Monday, September 07, 2020

Tokyo Drifter

 Draft My Kitsch

Coming back to Tokyo Drifter [Tōkyō nagaremono, 1966] after several years, I'm surprised to recall that the storyline is based around the nuances of a real-estate transaction (read as: extortion) for a building in Tokyo whose special value, besides being a piece of not-especially-prime Tokyo property, remains elusive to me. Yet the movie persists as Suzuki's most popular (famous? infamous?) next to Branded to Kill and, now, possibly, Pistol Opera. My opinion is that Suzuki already went as radical (or as constantly used in reference to his œuvre, "pop art") in many of his earlier works: Youth of the Beast, Gate of Flesh, and the masterpiece Kantō Wanderer. Nevertheless, Kōhan Kawauchi's plot's not the thing. Howard Hampton wrote a good essay with the get-this title "Catch My Drift" for the Criterion Blu-ray, in which he remarks "[t]he plot is just an excuse to set hit men and their ornamental paramours in motion." As I see it, everything leads up to the fulcrum, the literal pivot-point of the figural sculpture holding aloft a lunar donut-bloom blasted by a red, then yellow, filtered spotlight: a cipher, the inexplicable, that represents the Zen 'key' of the movie. The bounteousness and silence of form: a container or structure for plenitude of emotion: fine, then, pop-music for the eye (although the theme song "Tōkyō nagaremono" wouldn't, shouldn't, just can't be the retinal tune: that number's pastiche — although it serves the function of giving the recently-passed Tetsuya Watari, as protagonist Tetsu, an idea for his moniker). The scenes, even the boring ones with men sitting around discussing promissory notes, could seemingly be shuffled in many configurations of chronology, give or take a few maimings or murders (such as that of dippy manga-maniac Mutsuko [Tomoko Hamakawa] whose corpse is shown from a ceiling-alcove's-eye-view) or the ritorno of the totemic leaf-shorn tree and radio tower that capture Tetsu's gaze. (Speaking of which, seeing through walls — a twist on the functionality of the shōji screen — recurs throughout Suzuki, mostly in the form of a back-office able to keep an eye on the proceedings on the dancefloor or bar at the front of the establishment. Here, one can see the dancefloor, illuminated purple, from the side, from above, or even from below in a basement crawlspace jammed with pipes.) Regardless of its ranking in Suzuki's Sixties filmography, Tokyo Drifter holds a special status as the straw that started cracking the camel's back, despite the lunatic entries before (e.g., Story of a Prostitute) and after (e.g., Fighting Elegy).


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