anything but calm.
A film-noir awash in sonorous flourishes of brilliant, lurid color; the film defies all conventions of genre, style or even such mundane trivialities as a cohesive narrative.
One scene finds Tetsuya Watari’s pouting Yakuza in a tense showdown with his rival standing on the train tracks surrounded by clean, crisp snow. The screen is split in two by a clearly visible dark blue line. The use of this visual effect is telling: It adds nothing to the story or the characterisation, it simply looks good.
The closing sequence has to be seen to be believed. It is best described as the secret lovechild of a Gene Kelly musical and a John Woo action film. Hallucinatory, mind melting bliss.
If for nothing else, Tokyo Drifter will long be remembered for the theme tune which hauntingly drifts through the entire film. Pure genius.
Tokyo Drifter was referenced in:
Kyokatsu koso Waga Jinsei (1968): The characters in Blackmail Is My Life whistle the theme of Tokyo Drifter.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003): Yakuzas; fight scene between The Bride and the Crazy 88s similar to Tetsu fighting Yakuzas; mad go-go music; monochrome and fight on color background in both films.
Spartan (2004): Washes face shirtless and looks in mirror just so we can see how many scars he has on his back.