Tokyo Drifter

July 4, 2012

Another superb Tokyo film by Matsue & Maeno

Tokyo Drifter (2011)

2010/05/27, Tokyo.

Night falls in the rainy metropolis. Fukushima has exploded, Tokyo’s trademark neon lights have been turned off, and the rain falling from the sky is potentially radioactive. But one man and a small crew following him refuse to give in to the darkness. Their aim: a love song for Tokyo and the feel good film no. 1 of the year!

Documentarian Tetsuaki Matsue and folk-wonder Kenta Maeno became an indie phenomenon in 2009, when their Live Tape debuted on film festivals around the world. The inspiring little film, shot entirely with a single take, followed Maeno walking the streets of Tokyo and performing his music. Two years later the duo has a new film in the theaters. Time will show whether this stylistic re-issue will live up to the success of its predecessor.

Tokyo Drifter, which was shot during a single rainy night, is a music film and a street document. No one is interviewed and there is not a word of dialogue to be heard. Maeno, armed with guitar and sunglasses, wanders around Tokyo performing an album worth of great music about life, love, and other things. Director Matsue faithfully follows in his footsteps – though this time editing his film into separate, long take sequences.

Tokyo Drifter is above all a film for the fans of Maeno. Yet, at the same time it’s something more. As the slightly un-stylish but cool in his own way hero wanders around we start to grasp something of the insecure atmosphere that was present in the post-Fukushima streets of Tokyo. The need to save energy had finally brought the night into the city that is normally light even at night by the gigantic neon lights. In Maeno’s film Tokyo finally appears like a normal city – the most unusual state for Japan’s capital.

Director Matsue was not depressed by the change – he saw something beautiful and appealing, but unusual in it. For documenting it his choice of medium was a cheap video camera off the store shelf. Its grainy and inconsistent output, plagued with errors caused by auto-focus, reminded the director of those YouTube videos that he and millions of others had relied on as an important news source during the early hours and days of the disaster. Sound quality was, however, not to be compromised – Tokyo Drifter is a music film after all.

The real star of the show, however, is Maeno. The irresistibly energetic musician is never brought down even by the nightmarish combination of dark, rainy night, and trademark sunglasses that remain on throughout the film. He is left without audience in every location he travels (in the film), but in the comfort of cinema his show is one not to be missed. As the night finally turns into a day, one cannot help but to wish morning had not come yet. At 70 minutes Matsue turns off the lights, leaving Maeno’s Tokyo Drifter theme song playing against black screen. Good morning, Tokyo.

Side note 1: In the Sapporo premiere Matsue, who was touring the country with guitar and film reels in his hand, held a 4 song mini-concert as appetizers for the following day’s main event. The theater staff had notable difficulties believing their ears as Matsue requested to play his final song in complete darkness.

Side note 2: Nicholas Vroman’s highly informative Matsue interview, excessively referred in this review, can be found at his site a page of madness

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