Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japanese Cinema Blogathon: Tokyo Drifter

Japan Cinema and Cinema Fanatic are hosting an awesome blogathon this week to raise money for the relief effort in Japan. Hopefully a lot of people will get involved by either donating money or writing a post, because this is a really cool idea. AND I KNOW the film blogging community is full of awesome people (I mean, I did write a post about the subject a couple days ago), so this blogathon is really gonna be exciting.


I chose to write about Tokyo Drifter (1966). Because it is a brilliantly cool, '60s-epitomizing, awesomeness-personified movie.

I remember the entire reason I watched it the first time was because I saw this movie poster:

This is one of the most jaw-droppingly stylistic films one will ever see. There is so much color, my poor eyes can hardly handle it. Seijun Suzuki - who was basically just a clinically insane genius (the best kind of genius, of course) - had been making increasingly odd films at this time (one producer famously stated that a Suzuki film "made no sense and no money"). He had been given a couple warnings by his producers, but still he continued to gleefully create nonsensically brilliant films. In punishment, the budget for his next film was slashed down - in hopes that he would make "normal" movies or something. (I mean, really?! Suzuki -- normal? I'm not getting the connection.) Instead, Suzuki took his smaller budget and created Tokyo Drifter.

Contrary to most Mind-Smushing Entertainment, Tokyo Drifter actually does have a fully-working plot. Confusing as heck, but definitely there. At its very core it's a film about loyalty. But, of course, The Millie cares very little about the cores or messages of films, so we shall move on to the overwhelming coolness. ;-D

This movie is pure '60s all the way through: the clothes, the sets, the minor characters, the music-- everything. The music is especially brilliant. Our protagonist Tetsuya (a former hit-man TRYING to go straight) is also known as Tetsu the Phoenix -- because he can't die. Everywhere he goes he sings or whistles the theme of the Drifting Man from Tokyo. Whenever an enemy thinks they've finally finished him off (and there is this one guy who is OBSESSED with destroying Tetsu) they'll suddenly hear the song (and usually they then freak out as only Japanese hit-men living in a Suzuki film can).

Here is a bit of the song from the opening credits.

I'm sorry if it's stuck in your head forever now. heh heh heh.... 

I suppose if I was going to get poetic about Tokyo Drifter, I would say that it is film at its most literal. The plot-line and story definitely add to the overall movie, but the film itself is just so breathtakingly fascinating. The colors are very...colorful. But, not in a hugely jarring way. The colors fit each moment and shot perfectly. And the camera angles are absolutely gorgeous. I normally have no problems watching sub-titled foreign films; reading the words is usually simple and unobtrusive to my viewing. Not so with this movie. Every time I watch it, I forget to keep reading the subtitles...because I'm so fascinated by the movement on screen. That's a pretty awesome film.

And that's why I love Tokyo Drifter so much. It's bright, and colorful, and very odd, and occasionally quite confusing. But, it's brilliant. There is nothing else like it. I can't explain it (as you can see from this frighteningly disjointed post), but I think it mostly has to do with the utter and complete coolness. Watching this movie always makes me want to go be a Japanese hit-man on the run, who constantly wears the same light blue suit and sings his own theme song. That's some pretty powerful coolness going on there.

Thanks, Millie


Anonymous said...

You can actually handle watching foreign films?! I'm so impressed -- I salute you, Millie! I have NEVER been able to do this...

Anyway, brilliant review. The photos look GORGEOUS, even on my wacked out monitor. (My flat screen DIED on me!)

Japan Cinema said...


Will add your article to the list.

Anonymous said...

this movie sound amazing.

Dave said...

Hi Millie, thanks for the tip on this blog-a-thon. I definitely want to get involved! Just by coincidence, the next film in my Criterion Reflections blogging queue is Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. So how does one submit an article for this blog-a-thon? I see that Japan Cinema left a comment, maybe I'll click on there and see if I can find the info.

But I also want to say that I enjoy reading your impressions of an early Criterion DVD classic! Nice job with that! :o)

Dave said...

Oh, and I need to nominate Jean-Paul Belmondo for your coolest actor of the 60s poll, though I know it's too late to add him to your list!

alaurazane said...

Fantastic, Fantastic, Fantastic.

Thank you for the heads up on the blogathon and also Tokyo Drifter, Its one I've never watched - but I will be now!

Millie said...

Emm: Oh, but you MUST! There are so many awesome foreign films-- like the Communist Frankie + Annette film. THAT IS PURE BRILLIANCE! ;-D

Yeah. This movie has so much brilliant color, it can never really be captured on mere photographs...haha!

Japan Cinema: Thank you so much! :-D

Cinema Fanatic: It is. I think even people who don't really like it would have to admit that it's amazing! haha

Dave: Yay! I'm so glad! I've never seen Hidden Fortress-- I can't wait to read the post!

You can also find info here:


Junk it! I forgot so many people on that poll! I chose the options off the top of my head, at random, in about 30 seconds. Of course if I had deliberated at all there probably would be 80 choices! ;-D

alaurazane: YES! That makes me so happy! I hope you'll like it. :-D

Penny said...

That looks way to cool!

I have never been brave about watching foreign films. Maybe I'll do better. ;)

Oh, and I remembered more ways I have been influenced by The Millie.

Because of you, (and I mean that in a good way :}} I can't ever seem to get the song :"That Funny Feeling" out of my head {lol} is that one of the top 10 most catchy songs ever?!

And, I am now a decided fan of Bobby Darin, {wow he has a super voice!}

I also have watched "The Moon-Spinners"; several times. ;}
I LOVED it! Mind-smushing entertainment at its best!!!!
And I have joined the list of "pink outfit lovers". SUPER CUTE!!

kate gabrielle said...

Fantastic post Millie! I'm really ashamed to say I've actually only seen one Japanese film ever (Rashomon) .. for some reason my foreign-film watching tends to be centered around France and Italy, but now I really want to see this, and more Japanese movies! I'm a sucker for 60's spy movies with cool clothes, catchy theme music and main characters that you just can't kill off (I'm looking at you Hot Enough for June) soo it seems to be my cup of tea :D

Also, it's really awesome that you're doing this for charity.. you're really an amazing person! I'm so proud to be your friend :)


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