Tokyo Drifter

Tokyo Drifter


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Filmed in Tokyo, during the subdued window where post-Fukushima power issues saw much of that great city's lights turned off, Tokyo Drifter follows a man with a guitar and a motorcycle as he, well, drifts through the city. Kenta Maeno is that man, Tetsuaki Matsue the director who follows him, 16 are the songs that he sings as he goes. You shouldn't.

Kenta's a singer-songwriter, here playing in an acoustic guitar mode. His "lyrical abandon" suggests that they were left out overnight, and that might be the case. Translation is hard - see Riding Zorro for how badly it can go wrong - and doing it for songs which have things like scansion and rhyme would tax anyone. So it's not entirely fair to blame Kenta for songs whose lyrics make little sense, even before we get to the business of cultural translation; A 'white wedding' has varied connotations in different cultures.

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"McDonalds in tattered clothes, smelling an unignited generation". That's one. "A hat blows away, brought back by a girl" is another. "A cat as his one friend, an old man plays in an alley". "You begged for ice cream in your suffering". "The cockroach trap overflowing". "Little cockroaches appearing / from over here and over there". "Cucumber is no longer cucumber". "Do me from behind like an animal". "I only wanna be in you / in you when I'm drunk." "Do re mi fuck me". "To be a laughingstock like John & Yoko". "I'm bored".

None of those are made up. They're not strictly representative, because none of them appear more than once, never mind again and again and again. They also don't quite convey the earnest open-mic night shoe-gazing Shed Seven-ness of the songs, the tunes of which would cause you to move to a further table in a pub if leaving wasn't an option. There's a pretty good discordantly jangly speed/thrash bit about halfway through "back to the future", but it's seconds of a song that's more than an hour into the picture, and then it's back to the same damply pitiable acoustic dirge.

The obvious test would be to hop over to the search engine of your choice and see if Maeno's output was to your liking. That's stated outright because visually there's not enough to compel you towards this otherwise. Tokyo's backstreets are interesting: there's an offset in the closed shops and alleyways punctuated by level crossings, a canal at dawn and the arcane motorway network of the Tokyo-Kyoto-Kobe conurbation. It's shot on grainy DV from a distance, however, and while there's a certain lo-fi thing going on, maybe even a punk thing with the guerilla filming, this is like high school all over again - the kid with the trainers and acoustic guitar and sunglasses and leather jacket is probably trying too hard.

Shot in vague segments, never more than a couple of songs in length, Tokyo Drifter will tend to give an establishing shot, a zoom to Kenta, he sings a song, sometimes stationary, sometimes not, and then the screen goes black and the sound cuts out and it starts again. H&M shop window, by a wharf, on a traffic island, riding along on his scooter - that last style demonstrates one of the abiding mysteries of Tokyo Drifter, how its sound was captured. There's a boom mic reflected in one shop window, and Maeno's always wearing the same jacket so there could be a radio mike hidden in there - it would explain the distortions when he guns the engine of his conveyance, warbling in his helmet as he does so.

For a while one wonders if there is some allegorical structure at play, Dante and Virgil, perhaps, or the stations of the cross. If there is a key to unlocking this picture it would seem to have remained a mystery or be intimately bound up in being a fan of Kenta or his musical genre, this six-stringed dishwater.

This has been described as a "conceptual concert film", so let's treat it as it ought to be treated. It's not got an encore, and there's nothing catchy enough to dance to, so let's further focus on 'concept'. Lacking a gate-fold sleeve to pore over, instead let us consider; have you ever looked at your hands? I mean, really looked at them? Do that instead.

Reviewed on: 30 Jun 2012
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A man wanders the streets of Tokyo by night, singing to indifferent people.
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Director: Tetsuaki Matsue

Starring: Kenta Maeno

Year: 2011

Runtime: 72 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan


EIFF 2012

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