Long before John Woo and Quentin Tarantino, Japanese director Seijun Suzuki was fashioning a luridly baroque, achingly existential, and zanily nihilist oeuvre that was derived partly from film noir and partly from ultraviolent comic strips. His 1966 Tokyo Drifter--one of his frequent ventures into the yakuza or gangster genre that's scheduled to open the Film Center's 14-picture retrospective--exudes a cynical disdain for societal values as well as the underworld's ever-changing code of honor, but it's also pervaded by a morbid, at times humorous tone. As is often true with Suzuki, the plot is minimal, a mere excuse for the protagonist to journey into the heart of darkness. The gambler Tetsu (played by Tetsuya Watari, Japan's James Dean) is caught in the intrigues between rival gangs and leaves the city for a while, traveling first to the snowbound north, then to a Wild West-amusement-park town in the south. Eventually he realizes he must return home for a showdown, and along the way he meets treachery and a woman whose love he can't reciprocate. In depicting the yakuzas' moral chaos and absurdist rituals Suzuki relies heavily on 60s pop-art fetishes and abstract architectural images. The film is masterfully shot in 'Scope, and the space that surrounds Tetsu is at once confining and deliriously in flux. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, July 14, 6:00, and Sunday, July 16, 4:00, 443-3737.