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Tokyo Drifter (1966)

Tôkyô nagaremono (original title)
Not Rated | | Action, Crime | 10 April 1966 (Japan)
After his gang disbands, a yakuza enforcer looks forward to life outside of organized crime but soon must become a drifter after his old rivals attempt to assassinate him.


Seijun Suzuki


Yasunori Kawauchi (author), Yasunori Kawauchi (screenplay)




Cast overview, first billed only:
Tetsuya Watari ... Tetsuya 'Phoenix Tetsu' Hondo
Chieko Matsubara ... Chiharu
Hideaki Nitani Hideaki Nitani ... Kenji Aizawa
Tamio Kawaji Tamio Kawaji ... Tatsuzo, The Viper (as Tamio Kawachi)
Ryûji Kita ... Kurata
Eiji Gô ... Tanaka
Isao Tamagawa Isao Tamagawa ... Umetani
Eimei Esumi Eimei Esumi ... Otsuka
Tomoko Hamakawa ... Mutsuko
Tsuyoshi Yoshida Tsuyoshi Yoshida ... Keiichi
Michio Hino Michio Hino ... Yoshii
Shuntarô Tamamura Shuntarô Tamamura ... Koyanagi
Hiroshi Midorikawa Hiroshi Midorikawa
Hiroshi Chô Hiroshi Chô ... Kumamoto
Akira Hisamatsu Akira Hisamatsu ... (as Kosuke Hisamatsu)


In Tokyo, the gangster Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari) regenerates when his yakuza boss Kurata (Ryuji Kita) decides to quit his criminal life. However, the mobster family leaded by Otsuka (Hideaki Esumi) threatens Kurata's legitimate business, and Tetsu decides to leave Kurata to relief the pressure on him. He leaves also his girlfriend Chiharu (Chieko Matsubara) and becomes a drifter moving to the country. When Tetsu is betrayed, he returns to Tokyo to resolve his situation. Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Action | Crime


Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Did You Know?


That is lead actor Tetsuya Watari singing the title song. See more »


Tetsuya 'Phoenix Tetsu' Hondo: A drifter needs no woman.
See more »


Referenced in Love Me Not (2006) See more »

User Reviews

A radical, pop-art influenced slice of pure psychedelic 60's chic
19 May 2008 | by ThreeSadTigersSee all my reviews

Much of Tokyo Drifter (1966) requires a certain sense of cultural background and historical context in order to be better appreciated; otherwise, it most probably seems vapid, dated and entirely incoherent. You have to appreciate the fact that for the first part of his career, director Seijun Suzuki was a contract player for Nikkatsu Pictures, and largely obligated contractually to take any project offered to him, regardless of plot, concept or theme. He was also working under fairly strict conditions in order to produce the biggest financial turnover, whilst simultaneously striving to give his films a certain sense of character or individuality to make them stand out against the other, identikit youth films being produced by Nikkatsu at that particular time. By the mid-1960's he'd already begun to push his films further into more personal, idiosyncratic directions; experimenting with colour on Youth of the Beast (1963) and composition in The Story of a Prostitute (1965), as well as experimenting with more theatrical uses of lighting and location design on the classic Gate of Flesh (1964).

Most of these stylistic flourishes came from his interest in Kabuki theatre, with Suzuki transposing the artificial, ornate and entirely abstract world of those productions to the gritty and violent streets of his low-budget B-pictures. It is important to keep in mind also that these films were incredibly cheap to make and certainly not considered to be "prestige pictures". Think of the hundreds of other films being released by the same company at the same time and ask yourself why these films aren't getting the same kind of posthumous attention in the west. The real reason is the context. Suzuki transcended the limitations of what was required of his work; instilling it with a personal style and a larger than life sense of exuberance that resonates with anyone who can truly appreciate the magic and power of cinema. This is apparent right from the start of Tokyo Drifter, as a black and white sequence of betrayal sets up the mood of gritty violence, punctuated by stark abstraction. The scene is vague and enigmatic; choreographed in such a way as to suggest pastiche, but still managing to remain fairly brutal. Suzuki also wastes no time throwing us into this overly complicated narrative, in which the turf war between two rival Yakuza fractions spirals out of control and causes grief for a loyal young thug trying to do the right thing, whilst still attempting to remain faithful to his boss.

However, what is most remarkable about this scene, and about the film in general, is Suzuki's anarchic and unconventional approach to location and production design, as well as his fragmented bursts of editing and his masterful use of cinematography. The opening scene fools us into thinking that this will be another run of the mill, low-budget gang-thriller in gritty black and white. However, as the central character drops down on one knee to fire a succession of shots past the camera at an off-screen foe, we cut briefly to a shot of bold, dizzying colour. After the opening scene has played out, the film cuts to that catchy title song and the film switches to colour full time. This juxtaposition is a jarring one, and establishes the mood and tone that Suzuki had in mind for us, as the rest of the film continues these ideas of abstraction, exuberance and the utterly unconventional. The cinematography, design, editing and costumes are fantastic throughout, with Suzuki and his team using bold, primary colours that create an almost comic-strip like quality, whilst the use of theatrical lighting, camera movement and those epic, cinemascope compositions turn a backstreet battle for power into an epic parable of almost Shakespearian proportions.

If you're already familiar with Japanese Yakuza cinema, from the grittier, more hard-hitting films of Kinji Fukasaku, to the restless experimentations of Takashi Miike, or indeed, the unconventional gang cinema of Takeshi Kitano, then you'll already know what to expect from the presentation of character and theme established by Suzuki herein. So, we have loyalty, betrayal, power, corruption, brotherhood and retribution alongside the central notion of a once-violent character attempting to remove himself from a world that he can no longer understand. Obviously, given the conventions of the genre, he can never quite escape this world, and indeed, it is here where the conflict of the film will arise. However, such notions of story and character are sure to come secondary to the overwhelming power of Suzuki's images; which suggest, as one reviewer put it, "the spirit of a youthful Jean Luc Godard directing Point Blank (1967) from a script by Stan Lee".

Criticisms that Suzuki can't tell a coherent story are puerile and go against every notion of what cinema is and what cinema should attain to. You simply cannot judge a filmmaker off the strengths and weaknesses of a single film, especially one that already has a reputation as being one of his most radical and slyly anarchic. It's like dismissing the work of Takashi Miike after only having seen Fudoh: A New Generation (1996) or Dead or Alive (1999), or even dismissing Tarantino off the back of Death Proof (2007) or Kill Bill (2003). There are plenty of films from Suzuki in which the story is a primary concern; however, with Tokyo Drifter he was attempting something different, something more revolutionary. A pure slice of psychedelic 60's chic in the pop art tradition, with shoot-outs, fist fights, fragmented editing and some truly intoxicating colours.

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Japanese | English

Release Date:

10 April 1966 (Japan) See more »

Also Known As:

Tokyo Drifter See more »

Filming Locations:

Akasaka, Minato, Japan See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Nikkatsu See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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