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Female Demon Ohyaku

Posted by Josh Samford On February - 8 - 2012

Female Demon Ohyaku (1968)
Director: Yoshihiko Ishikawa
Writers: Koji Takada and Takeshi Takahashi
Starring: Junko Miazono, Koji Nanbara, Kunio Murai and Kinji Nakamura.

The Plot: Our film begins with Ohyaku, an infant at the time, being held by her mother as she attempts to commit suicide by jumping off of a bridge into water. The young Ohyaku survives this leap, but is forever scarred across her back. We skip forward and find Ohyaku (Junko Miyazono) as a beautiful young woman. She has become a hustler of sorts, and has lately been running a scam where she seduces rich men before her friend breaks into the room and threatens to murder his cheating “wife.” The scam works well, but Ohyaku also manages to make a living working as a tightrope walker where all of the horndogs come to watch her walk across the tightrope while trying to peek up her dress. When the crowd becomes overly rebellious one evening, the young Ronin named Shin (Kunio Murai) stands up and helps protects the young woman’s honor. Shin and Ohyaku soon begin flirting, and it seems that Shin wants to induct this woman into his gang of bandits. His latest plan is to rob the local Sengoku government of a hefty shipment of gold, but he only intends to do this in order to teach the greedy bureaucrats a lesson. Meanwhile, Ohyaku finally discovers her mother’s secret past, as a prostitute, and this leads her fleeing into the arms of Shin who accepts her as a woman as well as a warrior. The two are soon engaged, and they are successful in robbing the government of the previously mentioned shipment of gold. However, the tables are turned when they are sold out and Shin is placed on the chopping block. With everything in this young woman’s life being stripped of her, Ohyaku intends to take revenge on those who have denied her the life she so desperately wanted.

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Yakuza Graveyard

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 5 - 2012

Yakuza Graveyard (1976)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writers: Kazuo Kasahara
Starring: Tetsuya Watari, Meiko Kaji and Hideo Murota

The Plot: Our film begins with a young man being hoisted out of a pachinko parlor after being hustled for some money by the Yakuza managers. While no one is looking, we are introduced to Kuroiwa (Tetsuya Watari) who grabs the young man’s pachinko balls. When Kuroiwa tries to cash them in, the gangsters start to hustle him in the same manner that they did the previous young punk. What they don’t know is that this is not a man to be trifled with. After giving up his money, Kuroiwa then follows the gangsters and shows them his badge and reveals that he is actually a cop. Kuroiwa places the punks under arrest, but is soon watching them hit the streets due to their yakuza ties. It turns out that Kuroiwa is a policeman with a haunted past. After a raid went down poorly, he found himself firing a bullet into the back of a yakuza after his partner had been shot in the shoulder. This landed Kuroiwa in a ton of hot water and has essentially ruined his career up until this point. Feeling indignant at his role in society, being a honest cop in a world of corruption, Kuroiwa is focused entirely on taking down the yakuza. However, as Kuroiwa ponders his life, he begins to find himself siding more with the yakuza than with the police department that he has swore his allegiance to.

The Review
Kinji Fukasaku is one of those legendary filmmakers that it took me a while to actually warm up to. This may be sacrilege, but when I first watched Outlaw Mobster, many years ago during my Japanese film infancy, I didn’t care for it. The slow pace, lack of immediate-gory-violence and the general maturity found in his films were all things that did not jump out to a teenage version of myself. As with all things though, you live, you learn and then you get Luv’s. When I finally decided to return to Fukasaku’s work a couple of years ago, I found a filmmaker who played some of the same tunes as my favorite contemporary Japanese filmmakers, but in a stripped-down punk rock version. His yakuza films were lean and gritty, but they were packed with rich characters who were far more than just “big glasses and a menacing grimace.” Yakuza Graveyard is the perfect example of what made Fuksaku’s crime tales so alluring, even though it came towards the end of his run in this genre, and it encapsulates all of the previously mentioned details into one tightly edited piece of seventies cinema. Although others may be drawn to different films from his massive list of titles, Yakuza Graveyard has quickly jumped up into my top three from this director’s “criminal” era.

Similar to Takashi Miike’s output, there’s a definite pattern within Fukasaku’s career that shows him focusing on “outsiders” and their place within society. Yakuza Graveyard simply uses the concept of half-blood characters as the main catalyst for finding a universal sense of brotherhood. The character of Kuroiwa is not a man who has found brotherhood in the police force, and he doesn’t see it in the mob, but he does see it in the other half-bloods who have found their way into this black and white/good and bad society that Kuroiwa is trapped within. Such is the case with many of Fukasaku’s leading men throughout his yakuza pictures. A fully developed genre-film director, Fukasaku’s work often resembles the arthouse aesthetic than it does the simple V-Cinema yakuza pictures that flood the markets today. Although his work may prove to be far bloodier than Akira Kurosawa’s, he does often delve into the same sincere character idiosyncrasies and simplistic narratives that the famed Japanese master did. Not that these two filmmakers could be any more different from one another than they most assuredly are, but both filmmakers had a knack for simplifying large situations and making them into a singular or internal issue. Yakuza Graveyard is a fine example of this. Unlike many yakuza films that you may see from this time and era, the characters aren’t simply flexing for the camera and playing up their onscreen bravado. These characters have layers and the subtext is rife within the picture, despite there being dozens of scenes of ritualistic yakuza violence.

Tetsuya Watari, in the role of Kuroiwa, doesn’t so much step onto the screen as he immediately erupts into the audience. A character that is so boisterous and exuding machismo that he doesn’t even have to say a word for the audience to understand that he is “the man.” This character of Kuroiwa is completely unorthodox, but he represents a unwavering belief in justice, regardless of what side of the law he finds himself. It could be argued that Yakuza Graveyard starts off as the Japanese version of Dirty harry, however, this is a cop who isn’t so indignant that he doesn’t understand the world around him. Where films such as Dirty Harry and Death Wish both represented a very black and white ideal version of the criminal element, where the bad guys were utterly evil an the good guys were filled with virtue, Fukasaku’s film likes to reside right in the middle ground. Inevitably, as the movie progresses, Kuroiwa becomes one with the criminal world that he has swore to arrest. Through the character of Keiko (played by Meiko Kaji) and her friend who is the leader of the Nishida clan (also a half breed, and played by Hideo Murota), he finds himself becoming a honorary member of the yakuza. Although the instincts that they have tried to teach him through police work tell him to not play these friends too close, he finds with this group the family that he has never had. They are mixed breeds like himself, and together this trio find that they are the only ones that they can depend upon in the crooked Japanese society.

The character of Kuroiwa is the definition of a rebel within the system. He spends his offtime sitting around listening to extremely loud English speaking rock music while drinking heavily and wearing sunglasses inside. As a jaded viewer, a part of me wants to question just why this character is so “utterly cool,” and in another film, I probably would. If someone other than Fukasaku were directing such scenes, I would look at this character who is typically non-conforming, but still desperately clinging to stylistic conventions (sunglasses at night, in a dark room), and I would call such a character cliche. However, Fukasaku harnesses a performance from Watari that is so raw and animalistic that this never seems like a character who is full of false bravado. Kuroiwa doesn’t do what he does in order to look cool, he instead seems to be a man on the verge of a total breakdown. He isn’t a flawless character, not by a longshot, he’s a man for whom death and life are important things and living with the death of a man is something that has left him haunted. This, along with his half-breed status (He is of Chinese descent), has him near to a breaking point. This character, who is rife with dramatic tension, seems to be hanging on to his sanity by a thread. As the movie presses along, that thread becomes more and more tenuous.

The Conclusion
There’s so much more to say about the film. Watari’s performance is stoic and over-the-top in one scene, and then quiet and humble during the next. A well-rounded character, he blew me away in this film. Meiko Kaji’s character is a bit more on the dramatic, and shows her shedding her “tough” image in a performance that shows her at her most vulnerable. All around, Yakuza Graveyard is incredible. I had to debate on the issue, but I feel the need to give it my highest approval. It gets a five out of five. This is everything that a yakuza picture can be, but so often is not. If you have not seen it, pick it up immediately.


Posted by Josh Samford On November - 14 - 2011

Outrage (2010)
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writers: Takeshi Kitano
Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Kippei Shiina and Jun Kunimura

The Plot: The plot for Outrage concerns a struggle for power amongst Tokyo’s yakuza clans. Although today the yakuza have a slightly more business-friendly face, Outrage shows that the Japanese mafia still knows how to get their hands dirty. The story begins with a warning traveling down the yakuza hierarchy, starting from the main boss Sekiuchi (Soichiro Kitamura) and then coming to his main lieutenant Kato (Tomokazu Miura), and then he finally directs it to the man that the warning was initially made for: Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura), a lower boss within the family. It seems that Ikemoto has ties with the Murase crime family, due to the two gangster bosses swearing an oath to one another while in jail, but this friendship outside of the family doesn’t sit well with the higher ups. Knowing that trouble will surely brew if he doesn’t make a move, Ikemoto orders his right-hand man Otomo (Takeshi Kitano) to take a crew and open up a office on the Murase families main turf. This is seen as a less offensive way to send a message back to the bosses, but this small message then spirals into a full-on yakuza bloodbath.

The Review
Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage may be the most “gangster” film that the director has ever made. Easily combining every potential combination of macho bravado that has ever been seen in any of his tales of cops and robbers, Outrage could very well be seen as Kitano completely pandering to his audience. Within recent years, the director has stepped out and made more wildly experimental films than at any other point in his varied career. Dolls was a bizarre, yet stylish, look at love and longing, but it was told without any form of realistic logic. Then there was the incomprehensible Takeshis which nearly ended my own personal love affair with the filmmaker’s work. Outrage has been touted as a return to form, where the popular comedian returns to what he is best known for: criminal violence. He cut his teeth as a director on projects such as Violent Cop, Sonatine and Hana-bi, and all were films that portrayed a slightly darker view of morality. Outrage is a much more procedural film than anything he has ever done. However, this is not a documentary style crime film. The best way to describe it would be Tony Montana-esque in its portrayal of modern crime, but desaturated in both its look and emotion. Packed with more bloodshed than all of his previous films combined, Outrage is certain to push a few buttons.

The positive attributes for having this be the most “gangster” film of Kitano’s career are obvious: it is incredibly cool. Filled to the brim with ferocious violence and machismo, Kitano lets himself run loose inside the world of the Yakuza in a fashion that doesn’t seem to acknowledge reality. After seeing this film, one would imagine the Yakuza of Japan racking up more bloodshed than the Bloods and Crips during the early nineties. At all times, characters seem as if they are posing for the camera instead of legitimately emoting. The male cast ups their masculinity to a level that leaves the earth’s stratosphere. This sometimes comes across as being over-the-top, and a bit silly, but for the most part Kitano manages to deliver on the “hip” factor whilst pandering to his audience. Pandering is a dirty word, I realize, but you can hardly say he is doing much else. Indeed, this seems like the sort of film that a teenager imagines when trying to conjure up visions of the most violent and macho crime film ever made. Sure, it doesn’t reach levels of outright goriness, but human life is shown as fickle throughout, and Kitano even becomes elaborate in his forms of torture and death. Expect to see dentist tools used in exceptionally brutal ways, as well as a near-decapitation sequence that has to be seen to be believed. The ferocity of Outrage jumps off the screen right from its start, and it never dares to relent.

The film embellishes on the enormous violence of the yakuza, and does not attempt to give much more in terms of depth or meaning. This isn’t the Kitano of old, where violence came from out of the dark within a moment’s notice. Outrage portrays its violence in a very methodical way, filling the film with a sense of oncoming tragedy right from its very start. Even when violence isn’t crashing down on our protagonists, the film is establishing reasoning for eventual violence. Death and bloodshed seem inevitable within this world that Kitano has crafted, and although the subject matter is similar to what he has done before, the execution is done in a much different way. Previously Kitano used violence as a means to show the fragility of life and the sudden impact that one moment can have (such as the firing of a bullet), but gone is that sense of existential dread that made the director a known figure in world cinema. Instead, he focuses on a much more procedural story that looks to examine the changes in organized crime. Similar titles to this would be the Italian crime film Gomorrah, or even the works of Johnnie To. In particular, Outrage plays out like a much more violent take on To’s Election series.

Maybe the clue to Kitano’s intentions are right in the title. Maybe the inevitable goal was to create outrage amongst those who might be offended. Maybe Kitano set his film into hyperdrive for the sole reason of giving the audience an overdose on everything that they think they want. Kitano’s story is terribly conventional by his standards. The story establishes warring factions who only serve the purpose of showcasing many scenes of violence and style. The few clues that we have in finding further depth within the story seems to be in the character of Otomo, played by Kitano. He is a character who is out of place within the yakuza element, due to his old-fashioned views of honor. This new yakuza that the film introduces, seems only focused on greed and victory. Towards the end of the film Otomo has only one scene that punctuates the aura of “bravado” that encompasses all of the main cast, where he all but admits that that times have changed. This is one of the few hints that I found where Kitano seemed to have something legitimate to say. Perhaps, coming off of the critical lambasting that his recent films have had for their experimentation, Kitano too feels as if his touches of sentimentality have left him out of touch with an audience that simply demands more gangster films. Outrage then plays out as both as a ruthlessly “gangster” tale, but also a sarcastic and biting answer to his most prevalent critics. If sources are correct, it seems that Kitano made the film with the intentions of creating something entirely financially viable. He even crafted the death scenes well before the actual story was ever put into place, which seems to compliment the theory that the film is ultimately a satirical answer to his most ruthless critics.

The Conclusion
When I think about the reasons that I like Outrage, I think about the moments that seem to resemble Kitano at his best. The stark characters, the very static camera movement on beautiful scenery, and the ambivalent coolness of the characters, all of this can be found in Outrage at various point. The overall goal of the film is a bit shrouded to me as a viewer, but I enjoyed the ride. Whether or not the supposed Outrage 2, that was hinted at during the credits, actually comes into fruition or is actually just another joke at the expense of a blood-thirsty audience, I do not know. Regardless, no matter what Kitano does next, I am once again excited to see this man’s work.

Shinjuku Outlaws Review

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 14 - 2010
Back again people, this time with some classic Takashi Miike! It has been a little bit since I reviewed anything from the mad dog of Japanese cinema, so why not go back to something a little more obscure from the man? So this goes back to Miike’s earliest days and is generally considered one of his first real “Miike” movies. Not a bad film at all either, check out the review to discover more!

The Plot: The story begins in Shinjuku with the boss of a Yakuza crime family sitting in the hospital dying of cancer. The bosses impending death scares the family and they think that when their rivals find out about the shift change in the upper echelon of the group, that they’ll take it as their time to move in on their territory. So, looking to make the first move the bosses son turns to Katsuichi Yomi (Hiroyuki Watanabe) to kill the boss of this rival gang. He is given a gun, arranges to be picked up by the law if he survives the attack and starts looking for the boss of their rivals. When he tracks the old man to a bowling alley, he goes in guns a-blazing. He takes out the old man (in front of his granddaughter, who’s face is splattered with blood) but gets mowed down by his bodyguards. When he arrives at the hospital, he falls into a coma. For the next ten years he lays asleep in a medical ward of a prison. When he finally awakens, the whole world has changed around him. His best friend Eto has run off with his woman Ayumi and the two now run a small time Filipino prostitution ring. Eto has himself in a decent amount of debt so on Yomi’s return he finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time, as Eto has been kidnapped by a group he owes money to and they are now looking to extort to get their cash back. Yomi, who everyone assumed would hunt down and kill Eto for what seems like betrayal, instead risks his life to save his former partner. The yakuza takes notice of Yomi and decides they want him in their organization and make him an offer he can’t refuse. Yomi will have to battle his own personal demons as well as a crooked cop, the mob and the Taiwanese mafia.






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