IFFR KINO #6: Tokyo Drifter

On Wednesday, 5 April, IFFR KINO focuses in on the visionary master of the Japanese B-film Suzuki Seijun (1923-2017), who passed away in February. On the programme: his overwhelming stylistic feat Tokyo Drifter (1966).

When his boss decides to get out of organised crime, yakuza Tetsuya Hondo is approached by a rival gang looking to recruit him. But Hondo is faithful to his old boss and turns them down: so of course in no time he has a series of hired killers on his tail.

The plot of Suzuki’s masterwork might seem a little thin, but the way Suzuki fleshes out the hackneyed yakuza genre in Tokyo Drifter is nothing short of phenomenal. In fact, the film serves up a cocktail of genres, unashamedly breaking all the rules of logic and continuity and submerging us in an unparalleled explosion of colour and style. Tokyo Drifter is a work of art in a class of its own. And Tetsuya Hondo – clad in a baby blue suit and snow white shoes, at once badass gangster and troubadour – is an unlikely hero.

During the early part of his career, the inimitable Suzuki worked for Japanese film studio Nikkatsu, which expected him to churn out four genre films a year. Frustrated by the conventions the studio imposed on him, he increasingly started to bend the rules. Suzuki wanted to do more than tell a simple story. He wanted to entertain his audience by constantly pushing at the boundaries of the medium of film. The studio was not amused, and took the excessive Tokyo Drifter and Suzuki’s next, equally surrealist film Branded to Kill (1967) as an excuse to fire him. Too hard to understand, was the studio management’s verdict. A protracted lawsuit followed, which prevented him from making films for ten years.

Suzuki took refuge in television. It was not until Zigeunerweisen (1980) that he was accorded the (international) recognition he deserved. Now, the films from his Nikkatsu period – in particular Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill – are considered highlights of the Japanese New Wave. Filmmakers such as John Woo, Wong Kar-wai, Quentin Tarantino, Baz Luhrmann and Nicolas Winding Refn all show marked signs of his influence. IFFR dedicated an extensive retrospective to Suzuki’s early work in 1991 and his later films Pistol Opera (2002), a remake of Branded to Kill (this time with a female protagonist) and Princess Racoon (2005), his last film, have all screened at IFFR.

Tokyo Drifter will be introduced by film critic and Japanese cinema connoisseur Tom Mes, who will explain how the film and director Suzuki Seijun fit into the context of Japanese genre cinema of the 1960s. For fifteen years, this native Rotterdammer was the brains behind the trailblazing Japanese film website Midnight Eye. He has written books on directors Miike Takashi and Tsukamoto Shinya, published in De Filmkrant, Sight & Sound and Film Comment, among many others, and has given introductions and Q&As at IFFR. He has met and interviewed Suzuki Seijun on several occasions.

We have a delicious cocktail waiting for you! An exotic and colorful recipe (just like the movie) including Loopuyt gin, sweet sake, Thai basil, lemon and sugar syrup. If you have a (e-)ticket for Tokyo Drifter, you will get a €1,- discount, so you'll pay only €5,-.

Tokyo Drifter