Tokyo Drifter (1966)

tokyo drifter poster 1966 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great looking

Story is lacking

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Tokyo Drifter

Studio:  Nikkatsu

Genre(s):  Drama/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):  April 10, 1966 (Japan)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

tokyo drifter song tetsuya watari

So am I primarily a drifter or primarily someone from Tokyo…wait…what happened to the city?

Tetsuya aka Phoenix Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari) and his boss Kurata (Ryūji Kita) are going straight and leaving the Yakuza behind.  Unfortunately for Tetsu, he finds himself caught up in a double-cross and forced to leave Chiharu and his love Chiharu (Chieko Matsubara) behind when he is targeted for assassination.  Now living as a drifter, Tetsu finds himself assailed by rival gangs and must find a way to clear his name or he’ll forever be a target.

Directed by Seijun Suzuki, Tokyo Drifter (東京流れ者 or Tōkyō nagaremono) is a Japanese action-thriller.  The film was met with positive reviews.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #39).

Tokyo Drifter was a movie I had heard of multiple times but never really sought out.  I started looking at Criterion’s early movies and decided to check out Tokyo Drifter.  I found a movie that was original and odd.

tokyo drifter secretary mutsuko tomoko hamakawa

Mutsuko must die!

The story is a bit problematic in that it isn’t easy to follow everything that it going on with the wheeling and dealing of the finances on the first viewing.  While things like double-crosses in movies are often incidental for action, this movie makes it central with Tetsuya’s loyalty to Karuta, and you have to follow the path of the betrayal.

I like Tetsuya Watari as the central character, but many of the other characters (especially Chieko Matsubara’s Chiharu feel like generic stock characters.  I will give the movie this, Tomoko Hamakawa, who plays the turncoat secretary Mutsuko, is possibly one of the most irritating characters brought to film…a welcomed death that if the police really investigated would probably be encouraged by anyone who knew her.

tokyo drifter ending tetsuya watari

Bad hiding place, guy

The movie really excels at the visuals which range from standard to surreal.  While the movie is an action film, the action feels oddly stodgy and there are multiple scenes where Tetsu just walks away from the conflict or just casually walks as he fights (and sings his song).  The movie’s very stylized with a black-and-white beginning mixed with bright colors and minimal sets at points.  It is a strange combination of eye candy.

I’ll give Tokyo Drifter this…it is a weird movie.  It is oddly paced, visually surreal, and deserves a few watches to understand the nuances of what is going on with the plot.  It wasn’t my favorite film, but I do have respect for it and you can see a lot of inspiration in films and directors that followed.  If you are a fan of the genre, Tokyo Drifter is a must.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response