Tokyo Drifter: ”Always wandering, always alone. Ask the wind where he’ll be tomorrow. Or the pretty girl whose breast he rested his head. He’s the Tokyo Drifter.”

Year:1966
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Produced by Tetsuro Nakagawa
Written by Yasunori Kawauchi
Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, and Hideaki Nitani

 

 

Even after a Yakuza boss forgoes his Yakuza past by disbanding his gang, A famed Yakuza named Tetsu stays loyal to his boss. But, soon Tetsu is forced to leave his boss and become a drifter in order to save his boss’s new business.

 

Tokyo Drifter is the story of a drifter that confronts the idea of loyalty in the Yakuza underbelly and the inability for a man to escape from his past. Although the plot is not highly elaborate, it is still executed strikingly well. Tokyo Drifter’s most striking feature is its dazzling visuals. Its visual span the range from the 60s era night clubs to the feudal-like Japanese town. Each setting represents the underlying mood of a certain scene. The night clubs take on the seedy nature of the Yakuza while the feudal era looking town gives Tetsu’s wandering adventures almost a Ronin like quality. One particular sequence in the village even includes sword fighting. The parallels between a Ronin and Tetsu is all too clear, for the sake of his boss, he becomes a wanderer and never loses the sight of this devotion even as a wanderer. Tetsu faces death on a daily basis for his lofty ideals like a Samurai following the Bushido. Or as he says himself ”I won’t give up my ideals until I see the truth for myself”. However, the semi-comedic moment at the Western-inspired bar is at odds with the rest of the melodramatic tone. The quirky style of that bar looks too much like it belongs in a different movie. Yet, the most notable part of the visuals are the places that look like monolithic labyrinths the movie jumps to during key moments. These very odd looking places really set a different mood. A kind of mood that’s akin to an elaborate stage play and even a musical as well. The musical-esque nature is repeatedly touched upon throughout the story. The characters but mostly Tetsu’s lover Chilharu is always singing a particular tune, that tune recounts the perilous predicament that Tetsu finds himself in. The whole narrative does gain a bit of a musical overtone due to this song, something that’s a natural fit for the overly melodramatic style of the show. The characters fit this melodramatic style as well, though they lack a bit of nuance since the characters are always stating their emotions with little subtlety; yet, they’re able to flow with the pumped up flavor of the tale naturally.

 

At the center of Tokyo Drifter is an emotional tale of an honest Yakuza member trying to keep his honor. While at the forefront of Tokyo Drifter is a striking surreal visual adventure that will dazzle you.

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