To tie in with Eureka Entertainment’s release of Hideo Gosha’s Violent Streets out now on Blu-ray, I’ve decided to look some of the best Yakuza films. Yakuza, Japanese crime syndicates aka the Japanese Mafia. They had their hand in every honey pot from entertainment sector, politics, publishing, I could go on and on and on. The list below is some of the great crime films that fall under the banner of Yakuza. All crime films, some with action, others thrillers, the rest taking the drama option.
Why Don’t You Play In Hell (2013)
This film is a bit of an absurd oddity, that doesn’t exactly follow the usual tropes of a Yakuza film. We follow a film crew the ‘F-Bombers’ documenting the Yakuza lifestyle and the gang warfare that comes with the territory. There contact gets the filmmakers to get involved in a path of revenge, they agree as long as his daughter takes centre stage. A crazy action comedy that has the violence you expect from the sub-genre that’s also focused on the characters.
The Yakuza (1975)
The only film on the list that isn’t truly Japanese, but includes some great Japanese actors including Ken Takakura. Directed by Sydney Pollack and Paul Schrader script, Robert Mitchum stars as a cop who falls in love with a Japanese woman only to discover her brother a former imperial soldier is not a happy chappy. The cop also ask for help to rescue a child from the clutches of the Yakuza. The film showcases Japanese culture and differences with Western culture. A social commentary that’s still a worthy entry.
Beat Takeshi Kitano is one of Japan’s most famous actors of modern times. He’s also a part comedian and filmmaker and his 1993 film is one of his most famous films to date. He plays a Yakuza man who is getting tired of his lifestyle and starts to question that life he has. He’s sent to Okinawa to resolve a dispute between two factions. This is not a film that’s interested in the violence, the power and violence that comes with the lifestyle. It does spend time showing him and his sidekicks wasting time around the town than just the reasons they are in Okinawa. A mix of drama puncture brutality and violence, a meditative film that’s clearly influenced by French New Wave and Jean-Luc Godard especially.
Tokyo Drifter (1966)
When we talk about style over substance in films most times might not always be a positive thing. In Seijun Suzuki’s 1966 film it was one of the rare times it was a good thing. Despite warnings from the film studios Suzuki went ahead with the cinematic style and his low budget Yakuza film. A film that breaks out of the usual sub genre conventions delivering something that’s avant garde, even pop art. The plot is very much a complex cat and mouse game story of betrayals and assassinations. Fantastic use of colours in Tokyo Drifter make this one a unique entry.
We’re used to those violence and gang warfare in your typical Yakuza film narrative. Toru Kawashima’s film the focus is an ex-member’s life and family. Shoji Kaneko stars as the ex-Yakuza member who has just served time in prison. He attempts to leave behind his criminal life choosing his family, our protagonist is still very fragile. Kaneko to research the role actually joined a gang and critics praised his performance. Sadly a week before the film’s release in Japan, Kaneko died of cancer.
Stray Dog (1948)
Akira Kurosawa will always be known for his Samurai films, he also made a few gangsters film like Stray Dog. Anyone who has seen his films he was a very versatile filmmaker and this film highlighted much of his Western influences. The film had very much Japanese influence and the history of film would go onto to be influenced by Kurosawa in many genres. This one stars the legendary actor Toshiro Mifune a rookie cop who lost his gun. What comes is an obsessive hunt for that gun through post war Tokyo (dancehalls, brothels, bars, etc…). Things get worse when our cop learns his gun was used in a murder. Kurosawa would also admit he was inspired by the books of French writer Georges Simenon who wrote the likes of Maigret. The DoP for this film was Ishiro Honda who would direct the original Godzilla film and several later films.
Sympathy For The Underdog (1971)
This film highly influenced Kitano’s Sonatine, Kinji Fukasaku’s thriller takes place on Okinawa Island. When the island’s Yakuza boss is released from prison and assembles a crew to regain control of the island from the Tokyo based gang who took over when he went to jail. Bloodshed is guaranteed.
Youth Of The Beast (1963)
If you enjoy those films when someone joins a gang and starts battles amongst the ranks, Seijun Suzuki’s film is one for you. When a former crooked cop is released from prison he learns his former partner has been killed, he joins the Yakuza. Whom he believes is responsible for his partner’s death and starts to unsettles the ranks amongst the gang he is in, how long can he last? Action star Joe Shishido stars in another film influenced by American films. Suzuki grew tired of the formulaic visions of the sub-genre and deliver something more ambitious .
Battles Without Honour And Humanity (1973-1976)
Considered one of the great Yakuza film series that gave us 5 films. Sometimes known as the Yakuza Papers, they gave us everything there was in the Yakuza criminal underworld. Murder, suspicion and betrayal with many stories of characters whose stories all interconnect in some way. The main focus is ex-soldier Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara),who, kills a yakuza to protect a friend and is subsequently imprisoned. Complex, dramatic and very gripping.
Ichi The Killer (2001)
Takashi Miike’s cult thriller is considered one of the most controversial and violent films which even got banned in many countries including UK. Very graphic, ultra violent and disturbing uncomfortable watch. Based on Hideo Yamamoto’s Manga of the same name. We follow careless gangster Kakihara who is searching for his missing boss, off course Kakihara means of extracting information isn’t just using talking!
Notables: Drunken Angel (1948)Like A Dragon (2007), Massacre Gun (1967), Branded To Kill (1967) Dragnet Girl (1933) Pale Flower (1964)
Violent Streets is available now on Blu-ray From Eureka Entertainment.