Japan in the 1960s was a much cooler place than the United States were (or at least it seems that way), as technology and the economy began booming and Tokyo really began to become the true city of the future (see: my future review of Solaris) that it is today. Neon sprang up everywhere, pop music came blaring through the speakers everywhere you went, and the Western influence began to take a nice control. Akira Kurosawa was the most popular filmmaker in the country at a time where James Bond was all the rage (you can see how much that influenced Tokyo Drifter, too), but Nikkatsu was thriving. The studio had its gigantic boom in the 1960s, making a wide variety of movies (largely noir and urban dramas) and bringing in tons of cash. Leading this rush were Shōhei Imamura and Seijun Suzuki. Suzuki had quite a prolific run for the studio, directing countless films for them, before finally being fired for the ridiculousness that was 1967’s Branded to Kill. Not too long before making that movie, Suzuki made Tokyo Drifter, a wildly colorful yakuza film staring Tetsuya Watari as Tetsu, our drifter.
Recently, Tetsu’s boss, Kurata has given up the life of crime and currently leaves Tetsu in the middle of a neutral zone. From here, I have literally no idea where the story goes as it ends up heading down the most ridiculous directions…as everyone tries to catch up with Tetsu and murder him. His ex lovers get involved or something and it’s all a really ridiculous game of cat and mouse (this is only made more ridiculous in Branded to Kill). He essentially staves off everyone but this really is not the point of this film whatsoever. The point is how brilliant and vibrant those colors are. And how perfectly edited this movie is so all the jokes have enough lasting power. And those sets. And the outfit choices.
Whoever told you that movies being all style and no substance was wrong was in fact, really just um, well, plain wrong. Now sure, plenty of movies are all style, no substance, and are pure trash (fucking Sucker Punch, which I will probably review since somebody brought it up to me today) but Tokyo Drifter is the absolute masterpiece of this style of filmmaking. seriously, what a glorious way to spend 83 minutes.