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Thursday, June 10, 2010

TOKYO NAGAREMONO / TOKYO DRIFTER (1966)


At ultra-efficient/ultra-commercial Nikkatsu Studio, Japanese helmer Seijun Suzuki used formula-driven genre scripts as fodder for his highly personal, visually extravagant cinema. The writing is boilerplate stuff -- A semi-retired gangster and his top enforcer (Tetsuya Watari in a star-making turn) try to ‘go straight.’ Then, the loans that financed their new life come due and draw them back in. -- but Suzuki shows little interest in following the storyline. What matters to him are the stylized sets, violence & color-coded look that grow more daringly abstract as the collateral damage accumulates. You may not always be sure of what’s going on, but you won’t take your eyes off the screen. (Even when he missteps badly with a donnybrook in a Western saloon!) By the time the big climax comes, we’ve all but lost contact with surface reality as spatial relationships, settings, compositions & performing style start to resemble ‘THE GIRL HUNT', the famous Mickey Spillane parody ballet from Vincente Minnelli’s THE BAND WAGON/’53. This is exhilarating work, but possibly mystifying to newcomers. For a better balance between form, style & content, try Suzuki’s YOUTH OF THE BEAST/’63 first.

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