Tokyo Drifter : A Phoenix of Film History

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Through Tokyo Drifter (1966), visionary director Seijun Suzuki shows us how & why Cinema is different from other art form. This voluptuous and bizarrely jazzy film remarkably signifies how faithfully cinema can absorb other art forms and the history of cinema itself. It’s a singular achievement in the history of film which will never be outdated in spite of being copied and ripped up in thousand other films.

Seijun Suzuki, the bad boy of Japanese New Wave film, goes beyond every single limitation in production of Tokyo Drifter. In 60’s, he was the ultimate fire of Japanese B MOVIE. But, the legendarily notorious Nikkatsu Corporation, the shrine of B movie and the then noir films, constantly threatened Suzuki to cut down his bizarre visual style and surreal mise en scène. But, they barked in vain. The studio gave him less than minimum budget for Tokyo Drifter and the result was opposite. Suzuki and his Art Director went on creating one of the most unique film sets and the result was a particular piece of visually stunning film.

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An individual book should be written about storytelling through color in Tokyo Drifter. How enchantingly Suzuki embodied the world of color in his masterpiece! From blue of cavernous pain to poetic grey, satanic Red to lonely green, wounded yellow to mysterious Purple, Philosopher white to Dionysian Black, Suzuki paints it all like Picasso or Monet.

The narrative of films is one of regular yakuza’s genre but it also mock the genre itself in the surface. Because of being highly stylized and technically unique, the holes of narrative line and trimmed sequences due to minimal budgets get refurbished. Moreover, the film is based on basic philosophy of this world and deals with basic instinct of human being.  Loyalties, Identity, Individualism, Existentialism, Covetousness, Vice, Eternal Loneliness, anticipation, Fluidity of Life are the prominent themes of the film. The film reminds us of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samouraï”, released only after one year of Tokyo Drifter and obviously of the ultimate achievement in first person storytelling “Taxi Driver”.

There are notable acting performances in the film but the greatest actor in the film is its Music. While Suzuki blends style of Musical, Pop, Retro, Surreal, Western, Yakuza and to some extent the great Yasujiro Ozu’S style, the use of mourning theme song and haunting background score have remained inspirational for director’s of later periods. Quentin Tarantino, Park Chan-wook, John Woo, Takashi Miike, Jim Jarmusch and other likewise directors are seemed to be influenced by Suzuki’s approach toward film and his creative works. Video essay and article on this can be found in the internet. Criterion and Turner Classic Movies feature some appealing articles on this film and Suzuki’s other work.

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Tokyo Drifter in context of so called art house genre and after being copied in numerous popular Bollywood films may seems cocky and creepy to some viewers. But, who can forget the protagonist  Tetsuya Watari in blue suite singing the song of a drifter ? Is it so easy to escape the grave melancholy and lyrical suspense of survival? How can we overlook those closeups and top shots ? Tokyo Drifter is a fiery jewel, a phoenix, which renaissances itself from its own ashes.