Archive for the ‘Yakuza’ Category

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Sonny Chiba Reviews

April 6, 2017

A bit of self-promotion here. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m also running a Sonny Chiba review blog called Sketches of Chiba with tons of reviews of classics as well as very rare films and TV shows. The blog can be found here:

https://sketchesofchiba.wordpress.com/

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The Blossom and the Sword

April 2, 2017

The Blossom and the Sword (Nihon kyoka den) (1973)

Tai Kato’s early 20th century set yakuza epic about an ordinary merchant girl (Yoko Maki) who crosses paths with an assassin (Tetsuya Watari). The encounter sends her to jail as a suspected accomplice. Years later she marries a yakuza boss, whose gang is affiliated with working class people. The boss is wounded by the same assassin, who however has a change of heart when his own boss (Bin Amatsu) turns out a rotten bastard, and he falls in love with the woman.

There are some slow patches and unnecessary humour during the first half – the film was released in two halves with an intermission – but the second half is tremendous. Although Kato is more interested in characters and revealing the oppression of common people than filming stylised yakuza mayhem, he ends the film with a fight scene featuring one of the most striking image compositions in recent memory, with fatally wounded Watari and Amatsu fighting for their lives in the background while another dying man is crawling right towards the camera and spitting blood.

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Kanto Woman Yakuza

April 2, 2017

Kanto Woman Yakuza (Kanto onna yakuza) (1968)

Nikkatsu Noir meets Girl Gang Films at Daiei. Michio Yasuda, one of the studio’s few female action stars,  leads a group of three girls who make their living playing on the clubs. They soon run into trouble with the yakuza. The film has a phenomenally energetic opening with great music, fantastic cinematography and Yasuda kicking ass. It’s just a shame the storyline gradually takes a more conservative turn with emphasis shifted towards the male characters, who do the dirty work in the climax. It’s still a very stylish film with superb cinematography and amazing moments where director Akira Inoue sets scenes to a blazing rock score. The film also does great job capturing the streets and clubs populated by the lower class. This is a small discovery, although more noirish and down to earth than the likes of Stray Cat Rock that would make a passable comparison point.

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Nikkatsu Action / Buichi Saito

August 8, 2014

Diamonds of the Andes (Sekido o kakeru otoko) (1968)

Buichi Saito directed one of the best Lone Wolf and Cub films: Babycart in Peril (1972). His 1960’s films can be quite different, as showcased by this Nikkatsu movie filmed entirely in Brazil.

Akira Kobayashi stars as a former criminal now living new life in South America, but haunted by old enemies. He’s still being chased down by a Japanese detective (Tetsuro Tamba) and a former partner in crime (Eiji Go) whom he betrayed several years ago.

It’s a stylishly filmed movie with beautiful landscapes and Kobayashi playing guitar at sunset in Rio de Janeiro, but not nearly as great as a story. Most of the film consists of routine love drama after Kobayashi’s former girlfriend returns to his life and competes with the new lady. The cast in almost entirely Japanese and there’s also the compulsory carnival footage which feels especially tourist-like.

Landscapes aside, small bits of solid action at the beginning and end are the most exciting thing about the film, but clearly not its focus. It’s a nice curiosity, but not a very good film.

The Elder Sister (Anego) (1969)

Nikkatsu director Toshio Masuda once said in an interview that audiences went to Toei’s yakuza films for the action, and came to Nikkatsu’s crime films for the stories. The statement wasn’t entirely true, but it nevertheless springs to mind when watching Buichi Saito’s Anego (Elder Sister), a feminine yakuza drama with very little action in it.

The film follows the struggles of a yakuza wife after his husband gets hurt in a knife fight. Unfortunately it’s not a very memorable story, nor is there anything special about the execution. It’s merely a slow moving yakuza drama. Ironically it closes with a Toei style showdown, which is probably the most exciting part of the film. Akira Kobayashi pops up a number of times to save the day, always just on time.

IMDb lists English aka The Woman Gambler for this film, but that’s likely to be a mistake. The film has no connection to gambler movies, which were a popular genre at both Toei and Nikkatsu in the 1960’s.