Sunday, January 22, 2012

Rover, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond

Created by a director who literally fit the definition of "Maverick," the 1966 Japanese crime drama/thriller Tokyo Drifter is a rather unique film, one that is a bit tricky to discuss. Compared to even other foreign movies released during this period, this cult classic is a bit beyond definition, and when mentioned against Hollywood releases its downright from another planet entirely. Even though the 1960s and 1970s were the true Golden Era of the suspense picture, Seijun Suzuki cleverly set out to make something truly off the beaten path, a movie that is not quite expected. In this case, unexpected is truly a great thing, something to be admired and marveled at.

Really at the heart of it all the plot is quite simple: a former yakuza member has been trying to go straight, and his former gangsters refuse to let him achieve peace of any kind, demanding that he rejoin them. As a gang land war breaks out, and the situation becomes even worse, this young man somehow keeps his head, determined to become a wandering nomad without connections, someone who is fine with moving from place to place. Hence, the title, which is fairly obvious as well. Yet, the film's overall structure and how events unfold.

Mainly that certain odd or strange things happen, and at times I will admit the movie was a bit hard to follow. Suzuki does not spell out what is occurring onscreen, secure in his belief that even the average moviegoer would be able to figure out what was exactly going on. Perhaps multiple viewings are required for this movie, yet regardless that doesn't matter because the film's quality and style are very noticeable. Utilizing colors, film economy, a rather funky and excellent score, and fine performances, this is a movie with some actual subsistence to back up the rather glossy surface. Not to mention the film's lead, who projects a surprising amount of cool indifference considering that multiple people are trying to kill him throughout the movie.

Also featuring a wonderfully rowdy and lengthy bar fight scene, and a rather tense, violent climax, Tokyo Drifter is a perfectly paced, at times rather poetic and meaningful, crime film. Despite his continuing and endless attempts to buck the rigid Japanese studio system which lead to him being somewhat limited at times, its clear that Suzuki was still able to create works that are truly worth checking out. He has a tremendous sense of auteur style while also managing to rival his American and European contemporaries, a fact that people should remember. 95

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