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Seijun Suzuki's gloriously artificial mash-up of Godard, Fuller, Fellini, James Bond and MGM musicals is an explosive, candy-coloured Pop Art freak-out.
The Nikkatsu brass imposed strict budget limitations on Tokyo Drifter as a means to curb director Seijun Suzuki's eccentric tendencies; instead, the renegade director employed his relative lack of resources to push his already bizarre aesthetic even further towards the avant-garde and surreal, creating a pop-art masterpiece that only got him in hotter water with his bosses. (Nikkatsu subsequently punished Suzuki by forcing him to shoot his next two films in black and white.) The plot is familiar enough — former yakuza hitman Tetsu (blank-faced pop singer Tetsuya Watari, wearing a powder-blue suit) is determined to go straight, but is soon targeted by his former boss and an old rival — but the execution is dazzling: a gloriously artificial, Day-Glo gangster-movie fantasia that is equal parts Godard, Fuller, Fellini, James Bond and MGM musicals. "Tokyo Drifter took pop art's sly appetite for pastiche and appropriation and spun it into a cool web of subliminal associations, a flabbergasting assemblage of tough-guy kitsch, poetry, and self-mockery" (Howard Hampton).