For the fourth installment for our streaming-only Shelter-In-Place movie nights, I selected a film I hadn’t seen before – Seijun Suzuki’s 1966 pop-art gangster film Tokyo Drifter.  Now, I don’t know if the plot of the film was all that great – frankly I was in and out of lost with regard to anything but the most high-level story elements – but I can tell you that this film has two things that recommend it highly: an incredible dose of style and a palette that just won’t quit.  In terms of aggressive use of bright, vibrant color in every imaginable shade, Tokyo Drifter is only rivaled by The Fall in my book.

I know what you’re thinking: “Did he fire six flares, or only five?”

Our hero is Phoenix Tetsu, fiercely loyal enforcer for a Yakuza gangster boss (Kurata) who has recently decided to go legit.  With Kurata out of the game, some rival gangs try to recruit Tetsu away, but Tetsu insists on sticking by his old boss.

I didn’t know you were a cop!

One of the rival gangs, led by a fellow named Otsuka, has a plan to scam Kurata out of the ownership of his nightclub.  I will report with full honesty that I could not understand the scam, which involved a lot of moving parts and people signing documents without knowing that other people also had…or…something.

Issanata Takira Sun-Lies

I don’t think the scam worked (again – COULD NOT FOLLOW PLOT) but at any rate the whole thing ended up with a dead girl, which is always a tricky thing.  Note: the dead girl isn’t the one from the shooting gallery at the bowling alley.  She lives.  (You mean the girl from the shooting gallery at the bowling alley wins?!?  Jesus, Grandpa, what did you read me this thing for?!?)

The 5:15 from Duluth, oh my! it’s just derailed!

Anyway, somehow these developments convince Kurata to insist that Tetsu become a “drifter”.  As an aside unrelated to the film itself, the wiki page for Tokyo Drifter links “drifter” to, of all things, the vagrancy page.  I’m thinking they probably wanted … rōnin.  Then again, there Tetsu is on the train tracks…


While Tetsu is off enjoying his anywhere-I-lay-my-hat-is-home spirit he is tracked down by Otsuka’s gang, who want to kill him even though he has left town.  There’s apparently no Oh That What Now deal in Tokyo.  But Tetsu teams up with Kenji, a former Otsuka gang member, and they manage to muddle through.

Yazujirō Ozu called, he wants his camera angle back

But there’s one last complication – you see, somewhere along the way Otsuka has convinced Kurata to betray Tetsu and put a bounty on his head.  Well, you know what they say, fierce loyalty scorned becomes deathless hatred (they say that, right?) and when Tetsu learns of this development, he returns to Tokyo for a final showdown with his former mentor.

They’ll meet ‘neath that giant Apple Jack / That brings this fair city light

Well, there’s some gunfire, and people die.  Like all of Otsuka’s people.  And Otsuka.  But Tetsu doesn’t kill Kurata, because he probably didn’t mean the whole thing about the bounty and stuff.  Also, the girl from the shooting gallery at the bowling alley lives, but Tetsu just blows her off.  “A drifter’s life ain’t for you, baby, besides, I gotta go my own way,” he says (probably, I’m sure the subtitlers were instructed to avoid the mod-speak this movie was clearly written in).  The End.

So, I think that’s basically how the movie went.  Didn’t matter.  This movie was cooler than the other side of the pillow.  It didn’t need a plot.