Tokyo Drifter is director Tetsuaki Matsue’s follow-up to his 2009 film Live Tape, and follows the same singer, Kenta Maeno, during one night in Tokyo.
The film opens with a distant, out-of-focus shot of Maeno arriving in the city, setting the tone for the rest of the film, as some of the images fall in and out out of focus due to Matsue’s use of a hand-held camera. The accompanying soundtrack is one of the few sounds in the film, as the hustle and bustle of Tokyo is turned down to the barely audible. We then move through a series of rough cuts and black-outs as Maeno moves through the city.
Watching Tokyo Drifter gives the effect of listening to a rough cut of Maeno’s album thanks to the between-track tuning and sudden cuts. The setting changes, sometimes after one song and on other occasions after three, and we see Maeno outside shops, next to traffic lights and, on one occasion, just as a silhouette. I found it difficult to understand why each backdrop was selected for a particular song, but this may be something lost in the translated lyrics, or due to not being familiar with the city itself.
The songs themselves were quirky and catchy and as we left the screen there were one or two people singing the ending track, the film’s namesake Tokyo Drifter. The film itself is rough and ready, and does highlight the less-shown low tech side of Japan. The city also does not look as you would expect, as many of the areas used are not brightly lit and are relatively quiet. This was an unusual approach, as Maeno often sings of his love of the city, but to those who have not visited the scenes could have been anywhere. The interludes showing him eating, filling his motorbike with petrol and driving to the next location give the viewer some insight into the singer’s everyday life, but not enough to understand the reasoning behind the film.
Overall it was a bold concept and approach, and I enjoyed the songs and Maeno’s evident delight in performing them, but there was not quite enough here to fill a feature film. As Maeno is the sole focus, there is nothing to hold the audience’s interest other than the music, as there is no dialogue and no interaction with anyone else.
Worth seeing only for fans of Maeno or if you know Tokyo well and would like a soundtrack while you drift through it.
27th June, Cineworld, 18:10
28th June, Cineworld, 21:15
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