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Flower Cards Chivalry

June 11, 2020

Flower Cards Chivalry (花札渡世) (1967)
Dir. Masashige Narusawa
Cast: Tatsuo Umemiya, Haruko Wanibuchi, Junzaburo Ban, Tatsuo Endo, Toru Abe, Ko Nishimura

An absolutely astonishing art house ninkyo yakuza film by Masashige Narusawa. Wandering gambler Tatsuo Umemiya runs into a young swindler woman Haruko Wanibuchi working with old man Junzaburo Ban. They are both arrested by detective Ko Nishimura. A year later Umemiya is staying with gangster Tatsuo Endo when he comes across that woman and her partner again. Endo lusts for both her and his own daughter, while Endo’s looney yakuza brother Toru Abe has a thing for Endo’s daughter, who in turn has her eye on Umemiya, and is willing to annihilate people standing on her way. And here lies one of the film’s remarkable departures from the standard ninkyo efforts: it doesn’t have a third party villain, nor a clear distinction between good and evil. It’s bursting with romantic emotion and wrenched with gritty realism, shot with striking black and white compositions, and explodes into shocking carnage. It has lengthier, more detailed gambling scenes than any other yakuza film I’ve seen. And it has a heartbreakingly beautiful score. You could call it the Ashes of Time of ninkyo yakuza films. A masterpiece!

Director Narusawa is better known as a screenwriter who penned numerous Mako Midori and Tatsuo Umemiya films (e.g. the Song of the Night series) but only directed a handful of films. Flower Cards Chivalry was recently restored by Toei and broadcast on TV but has never been released on video.

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