We are looking at a man and a woman facing away from us, sitting on stools up to a colourfully lit bar, while a barman to their left is quietly observing them

Tokyo Drifter

Seijun Suzuki | Japan | 1966

Director: Seijun Suzuki
Producer: Tetsurô Nakagawa
Screenplay: Yasunori Kawauchi
Cinematography: Shigeyoshi Mine
Editor: Shinya Inoue
Music: Hajime Kaburagi
Tetsuya Watari (Tetsuya Hondo)
Chieko Matsubara (Chiharu)
Hideaki Nitani (Kenji Aizawa)
Tamio Kawachi (Tatsuzo, The Viper)
Ryûji Kita (Kurata)
Eiji Gô (Tanaka)

Rating: M violence Runtime: 82 minutes

The screening will be preceded by the Annual General Meeting of The Wellington Film Society. This will take approximately 20 minutes, and the film’s end time has been adjusted accordingly.

Seijun Suzuki was a cog in Japan’s hyper-rigid 1960s studio system,  churning out B movies – mostly youth movies, Yakuza films and detective stories – as a contracted director.  Disillusioned with the materials given to him, he and like-minded collaborators began collapsing the visual logic of films to emphasise its artifice, for example by placing the camera directly under the floor, or painting the sky bright orange, and creating a new logic of their own.  The ultra-stylised Tokyo Drifter represents the zenith of this approach.  It led to Suzuki being banned from making colour films by his studio and then, when he followed Tokyo Drifter with the surreal noir Branded to Kill, sacked and blacklisted in Japan for the next 10 years, before his films re-emerged as cult classics in the 90s.

Visually arresting, Tokyo Drifter follows the paper-thin plot (a yakuza struggles to adapt to life after leaving the gang, and may or may not have been double-crossed by his former boss) and packs the screen with colour, interest and absurdist touches – gun muzzles flare pink in shootouts, yakuzas wear immaculate powder blue suits, and the walls of the club where the final showdown takes place shade from blood red into emerald green into dazzling white, reflecting the characters’ state and feelings as they are speaking. 

“What is so remarkable about Suzuki’s film is that it attains this level of abstraction, colour expressionism and spatial and narrative disorientation without losing touch with its own identity as a B-feature thriller. … Amazing that an unsung genre movie made nearly 30 years ago in Japan still has such freshness and vitality, and that it still radiates such a strong sense of the cinemas latent possibilities.” — Tony Rayns, Sight and Sound.


Mar 06 2023


6:15 pm - 8:00 pm