Seijun Suzuki made over forty films in ten years; all cheapie B movies for the Nikkatsu Company, but he didn't let the low-brow circumstances cramp his visionary style and during his tenure he created Tokyo Drifter, a colorful, trippy yakuza action film. To be honest, there's not much to it as far as plot and script, it's convoluted in too many ways to count — characters show up without introductions and there are even two characters with the same name (our hero, Tetsu, and Viper Tetsu, who's out to kill Tetsu).
Even once the plot becomes clear, it hardly matters. The film would have been forgotten in no time if it weren't for its eye popping visuals. The story, though, just so you know, concerns the aforementioned Tetsu and his father figure boss trying to go straight after a life of major crime. Unfortunately a rival gang lead by perpetually sun-glassed Otsuka is inexplicably hell bent on dragging them out of retirement by obtaining the deed to their building through a duplicitous cash payment to their lender. Otsuka's gang is headquartered in a club called (wait for it)… Manhole Music Tea Room (amazing!) where the back office includes a conveniently located trap pitfall and kooky kids go wild on the dance floor.
Each scene is incredibly unforgettable, like a woman in tweed dying in front of stylized red light, a burning black car with fins, an injured hit man walking through the snow in a pale blue suit… Not to mention an epic fist fighting brawl in an old West themed saloon with more “thwak” sounds than an entire episode of the Batman TV show, and then there's the final shoot out in an all white abstract set that includes a piano used as a weapon.
This over-the-top dedication to style eventually got Suzuki black-listed from the movie industry. The Nikkatsu Company wanted him to play it straight but instead they got increasingly more outlandish and far out stuff. Just goes to show that 'the Man' has been afraid of 'The New' since forever, even in the seemingly innovative atmosphere of mid-60s Japan.
There's tons of good fashion to be seen including great bulky herringbone and slick, confidently non-black suits for men, and wild updos, great necklines, and a perfect floral and plaid combo that I've become obsessed with but is only on screen for a few seconds. The music is also fantastic. I loved the theme song, which is fortunate for me because it's repeated throughout many, many times in renditions vocal, instrumental, cabaret, and whistled.