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In this free-jazz gangster film, reformed killer "Phoenix" Tetsu drifts around Japan, awaiting his own execution until he's called back to Tokyo to help battle a rival gang. Seijun Suzuki's "barrage of aestheticised violence, visual gags, [and] mind-warping color effects" got him in more trouble with Nikkatsu studio heads, who had ordered him to "play it straight this time." Instead he gave them equal parts Russ Meyer, Samuel Fuller, and Nagisa Oshima. Criterion presents the DVD premiere of Tokyo Drifter in a lush color transfer from the original, glorious Nikkatsu-scope master.
Seijun Suzuki transforms the yakuza genre into a pop-art James Bond cartoon as directed by Jean-Luc Godard. The near-incomprehensible plot is almost negligible: hitman "Phoenix" Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari), a cool killer in dark shades who whistles his own theme song, discovers his own mob has betrayed his code of ethics and hits the road like a questing warrior, with not one but two mobs hot on his trail. In a world of shifting loyalties Tetsu is the last honorable man, a character who might have stepped out of a Jean-Pierre Melville film and into a delirious, color-soaked landscape of a Vincent Minnelli musical turned gangster war zone. The twisting narrative takes Tetsu from deliriously gaudy nightclubs, where killers hide behind every pillar, to the beautiful snowy plains of Northern Japan and back again, leaving a trail of corpses in his wake. Suzuki opens the widescreen production in stark, high-contrast black and white with isolated eruptions of color that finally explode in a screen that glows in oversaturated hues, like a comic book come to life. His extreme stylization, jarring narrative leaps, and wild plot devices combine to create a pulp fiction on acid, equal parts gangster parody and post-modern deconstruction. Andrew Sarris described Sam Fuller's films as works that "have to be seen to be understood," a characterization that applies even more in this case. Mere description cannot capture the visceral effect of Suzuki's surreal cinematic fireworks. --Sean Axmaker
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Top Customer Reviews
If you found mission impossible difficult to grasp, look elswhere for entertainment. If not, this is right up your alley. Brilliant, and I mean brilliant, lighting effects cascade across this widescreen masterpiece. It's cheesball overtones are met with a drive to push cinema farther, I wish modern directors were allowed to push like this.
It's occasionally comical, well photographed, story is a joy when you have time to spare, and some Pocky (available in the asian department at Safeway and Albertsons) to munch on. It is not fast paced, so enjoy on a rainy day. The character develpment is typical Japanese style, and cliche.
The theme song will stick, along with the vivid color changing effects (never done like this). Watch the giant donut looking thing change from yellow to red at the end, enjoy the not so subtle red illumination on the blinds when the gangs secretary is shot.
Most of all, enjoy the taste of Japan in the 60's, Yakuza style.
Highly recommended for the discerning viewer. One of few films to recieve a 9of 10 rating from myself.
Yakuza no michi!
P.S. Look out for NonStop by Sabu, a rare treat.
This film follows a retired killer named Tetsu who continues to receive threats from people and is asked to help take out a rival gang.
This film is shot in full color and has some interesting tricks done with that. There are parts where the color changes and 'differentials' of color from one side of the screen to the next. It is very difficult to describe but you know what they say. "a picture is worth a thousand words" I would suggest you see it for yourself if you are interested.
The film also has an excellent theme song which reminded me of the songs by Kyu Sakamoto, best known for his song "Ue O Muite Arouko" and known outside of Japan as "Sukiyaki."
There is also a 20 minute interview with director Seijun Suzuki on the DVD as a special feature.
TOKYO DRIFTER's prolog is shot in a black & white saturated to the maximum ; faces are black, the water and the sky white and you hardly will find a grey tone. The contrast with the colours appearing after the initial generic is explosive. Welcome to Tokyo by night with his bars and night-clubs whose shadows are pink and orange. It's BLOW UP in Japan and let's admit that it's very refreshing.
Some action scenes, the final duel for instance, are very " spaghetti westerns " like and other scenes could have been shot by a Quentin Tarantino, a Samuel Raimi or a Robert Rodriguez. Imagine a duel happening on a railroad while a train is approaching ! Great and intense moment!
Sound and audio OK for me. An interesting interview with director Suzuki as bonus feature.
A DVD for the curious ones.
Most recent customer reviews
Stylin' color, smooth story, catchy tune... and that blue suit with those white shoes! A thorough pleasure from start to finish. Read morePublished on May 14 2002
While visually interesting, Tokyo Drifter lacks a cohesive story or any character development. It seems as if the editor removed the most important scenes. Read morePublished on April 28 2002
it begins black & white and bursts into hallucinogenic technicolor. avant-filmmaking, to be sure. the sets are color-coded and the action highly stylized. james bond on acid? Read morePublished on Sept. 8 2001
Tokyo Drifter is stylish like Out of Sight, has a storyline less plausable than that of a John Woo movie. Read morePublished on June 23 2001
This film has an unmistakably cool style. Shootouts on bare sets that look like relics of early Hollywood musicals. Read morePublished on Feb. 18 2001 by Eugene Wei
When I saw the old auto going into the flames accompanied by theme song, I was caught. Not that the storyline is great like in Kurosawa movies - it is just standard gangster movie,... Read morePublished on May 17 2000
Unfortunately, the review by firstname.lastname@example.org at the bottom of this page is very inaccurate. The reviewer wrote, "Seijun Suzuki was one of the most popular directors in... Read morePublished on Feb. 16 2000 by jeong ming lee
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