October 15, 1994, Saturday
LENGTH: 520 words
BYLINE: Richard Scott
Early pop guns
One of the functions of the admirable ''Lost and
Found'' series is to disinter films that
have gone unseen by British audiences because they never found a distributor in their day.
Hence the first British television screening of the 1966 Japanese thriller Tokyo Drifter
(tonight, Saturday, BBC2, 11.45pm). Earlier this year it was the highpoint in a short
season of films by the veteran director Seijun Suzuki at the Institute of Contemporary
Arts in London. They were a revelation, appearing to be filled with ideas much imitated
Seijun worked as a contract director for many years, making some 40
then he became an independent and entered a new period of extraordinary creativity.
Tokyo Drifter is a dazzlingly stylish gangster movie that moves in the world of the 1960s,
the Japanese counterpart to the explosion in graphics, fashion and music that in the west
produced Warhol and Courreges, free-form psychedelia and op art's calculated precision,
the sounds of the Beatles and the Beach Boys.
Tokyo Drifter opens in starkly bleached-out black-and-white, with a
man being stalked
through a dockside freight yard, then beaten up by his pursuers and hurled onto the
foreshore. There is something odd about the violence, it seems choreographed, balletic
and totally unreal. The victim, after his assailants have left, gets up without a scratch,
even his white suit apparently unmarked by
The story is a familiar one, that of shifting gangland empires. Tetsu,
the central character,
is an old-school yakuza, living by a code as strict as the samurai of the past, and rapidly
becoming just as anachronistic. The barons of the underworld have turned into corporate
tycoons, endeavouring to outsmart each other in massive real-estate deals.
Tetsu is ordered to hit a rival gang in their nightclub, but complications
ensue and he
becomes a target for killers from both sides. His girlfriend, a cabaret singer, seems to
have only one song in her repertoire, the soulful ''Tokyo Drifter''; when told falsely that
Tetsu has been killed, she struggles tearfully on.
Visually the film is startling. The interiors, particularly the nightclubs,
are as unreal as
stage sets, with bold areas of colour and staircases leading nowhere. A disco has a glass
floor, which becomesthe ceiling of the room below, offering an unconventional view of
the lively dancers. Some of the exterior views of Tokyo, with its elevated motorways,
harbour bridges, the bright neon of the Ginza, are shot like a travelogue, with optical
wipes instead of cuts between shots.
The pursuit takes to the countryside, under thick snow, and in one extraordinary
a shootout occurs on a railway track as a steam train bears down. But perhaps the most
spectacular setpiece is in a mock-western saloon in the seaport of Kyushu. The ensuing
brawl outdoes any Hollywood cowboy movie with sailors, strippers, bar-girls and
gangsters tearing the establishment to pieces.
This dazzling film holds the attention, not with its often messy, almost
plotline, but with its style and bold wit.