Friday, June 29, 2018

Tokyo Drifter

Directed by Seijun Suzuki and written by Kouhan Kawauchi, Tokyo nagaremono (Tokyo Drifter) is the story of a hitman whose attempt to give up a life of crime has made him a target against rival gangs and crime syndicates to try and kill him. The film is a crime film that follows a man dealing with his own troubles as he tries to avoid it only for chaos to follow him. Starring Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Tamio Kawaji, Ryuji Kita, Hideaki Nitani, Eiji Go, Tomoko Hamakawa, Takeshi Yoshida, and Isao Tamagawa. Tokyo nagaremono is an exhilarating and enthralling film from Seijun Suzuki.

The film is the simple story of a hitman whose gang has just been disbanded where he finds himself being targeted by rival gangs who want him dead as a yakuza boss is trying to make a deal with his old boss. It plays into a man wanting to go straight and start a new life with his singer girlfriend yet he is often pursued by rival gang members including those working for a yakuza boss to get rid of him in a play for power. Kouhan Kawauchi’s screenplay opens with Tetsuya Hondo (Tetsuya Watari) who is known by some as Phoenix Tetsu for his skills being beaten up by rival gang members as he refuses to fight back as a way to show that he’s given up the world of crime. Reporting to his now former boss Kurata (Ryuji Kita), Hondo is hoping not to be involved despite being pursued by the yakuza boss Otsuka (Hideaki Esumi) to join the gang but Hondo refuses.

It would lead to trouble as Otsuka is taking part of a real estate scam and knew that Hondo’s presence would be troubling forcing him to try and eliminate Hondo as well as get Kurata to cooperate. Even as Otsuka hires the hitman Tatsuzo (Tamio Kawaji) who is known as Viper who is eager to get rid of Hondo yet another hitman in Kenji Aizawa (Hideaki Nitani) is aware that Otsuka is in for some trouble. Adding to Hondo’s trouble are these rival gangs with those wanting to kill him no matter what for not just money but the honor of being the one to kill Phoenix Tetsu. For Tetsuya, he would embark on the life of being a drifter with little contact with his previous life as it would be a struggle as he still longs for his singer girlfriend Chiharu (Chieko Matsubara) who has no clue of where he is and she would be in trouble if she finds out.

Seijun Suzuki’s direction is definitely stylish in every composition and framing device he aims for including the film’s opening sequence as it is shot in black-and-white with bits of color as it relates to Hondo’s desire to leave behind the world of crime. Shot on various locations in Japan including Tokyo as well as on soundstages in the city, Suzuki would use the locations to play into this emergence of modern-day, post-war Tokyo that is vibrant and full of life with the yakuza operating everything behind the scenes. The usage of close-ups and medium shots would play into the meetings as well as some key scenes in the dramatic elements while Suzuki’s wide shots capture so much in some of the fight scenes as well as the way characters confront each other. There is also elements of the musical as Hondo would often sing something to create a sense of unease to his enemies while Chiharu would have a few musical numbers in the nightclub she sings at where it has something that play into the idea of fantasy.

Suzuki’s blend of genres in a yakuza crime film help play into this frenzied world that Hondo is in where he is eager for this normal life but he is pulled into the world of crime that he wants out of. Yet, there is also the life of a drifter that would allow him certain amounts of freedom but it would come with some sacrifices. Even as the film’s climax with its stylish compositions and set pieces play into this collision of reality and fantasy for Hondo who copes with the myth that has been looming over him as well as who he really is. Overall, Suzuki crafts an exciting and majestic film about a hitman trying to go straight and evade former enemies.

Cinematographer Shigeyoshi Mine does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is filled with dazzling colors to help create moods in the lighting as well as play into the beauty of some of the exteriors and for the scenes set at night. Editor Chikaya Inoue does excellent work with the editing as its emphasis on style with its usage of transition wipes, jump-cuts, and other stylish cuts to play into its frenzied energy and lively action. Production designer Takeo Kimura does amazing work with the look of the nightclubs and some of the places that Hondo would go to including the places outside of Tokyo. The sound work of Yoshinobu Akino is superb for its sound effects and the way it captures some of the chaotic moments in the film such as a brawl at a bar with American naval officers. The film’s music by Hajime Kaburagi is fantastic for its jazz-like score with elements of pop and rock n’ roll to play into this feel of a new Japan as it is lively and fun as the soundtrack includes a theme song by Tetsuya Watari that play into his own plight.

The film’s wonderful cast include some notable small roles from Eiji Go as the businessman Tanaka, Tomoko Hamakawa as Kurata’s secretary Mutsuko, Isao Tamagawa as a club-owner/hitman in Umetani who copes with the changes of the rules for the gangster, Takeshi Yoshida as the piano player Keiichi, and Hideaki Esumi as the yakuza boss Otsuka who wants to take control in order to profit on a real estate scam. Tamio Kawaji is fantastic as Otsuka’s hitman Tatsuzo as a man eager to try and kill Hondo as he would pursue any way he can. Hideaki Nitani is excellent as Kenji Aizawa as a hitman who is also onboard for the reward but is really has his own motives to find Hondo as he isn’t fond of what Otsuka is doing. 

Ryuji Kita is brilliant as Hondo’s old boss Kurata as a man who is trying to move forward but finds himself in a bind with Otsuka where he would get himself into serious trouble. Chieko Matsubara is amazing as Chiharu as Hondo’s girlfriend who is a nightclub singer that is eager to have a normal life with Hondo while being aware of the target he has on his back. Finally, there’s Tetsuya Watari in an incredible performance as Tetsuya Hondo as a revered hitman who is trying to go straight where he deals with not just others trying to kill him but also the impossibility of going straight as well as pursuing a life free from danger but with some major sacrifices.

Tokyo nagaremono is a phenomenal film from Seijun Suzuki. Featuring a great cast, dazzling visuals, a thrilling score, and an engaging premise. It’s a film that never plays into the rules of what is expected in a crime film while infusing other genres to make it lively and maintain its own identity. In the end, Tokyo nagaremono is a spectacular film from Seijun Suzuki.

Seijun Suzuki Films: (Victory is Mine) – (Eight Hours of Terror) – (The Naked Woman and the Gun) – (Underworld Beauty) – (Young Breasts) – (Voice Without a Shadow) – (Take Aim at the Police Van) – (Everything Goes Wrong) – (Go to Hell, Hoodlums!) – (Man with a Shotgun) – (Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!) – (Youth of the Beast) – (The Bastard (1963 film)) – (Kanto Wanderer) – (The Flower and the Angry Waves) – (Gate of Flesh) – (Our Blood Will Not Forgive) – (Story of a Prostitute) – (Story of Bastards: Born Under a Bad Star) – (Tattooed Life) – (Carmen from Kawachi) – (Fighting Elegy) – Branded to Kill – (A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness) – (Zigeunerweisen) – (Kagero-za) – (Capone Cries a Lot) – (Legend of the Gold of Babylon) – (Yumeji) – (Pistol Opera) – (Princess Raccoon)

© thevoid99 2018

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