‘Jaw Dropping, Eye Popping Fantazia’ is how Manohla Dargis from the New York Times described TOKYO DRIFTER. Nikkatsu, the studio who funded this film, would be less impressed. They desire a by the numbers Yakuza Eiga film. They employed Seijun Suzuki, who was a problem for them in that he never accepted their control. What they got was the utter dismantling of the genre, with loads of violence, incoherance and abstraction. TOKYO DRIFTER riffs off of the new wave, with its highly stylised action scenes but then seems to dip into the surrealism. I could imagine that like Jack Warner’s response to BONNIE AND CLYDE, Nikkatsu shit a brick over this film and its rendition of the genre. Leading the director to more and more abstraction and brilliance but finally losing his genius work to the world, until finally it has been released by Criterion on a super Blu Ray.
Tetsuya (Tetsuya Watari) is a member of a dissolved Yakuza gang. He is a tough guy, who uses his fists and never quits until he is told to. His boss Kurata (Ryūji Kita ), has given up the life of crime to be an average guy. Otsuka (Hideaki Esumi), a rival gang boss wants Tetsu to work for him. Tetsu rejects his advances, wanting to remain loyal to his boss. Otsuka is angered by this and sends an assassin to neutralize Tetsu. Worried that he might well interfere with a real estate scam. Kurata is set to profit from the scam. However he fears that Tetsu might get involved and scuper his plan. When Kurata is threatened by Otsuka and his presence, he forces him to leave and live the life of a drifter. Will Otsuka oblige or will he exact a brutal revenge and resolve to restore his honour?
So Nikkatsu hated what they got from Seijun Suzuki but as we all know, studios do not know anything about what makes success in the film industry outside of safe and well. What the audience think is something else however. They were more than satisfied with what is onscreen. They will also be more than satisfied on what is on the disc. The mix of genres, visual plains, disruption of narrative, time, space, themes and more. Its so rich in substance and subtext. It parodies and pokes at the classic genre troupes. It also smashes the face with a series of brutal slices. For the film studies fan, it is amazingly profound. It can be viewed via the themes of mise en scene, genre theory and even the development of say, Japanese cinema of the period. For the film fan, it is a clever and sometimes sardonic take on the gangster film.
Lovely digital restoration has a slight hue of yellow to it but I am not totally convinced that it is detrimental to the film.
The extras are for the Suzuki fan. The interviews cover the film but are actualy more about what Suzuki saw in his movies to that point.
Special Edition Features
- New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- Video piece featuring new interviews with director Seijun Suzuki and assistant director Masami Kuzuu
- Interview with Suzuki from 1997
- Original theatrical trailer
- New and improved English subtitle translation
- PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Howard Hampton