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Tokyo Drifter
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |    
"Smell this, or you get a bullet!"

Tetsuya Watari bullies the elderly in Tokyo Drifter.
AKA: Tokyo Nagaremono  
Year: 1966  
Director: Seijun Suzuki  
  Producer: Tetsuro Nakagawa  
  Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Hideaki Nitani, Tamio Kawachi, Tsuyoshi Yoshida, Ryuji Kita
  The Skinny: It may be a critical darling, but Tokyo Drifter, with its inane emphasis on style over substance, lacks the heart of a true cult classic.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      I wanted to like Tokyo Drifter; really I did. At first glance, the film appeared to have all the ingredients: a rebellious director, a cool title, a catchy theme song, and a distinctive visual style. The plot is simple enough: caught between his old boss and a rival gang, former yakuza hitman Tetsuya Hondo (Tetsuya Watari) goes into an exile of sorts, trailed by another professional killer. Also, critics everywhere seem love it, and the film even received the prestigious Criterion Collection treatment on DVD.
     But upon viewing Tokyo Drifter not once, but twice, I must admit my bewilderment at the critical praise lavished onto Seijun Suzuki's alleged masterpiece. Is Tokyo Drifter really the thrilling, jaw-dropping example of bravura filmmaking that critics would have you believe? Hardly. I'm certainly guilty of turning out an overly gushing review every now and then, but this is ridiculous.
     To its credit, Tokyo Drifter does look good. There's a Wild West barroom brawl, some minimalistic sets, plenty of gaudy colors, and a complete lack of respect for plausibility, but that's about all the film has going for it. If that sounds like exciting, "edgy" filmmaking, well, I'm sorry to report that it isn't. Time and time again, Hollywood films are bashed (and rightly so) for the same style over substance mentality, and that criticism should be extended to Tokyo Drifter. Unlike the charmingly gonzo, yet admittedly bad flicks of the era like 1967's Casino Royale, Tokyo Drifter lacks a heart beneath its stylish veneer. (Calvin McMillin, 2002)
Notes: Though his singing ability was questionable, Tetsuya Watari warbles the film's theme song. To make the tune passable, the producers lifted his best tracks and cobbled them together for the song.
Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Criterion Collection
Japanese Dolby Digital Mono
English Subtitles
Interview with Seijun Suzuki

image courtesy of Voyager Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen