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Yakuza Deep Dive
#1
I've been going through a yakuza movie deep dive recently. The problem with going through this genre is that alot of movies never got a DVD/streaming release in the states. This has led me to patronize sites that I assume are peddling bootlegs, but if you want to do a serious retrospective of the yakuza genre, the few yakuza films that the Criterion Collection decided to pick up and the few Kinji Fukasaku movies streaming on prime are not enough. I've already seen all of the Battles Without Honor and Humanity and New Battles Without Honor and Humanity series as well as both of Suzki's Branded to Kill and Toyko Drifter. I've also seen most American made yakuza movies like The Yakuza (1974), Black Rain (1989), and American Yakuza (1993).  

So far I've marathoned through a lot of Fukasaku's pre-Battles work: Wolves, Pigs, and Men (1964), Blackmail is My Life (1968), Japanese Organized Crime Boss (1969), Bloodstained Clan Honor (1970), Sympathy for the Underdog (1971), Street Mobster (1972), and Outlaw Killers: Three Mad Dog Brothers (1972). As well as his immediate post-Battles work: Graveyard of Honor (1975), Cops vs. Thugs (1975), and Cross the Rubicon! (1975). One of the most interesting things I've noticed about the genre is how Fukasaku's Street Mobster and Scorsese's Mean Streets share a remarkably similar style despite no proof of the two directors being aware of each other at that time in their careers. Bunta Sugawara is an amazing actor of the genre whose name should be up there with Cagney, De Niro, and Pacino.

I've also gone through: Pigs and Battleships (1961), Prison Boss (1968), Yakuza Law: Lynching! (1969), The Wolves (1971), Code of Wolves (1974), Sonatine (1993), and Takashi Miike's Dead or Alive trilogy, Black Society trilogy, and Yakuza Apocalypse (2015). I've yet to go through the Outrage trilogy and I've also heard that alot of the Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman features yakuza groups through the series. I'll definitely be taking suggestions for more to run through if anyone had any to offer.


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#2
Every so often I revisit The Yakuza (1974). It's ultimately a movie that doesn't live up to its pedigree - you have Sydney Pollack directing, the first screenplay written by Paul Schrader (who also wrote an amazing primer for the genre upon The Yakuza's release), the script was rewritten by Robert Towne (Chinatown), and stars Robert Mitchum and his Asian tough guy counterpart and genre veteran Ken Takakura. Alot of critics beef with The Yakuza is that it's an exploitation movie masquerading as high art. While I really can't blame critics at the time for thinking this, because the amount of Yakuza movies trickling in to Western theaters was stagnant, its become a mantra that is continued to be repeated with modern critics who have the opportunity to look back at the whole genre retrospectively. The problem I have with that line of thought is that is dismisses the ability of the Yakuza genre to be little more than bloody, messy nothingness. Kinji Fukasaku's original Battles Without Honor and Humanity is not only on par with The Godfather in its scope, but also equal to the gritty realism, and less honorable gangsters that Scorsese brought the the American gangster genre with Mean Streets (1974). Sure, there are alot of yakuza film's that are nothing but proto torture porn movies (see Yakuza Law:Lynching), where the plot takes a backseat to the carnage on screen, but that's not what makes up the whole genre. The Yakuza can be both a yakuza film and high art.

That being said, the movie does have its problems. The action scenes are a big problem - Mitchum doesn't move alot in the movie, but that can be justified with him being an old American who just shotguns away his problems (both Robert Redford and Lee Marvin were also considered for that role). Schrader said that Pollack was obsessed with playing off the collision of two distinct cultures, and didn't make the bloody underworld movie that Schrader intended it to be. It's most definitely a slow burn, which is a rare pace for the genre. Looking back, it is almost a checklist of genre tropes and rituals, but I think it's a fine movie for most western audiences to be introduced to the Yakuza for the first time
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#3
Pollack did a good job staging the action in THE YAKUZA. It's all primarily in the later portion of the film but that was the style for action films back then for the most part. Mitchum was definitely toward the end of his tough guy days but still cut an imposing figure in the flick.
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#4
I'm honestly surprised THE YAKUZA has never been remade...have Liam Neeson take the Mitchum role and Hiroyuki Sanada take the Takakura role, bam. Get an up and comer in there for the Jordan role (or maybe Jason Statham and re-write the character's fate) and you've got a winner. Maybe Gabriel Byrne in the Keith role while you're at it.
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#5
I recall there was talk of remaking it about 10 years ago. Only actor I remember being attached was Rain for Takaura who Warner Bros. was trying to pump up after that flick NINJA ASSASSIN. Don't recall anyone seriously considered for Mitchum's part.

Likely for the best that that didn't come to fruition.
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#6
(06-20-2019, 12:32 PM)Judas Booth Wrote: I'm honestly surprised THE YAKUZA has never been remade...have Liam Neeson take the Mitchum role and Hiroyuki Sanada take the Takakura role, bam.  Get an up and comer in there for the Jordan role (or maybe Jason Statham and re-write the character's fate) and you've got a winner.  Maybe Gabriel Byrne in the Keith role while you're at it.

First, I think Black Rain was Ridley's take on doing a Yakuza remake/sequel. There are moments in BR that are great but it's ultimately a let down.

remake wise...

Liam has become too overexposed with all his old-JohnWick films.

I could see Denzel Washington in the Mitchum role. 

alternates-
Clive Owen
Jeffery Dean Morgan
Kevin Costner
??
I used to be with "it", but then they changed what "it" was. Now, what I'm with isn't "it", and what's "it" seems weird and scary to me.   -Grandpa Simpson
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#7
We actually have an ASIAN FILM THREAD that will have dozens of recommendations. http://citizens.trouble.city/showthread.php?tid=42981

You're off to a good start. I'd recommend most of the Yakuza films on DVD put out by ArtsMagic, if you can find them. (ANOTHER LONELY HITMAN, THE MOBSTER'S CONFESSIONS, A YAKUZA IN LOVE, ONIBI: THE FIRE WITHIN.)

Both versions of GRAVEYARD OF HONOR (the remake was directed by Miike) are really good.
Also Miike's AGITATOR, SHINJUKU OUTLAWS, THE MAN IN WHITE, ICHI THE KILLER (extremely graphic), DEADLY OUTLAW REKKA, YAKUZA DEMON, LIKE A DRAGON and GOZU.
Kurosawa's DRUNKEN ANGEL.
Kitano's BOILING POINT, SONATINE, KIKUJIRO, BROTHER.
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#8
(06-20-2019, 01:09 PM)vtran Wrote:
(06-20-2019, 12:32 PM)Judas Booth Wrote: I'm honestly surprised THE YAKUZA has never been remade...have Liam Neeson take the Mitchum role and Hiroyuki Sanada take the Takakura role, bam.  Get an up and comer in there for the Jordan role (or maybe Jason Statham and re-write the character's fate) and you've got a winner.  Maybe Gabriel Byrne in the Keith role while you're at it.

First, I think Black Rain was Ridley's take on doing a Yakuza remake/sequel. There are moments in BR that are great but it's ultimately a let down.

Only letdown is that it ends.
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#9
Agreed. BLACK RAIN is nearly a perfect film for me, and I would not think ill of a person who considered it Ridley's best film.

I also think that Nick Conklin is one of Mike's best acting performances. I'd rate his dialog exchange with Mas over noodles where he admits to taking money as one of the single best scenes in his career.

And dammit, I STILL say that his character in BASIC INSTINCT is Nick Conklin v2.0 (this version likes V-neck shirts).
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#10
(06-20-2019, 12:26 PM)Alt-molt Wrote: Pollack did a good job staging the action in THE YAKUZA. It's all primarily in the later portion of the film but that was the style for action films back then for the most part. Mitchum was definitely toward the end of his tough guy days but still cut an imposing figure in the flick.

I have no problem with the action happening in the latter half of the movie - I think The Yakuza starts out structurally like an American noir and then morphs more into the Yakuza genre. I guess Pollock's exhibition of action would be a better worded complaint. I think Pollack's worst films are the ones that feature extended action scenes.

I can ignore Black Rain's faults until the end credits.
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#11
(06-20-2019, 01:24 PM)Judas Booth Wrote: And dammit, I STILL say that his character in BASIC INSTINCT is Nick Conklin v2.0 (this version likes V-neck shirts).

HAHAHA!

That scene where he admits to taking the money is indeed stellar work from Douglas. He's terrific in the picture.
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#12
(06-20-2019, 01:09 PM)engineer Wrote: Both versions of GRAVEYARD OF HONOR (the remake was directed by Miike) are really good.
Also Miike's AGITATOR, SHINJUKU OUTLAWS, THE MAN IN WHITE, ICHI THE KILLER (extremely graphic), DEADLY OUTLAW REKKA, YAKUZA DEMON, LIKE A DRAGON and GOZU.
Kurosawa's DRUNKEN ANGEL.
Kitano's BOILING POINT, SONATINE, KIKUJIRO, BROTHER.
I've only seen DRUNKEN ANGEL and SONATINE, but they're both great, especially SONATINE.

I was initially going to mention YEAR OF THE DRAGON but I believe that's about the Chinese triad. It at least showcases Mickey Rourke before he Johnny Handsomed himself.
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#13
Yep, Triads. I really dig YEAR OF THE DRAGON, too. It's harsh and portrays the hero as a classic not-necessarily nice guy, but it's classic New York movie material.
Even if they did shoot the Chinatown scenes in North Carolina.

Between this and DESPERATE HOURS, Cimino and Rourke worked so well together.
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#14
Seeing YEAR OF THE DRAGON again a few months ago was a true jolt. Thinkpiece ahoy!

John Lone is fantastic in it.
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#15
I watched my Blu-ray of THE YAKUZA not too long ago. It's one of the few films for me that improve w/ each viewing. I found the languid pace even works to its advantage as I'm digging all the character work and tough guy posturing, and then it shifts confidently into that violently sweet action finale once Richard Jordan kicks the bucket. And while I love the mild-mannered Ken Takakura in BLACK RAIN ("Balluzu...?"), he was the absolute stoic shit in this.

Kitano's OUTRAGE trilogy is pretty entertaining overall. Part 1 is great, but 2 and 3 have their moments as well.

I also have a soft spot for Takashi Ishii's GONIN and GONIN 2 from the mid-90s. One of the few yakuza films where the faceless thugs are scary as fuck.
The most important thing in life is broads. Broads!
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#16
One part Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973) rip-off, one part American Yakuza (1993), add a dash of Scarface (1932/1983), minus the incestual obsession, and you have Netflix’s The Outsider (2018).

I’m late to the game on this one. When it initially dropped on Netflix last year, the reviews were soo devastating that I didn’t bother giving it a shot. My attitude changed this past Friday when screenwriter/director Paul Schrader left a brief comment about watching The Outsider on his Facebook page. While his comment wasn’t exactly an endorsement, it also wasn’t a scathing damnation. Schrader, whose first Hollywood script was Sydney Pollack’s The Yakuza (1974), and who also wrote an amazing primer on the genre, obviously knows quality yakuza films. Schrader’s interest in the film peaked mine, and I made it a point to watch it before my weekend ended.


The Outsider 
begins in 1954, with former G.I. Nick Lowell (Jared Leto) being the sole American in a Japanese prison. When he saves Shiromatsu yakuza member Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano) from being hung by a rival clan, he is repaid upon his release with muscle work. After bludgeoning a racist copper tradesmen (Rory Cochrane), who refuses to work with the Shiromatsu clan, Lowell climbs the ladder of the yakuza.


While many critics fault The Outsider‘s outlandish premise of a white G.I. becoming an inducted member of the yakuza (see the equally outlandish American Yakuza with Viggo Mortensen), Jared Leto is a major problem with this movie. Pale and bland, Leto sleepwalks through his role, only showing us signs of life when he is inflicting violence. Though Leto’s drone performance isn’t entirely his fault, his character has absolutely no backstory or arc. We have no clue why he’s the sole American in a Japanese prison, much less what he did that put him there. We find out later in the movie through a run in with former squad mate Paulie Bowers (Emile Hirsch), that Lowell may be ducking a court-martial. Whatever Lowell’s secrets are, they are serious enough for him to slit Bowers’ throat to keep them hidden.

The rest of The Outsider is filled with yakuza genre tropes: ritualistic ceremonies, body length tattoos, apologetic finger cutting, warring clans, and the betrayal of an aging boss. The rest of the actors do a fair enough job with what they’re given, but the MVP for me here is Tadanobu Asano, who people may recognize from Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer (2001). Asano plays Kiyoshi, the yakuza member that Lowell saves in prison, who later helps him navigate the Osaka underworld upon his release. There’s a smidge of tension between the two when Lowell starts sleeping with Kiyoshi’s sister Miyu (Shiori Kutsuna), but once she becomes pregnant, we are spared the Scarface-esque conflict when Kiyoshi stoically accepts the situation. 

That ends up being the biggest problem with The Outsider: fizzled conflict. The conflict of an American G.I. hanging around with a bunch of yakuza in a post-War Japan is never really taken advantage of. The majority of the conflict comes from Lowell being an outsider, not because his native country dropped two atomic bombs on Japan 10 years prior. There seems to be a collective amnesia of all the characters in this story where World War II, or the great money maker for the yakuza, The Korean War, are both barely mentioned. Lowell is also accepted by the yakuza far too easily. Old, scowling Shiromatsu yakuza boss Akihiro (Min Tanaka) instantly drops all of his biases against Lowell after he performs the yakuza ritual of yubitsume and cuts off his pinky and ring finger to atone for killing two rival clan members. The non-ending of The Outsider is another example of fizzled conflict, but the inability of wrapping up a story seems to be currently in vogue.

Overall, The Outsider isn’t a complete waste of time. It’s filmed beautifully, with the neon soaked streets of Japan illuminating darkened apartment rooms. Veterans of the genre will recognize the familiar paint by numbers story (the way Kiyoshi fakes a suicide attempt to get out of prison is straight from the beginning of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity) and newcomers to the genre have far better places to start. Originally the before mentioned Japanese director Takashi Miike was supposed to helm The Outsider with Tom Hardy in the role of Lowell – one could only wish to see that version of The Outsider.
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#17
One part Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973) rip-off, one part American Yakuza (1993), add a dash of Scarface (1932/1983), minus the incestual obsession, and you have Netflix’s The Outsider (2018).

I’m late to the game on this one. When it initially dropped on Netflix last year, the reviews were soo devastating that I didn’t bother giving it a shot. My attitude changed this past Friday when screenwriter/director Paul Schrader left a brief comment about watching The Outsider on his Facebook page. While his comment wasn’t exactly an endorsement, it also wasn’t a scathing damnation. Schrader, whose first Hollywood script was Sydney Pollack’s The Yakuza (1974), and who also wrote an amazing primer on the genre, obviously knows quality yakuza films. Schrader’s interest in the film peaked mine, and I made it a point to watch it before my weekend ended.


The Outsider 
begins in 1954, with former G.I. Nick Lowell (Jared Leto) being the sole American in a Japanese prison. When he saves Shiromatsu yakuza member Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano) from being hung by a rival clan, he is repaid upon his release with muscle work. After bludgeoning a racist copper tradesmen (Rory Cochrane), who refuses to work with the Shiromatsu clan, Lowell climbs the ladder of the yakuza.


While many critics fault The Outsider‘s outlandish premise of a white G.I. becoming an inducted member of the yakuza (see the equally outlandish American Yakuza with Viggo Mortensen), Jared Leto is a major problem with this movie. Pale and bland, Leto sleepwalks through his role, only showing us signs of life when he is inflicting violence. Though Leto’s drone performance isn’t entirely his fault, his character has absolutely no backstory or arc. We have no clue why he’s the sole American in a Japanese prison, much less what he did that put him there. We find out later in the movie through a run in with former squad mate Paulie Bowers (Emile Hirsch), that Lowell may be ducking a court-martial. Whatever Lowell’s secrets are, they are serious enough for him to slit Bowers’ throat to keep them hidden.

The rest of The Outsider is filled with yakuza genre tropes: ritualistic ceremonies, body length tattoos, apologetic finger cutting, warring clans, and the betrayal of an aging boss. The rest of the actors do a fair enough job with what they’re given, but the MVP for me here is Tadanobu Asano, who people may recognize from Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer (2001). Asano plays Kiyoshi, the yakuza member that Lowell saves in prison, who later helps him navigate the Osaka underworld upon his release. There’s a smidge of tension between the two when Lowell starts sleeping with Kiyoshi’s sister Miyu (Shiori Kutsuna), but once she becomes pregnant, we are spared the Scarface-esque conflict when Kiyoshi stoically accepts the situation. 

That ends up being the biggest problem with The Outsider: fizzled conflict. The conflict of an American G.I. hanging around with a bunch of yakuza in a post-War Japan is never really taken advantage of. The majority of the conflict comes from Lowell being an outsider, not because his native country dropped two atomic bombs on Japan 10 years prior. There seems to be a collective amnesia of all the characters in this story where World War II, or the great money maker for the yakuza, The Korean War, are both barely mentioned. Lowell is also accepted by the yakuza far too easily. Old, scowling Shiromatsu yakuza boss Akihiro (Min Tanaka) instantly drops all of his biases against Lowell after he performs the yakuza ritual of yubitsume and cuts off his pinky and ring finger to atone for killing two rival clan members. The non-ending of The Outsider is another example of fizzled conflict, but the inability of wrapping up a story seems to be currently in vogue.

Overall, The Outsider isn’t a complete waste of time. It’s filmed beautifully, with the neon soaked streets of Japan illuminating darkened apartment rooms. Veterans of the genre will recognize the familiar paint by numbers story (the way Kiyoshi fakes a suicide attempt to get out of prison is straight from the beginning of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity) and newcomers to the genre have far better places to start. Originally the before mentioned Japanese director Takashi Miike was supposed to helm The Outsider with Tom Hardy in the role of Lowell – one could only wish to see that version of The Outsider.
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#18
One part Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973) rip-off, one part American Yakuza (1993), add a dash of Scarface (1932/1983), minus the incestual obsession, and you have Netflix’s The Outsider (2018).

I’m late to the game on this one. When it initially dropped on Netflix last year, the reviews were soo devastating that I didn’t bother giving it a shot. My attitude changed this past Friday when screenwriter/director Paul Schrader left a brief comment about watching The Outsider on his Facebook page. While his comment wasn’t exactly an endorsement, it also wasn’t a scathing damnation. Schrader, whose first Hollywood script was Sydney Pollack’s The Yakuza (1974), and who also wrote an amazing primer on the genre, obviously knows quality yakuza films. Schrader’s interest in the film peaked mine, and I made it a point to watch it before my weekend ended.


The Outsider 
begins in 1954, with former G.I. Nick Lowell (Jared Leto) being the sole American in a Japanese prison. When he saves Shiromatsu yakuza member Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano) from being hung by a rival clan, he is repaid upon his release with muscle work. After bludgeoning a racist copper tradesmen (Rory Cochrane), who refuses to work with the Shiromatsu clan, Lowell climbs the ladder of the yakuza.


While many critics fault The Outsider‘s outlandish premise of a white G.I. becoming an inducted member of the yakuza (see the equally outlandish American Yakuza with Viggo Mortensen), Jared Leto is a major problem with this movie. Pale and bland, Leto sleepwalks through his role, only showing us signs of life when he is inflicting violence. Though Leto’s drone performance isn’t entirely his fault, his character has absolutely no backstory or arc. We have no clue why he’s the sole American in a Japanese prison, much less what he did that put him there. We find out later in the movie through a run in with former squad mate Paulie Bowers (Emile Hirsch), that Lowell may be ducking a court-martial. Whatever Lowell’s secrets are, they are serious enough for him to slit Bowers’ throat to keep them hidden.

The rest of The Outsider is filled with yakuza genre tropes: ritualistic ceremonies, body length tattoos, apologetic finger cutting, warring clans, and the betrayal of an aging boss. The rest of the actors do a fair enough job with what they’re given, but the MVP for me here is Tadanobu Asano, who people may recognize from Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer (2001). Asano plays Kiyoshi, the yakuza member that Lowell saves in prison, who later helps him navigate the Osaka underworld upon his release. There’s a smidge of tension between the two when Lowell starts sleeping with Kiyoshi’s sister Miyu (Shiori Kutsuna), but once she becomes pregnant, we are spared the Scarface-esque conflict when Kiyoshi stoically accepts the situation. 

That ends up being the biggest problem with The Outsider: fizzled conflict. The conflict of an American G.I. hanging around with a bunch of yakuza in a post-War Japan is never really taken advantage of. The majority of the conflict comes from Lowell being an outsider, not because his native country dropped two atomic bombs on Japan 10 years prior. There seems to be a collective amnesia of all the characters in this story where World War II, or the great money maker for the yakuza, The Korean War, are both barely mentioned. Lowell is also accepted by the yakuza far too easily. Old, scowling Shiromatsu yakuza boss Akihiro (Min Tanaka) instantly drops all of his biases against Lowell after he performs the yakuza ritual of yubitsume and cuts off his pinky and ring finger to atone for killing two rival clan members. The non-ending of The Outsider is another example of fizzled conflict, but the inability of wrapping up a story seems to be currently in vogue.

Overall, The Outsider isn’t a complete waste of time. It’s filmed beautifully, with the neon soaked streets of Japan illuminating darkened apartment rooms. Veterans of the genre will recognize the familiar paint by numbers story (the way Kiyoshi fakes a suicide attempt to get out of prison is straight from the beginning of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity) and newcomers to the genre have far better places to start. Originally the before mentioned Japanese director Takashi Miike was supposed to helm The Outsider with Tom Hardy in the role of Lowell – one could only wish to see that version of The Outsider.
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