Tokyo Drifter (Tōkyō nagaremono) (Madman) (1966)

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Released 6-Jun-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Mob Main Menu Audio & Animation
Gallery-Stills (5)
Trailer-Death Trance; Branded To Kill; Shadowless Sword
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1966
Running Time 79:07
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Seijun Suzuki

Madman Entertainment
Starring Tetsuya Watari
Chieko Matsubara
Hideaki Nitani
Ryuji Kita
Tsuyoshi Yoshida
Hideaki Esumi
Tamio Kawaji
Eiji Go
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $24.95 Music Hajime Kaburagi

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.30:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Tokyo Drifter follows young Tetsu, of the Kurata mob-family. The Kurata clan is undergoing a transitional phase at the time, as much of the old gang has been disbanded and their leader wants to try living life straight for a while. Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari), Kurata's right hand man, is following in his leader's footsteps, but is finding the path arduous at best. It seems Kurata (Ryuji Kita) still has large debts, in fact his building is about to be foreclosed by the rival Yoshii gang, threatening to re-ignite old gang feuds. Despite his relatively small debt of 8 Million, the property assets he is holding could be worth over twenty million - so it's no wonder the heavies want to settle the debt pronto.

    Tetsu becomes a bit overwhelmed by the goings-on in Tokyo and heads north, but he soon finds his name has travelled pretty well. Every would-be gangster he passes wants to recruit him, and he has Yoshii's violent henchman, The Viper (Tamio Kawaji), on his tail constantly. Just when he thought things couldn't get any worse, his former mentor becomes convinced Tetsu is a threat, giving orders for him to be rubbed out. This betrayal forces Tetsu to return to Tokyo, climaxing in a fantastic final shootout.

    I'm fascinated by films that were shunned abhorrently on initial release, only to be embraced as classics in later years. Michael Powell's Peeping Tom springs to mind as another that was misunderstood an deemed to have 'gone too far'. Tokyo Drifter (Tokyo nagaremono) was similarly way ahead of its time, with a bombastic soundtrack score and bright, psychedelic colouring, director Seijun Suzuki received such a backlash to his work that he shunned the film industry for a decade. Suzuki had an acute eye for framing and perspective, as is evidenced here beautifully. Activity and colour fills some frames to the point of bursting, while other shots linger on motionless objects without apparent reason. Depth, colour and perspective are exquisite, particularly towards the film's finale, almost as though the director accelerated these tools in order to heighten the viewer's senses. This is a fascinating, visual feast.

    Suzuki's following film, Branded to Kill is a personal favourite of mine, and I feel it is the superior of these two, both in style and storytelling. Tokyo Drifter star Tetsuya Watari has the visage of a chubby Jet Li, which amuses me a bit. Having said that, I feel even an average Seijun Suziki film should be mandatory viewing, particularly if you're familiar with his other work.

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Transfer Quality


    The image has been framed in an aspect ratio of 2.30:1, 16x9 enhanced. The film was shot in the studio's own 35mm Nikkatsuscope, which should translate as 2.35:1. Not only is this image heavily windowboxed on all sides, it seems slightly compressed horizontally, which would account for the minor discrepancy in aspect ratio. The stretching (or distortion) to the image is quite noticeable, particularly when actor's faces occupy the screen. I also noted a slow camera pan at 63:10 that highlights the degree of image distortion in the transfer.

    Our transfer maintains a true PAL runtime, so there are no ugly NTSC conversion artefacts to be concerned about. The transfer is a little on the soft side, lacking the fine detail we'd expect of a more recent production. Having said that, I was pleased with the transfer, given the film's age. I noticed a few jagged edges now and then, usually on foreground objects.

    The film opens with a few minutes of black & white footage, which soon changes to colour for the remainder of the film. Blacks are of an adequate depth, with appreciable shadow detail to be found in darker scenes. Colours are pastel-like at best, which may be indicative of the director's tastes more than flaws in the transfer. Some scenes utilise bright coloured lighting, which is represented here quite well.

    A mild degree of MPEG compression artefacting can be seen now and then, usually in the form of grain, such as on the pale wall at 34:06. Film artefacts are few, mostly the odd spec of dirt here or there, but nothing overly obtrusive. I noted a persistent hair in the bottom right of the frame at 39:35.

    The English subtitles are optional and are comprised of a yellow font that is easy to read. White subtitles are used for locations and translation of on-screen text. The subs are usually placed in the bottom black bar of the transfer. I noticed a couple of lines of dialogue that are not translated for some reason. There are no spelling errors that I could see.

    The film has been authored on a simple single-layered disc (DVD5 format).

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There's only one soundtrack included and that is the film's original Japanese language, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (448Kb/s).

    Given the film's age, this is not too bad. The dialogue comes across a little distorted at times, usually when actors raise their voices. The foley sync is slightly out, very noticeable when punches and slaps are thrown. The film's ADR holds up well, all but for one dodgy line from a dancer at 57:50.

    I noted a few pops and crackles here and there, but the audio is in an otherwise good condition. Gun shots have a nice depth and music is much brighter than I was expecting.

    The film's theme song is sung by star Tetsuya Watari. The film's original music is credited to Hajime Kaburagi and mixes brassy jazz with percussive eastern flavours. It's a little kitschy and firmly rooted in its era, but when married with the visuals it becomes great fun.

    The subwoofer and surround channels aren't utilised, obviously.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The main menu page is animated with clips from the film, including an excerpt from the theme tune.

Gallery- Stills (5)

    Five monochrome images taken from the film. Quite stylish, actually.

Trailers (3)

    Trailers are included for other Eastern Eye titles; Death Trance (2:29), Branded To Kill (0:44) and Shadowless Sword. All are 16x9 enhanced, with English subtitles included, and the last features very nice 5.1 audio.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The North American Criterion release of 1999 is coded for Region 0. The widescreen transfer is not 16x9 enhanced, and picture quality is reportedly quite sharp. A 20 minute interview with the director is included.

    Judging by screen shots I have viewed, ours seems comparable to the Region 2 release by Yume Pictures (even down to the stretched image). The transfers seem identical, however, the Region 2 is an unsightly NTSC conversion.

    The local product will suffice I think, until Criterion decide to offer a remastered version of their title. Likewise, if you already own the Criterion this release doesn't necessarily represent an upgrade.


    Tokyo Drifter is a classic of the genre, but doesn't quite live up to my favourite; Suzuki's Branded to Kill.

    The transfer shows its age, but could be considerably improved upon in my opinion.

    The extras are lightweight.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Rob Giles (readen de bio, bork, bork, bork.)
Friday, July 20, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-3910, using HDMI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector, Screen Technics Cinemasnap 96" (16x9). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3806 (7.1 Channels)
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III floor-standing Mains and Surrounds. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Center. Mirage 10 inch powered sub.

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