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Tokyo Drifter (The Criterion Collection)

4 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In this free-jazz gangster film, reformed killer "Phoenix" Tetsu drifts around Japan, awaiting his own execution until he's called back to Tokyo to help battle a rival gang. Seijun Suzuki's "barrage of aestheticised violence, visual gags, [and] mind-warping color effects" got him in more trouble with Nikkatsu studio heads, who had ordered him to "play it straight this time." Instead he gave them equal parts Russ Meyer, Samuel Fuller, and Nagisa Oshima. Criterion presents the DVD premiere of Tokyo Drifter in a lush color transfer from the original, glorious Nikkatsu-scope master.

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Seijun Suzuki transforms the yakuza genre into a pop-art James Bond cartoon as directed by Jean-Luc Godard. The near-incomprehensible plot is almost negligible: hitman "Phoenix" Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari), a cool killer in dark shades who whistles his own theme song, discovers his own mob has betrayed his code of ethics and hits the road like a questing warrior, with not one but two mobs hot on his trail. In a world of shifting loyalties Tetsu is the last honorable man, a character who might have stepped out of a Jean-Pierre Melville film and into a delirious, color-soaked landscape of a Vincent Minnelli musical turned gangster war zone. The twisting narrative takes Tetsu from deliriously gaudy nightclubs, where killers hide behind every pillar, to the beautiful snowy plains of Northern Japan and back again, leaving a trail of corpses in his wake. Suzuki opens the widescreen production in stark, high-contrast black and white with isolated eruptions of color that finally explode in a screen that glows in oversaturated hues, like a comic book come to life. His extreme stylization, jarring narrative leaps, and wild plot devices combine to create a pulp fiction on acid, equal parts gangster parody and post-modern deconstruction. Andrew Sarris described Sam Fuller's films as works that "have to be seen to be understood," a characterization that applies even more in this case. Mere description cannot capture the visceral effect of Suzuki's surreal cinematic fireworks. --Sean Axmaker

Special Features

  • Rare interview with director Seijun Suzuki

Product Details

  • Actors: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Tamio Kawachi, Hideaki Nitani, Eiji Gô
  • Directors: Seijun Suzuki
  • Writers: Kôhan Kawauchi
  • Producers: Tetsuro Nakagawa
  • Format: Black & White, Color, Letterboxed, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: Japanese (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: February 23, 1999
  • Run Time: 82 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 0780022041
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,448 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Tokyo Drifter (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
The only reason Seijun Suzuki's "Toky Drifter" is getting four stars instead of five is because the story gets hokey and hard to follow at times. But what a wallop the visual fireworks and rapid-fire, jump-cut editing pack! "Tokyo Drifter" is easy to understand after viewing it a few times, but initially the story takes a back seat to Suzuki's inventive, French-New-Wave style of creating the images, which are breathtaking. "Phoenix," a reformed killer for the Yakuza, dreamily walks around Tokyo after quitting the racket, expecting to be executed. But when he is called back into duty to help rid the city of a rival gang, the film "drifts" into a surreal mix of equal parts Luis Bunuel, Sam Fuller and Jean Luc Godard. The action never lets up, and the film is a wonderfully funny mix of comedy and violence. The performers even break out into song at unexpected times, although the film is certainly not a musical. You just never know what to expect, which is what makes this little-seen film so much fun. "Tokyo Drifter" is unlike any film you have ever seen. It's a true original and Criterion presents it in a widescreen version that is terrific. Contains a rare, insightful interview with Japanese director Seijun Suzuki. In Japanese with English subtitles.
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By Yoshi on August 21, 2007
Format: DVD
A stylish gangsta piece of work by the great late Seijun Suzuki. If you've watched Kurosawa or Ozu then this is much different. More comparable to Kinju Fukasaki(BATTLE ROYALE). Not as good as BRANDED TO KILL but a fine Criterion piece none the less. A lonely soul gets pulled back into one last score to settle. Visually masterful and the score is brilliant. A little slow at times but the action is pretty much non stop throughout. Plus a big payoff at the end. I know you will be amazed with what you see. Quentin Tarantino may not admit this is one of his inspirations for RESOVOIR DOGS, but when you have the blue room, red room, white room, etc, it's hard not to believe there's some sort of connection there between Mr. White, Blond etc. A must see film if you're a lover of art and crime noir. One of Seijun's top 5 films.
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Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
While not as insane a Branded To Kill (Suzuki's masterful yakuza crazy-noir), this one is just enough off-center to be considered not quite normal. The colors are bright and fantastically tantalizing (at least on blu-ray), and the mono sound is ample- love that recurring theme song (sung by the lead character) and the general goofiness which makes this film a masterful must-have for those of you who like their films to make them think (about what I have no idea). Criterion does their usual fantastic job making this one worth an upgrade over their earlier weak effort on dvd. A couple of interviews for extra features round off this necessary addition to any great film library....even if you turn the sound off, the visuals are enough to keep one's interest....this is a very well done film with masterful editing and strange colors that sometimes make it look like an early James Bond film or a Batman episode....great stuff here....
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Format: DVD
In Japan, what kind of film would ever feature a stoic, cool tough former gangster that can whistle or sing a song while guns are pointed at him?

The answer is "Tokyo Drifter", the 1966 film directed by Seijun Suzuki who has earned a worldwide following of cinema fans due to his experimental visual style, humor and nihilistic coolness that his style of films were ahead of its time.

While we are graced with films with visual style, humor and coolness by Beat Takeshi, Takashi Miike, Kazuaki Kiriya to name a few... Seijun Suzuki was part of the Nikkatsu company that churned two movies a week and had to work with a low budget, be creative and churn out a film within 25 days. Needless to say, executives didn't understand Suzuki's style, they criticized him, they talked down to him but what they didn't know was that his style was not being rebellious, it was his style.

You can call his style "surreal" but what Nikkatsu wanted was traditional-style filmmaking, Seijun Suzuki who created 40 B-movies for the company between 1956 and 1967 and he was anything but traditional.

After "Tokyo Drifter", he created two movies including his masterpiece "Branded to Kill" and the company had enough of Suzuki's style of filmmaking. While he never complained, he was fired from his job and successfully sued the company for wrongful dismissal but in Japanese business tradition, if you sue an entertainment company, you will be blacklisted (which still goes on today in Japan) and in this case, Suzuki was blacklisted for ten years.

In Japan, because he stood up to the big entertainment company, he became a counterculture icon and his films were shown at midnight screenings to a packed audience.
Read more ›
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Format: DVD
This film has an unmistakably cool style. Shootouts on bare sets that look like relics of early Hollywood musicals. Old school hairdos and outfits (check out the blow dried mop and light blue suit on lead character Tetsu). Wild, outlandish color lighting and outfits that stand out from the white backgrounds. Occasional attention-gathering camera angles and movements. The cryptic English subtitles common to Asian films, and a funky, pop theme song that even Tetsu himself whistles while he works. Turns out Japan in the 60's wasn't too different from America in the 60's.
The plot drifts more than its lead character. Tetsu, once the feared and capable right hand man to a gang boss, has decided to go legit and retire from the business. He finds that easier said than done, and finds himself caught in the middle of gangland wars. Can he retain his integrity while shooting his way out of this sheltered world? Director Seijun Suzuki makes sure he'll try in style.
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