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Kanto Wanderer
[Kanto Mushuku]

Genre: Tale of Principled Yakuza Folly

review in one breath

In trying to revive the declining influence of the Izu yakuza family to which he is sworn, Katsuta is increasingly troubled that love of money has all but replaced the traditional yakuza notions of nobility and honor. Finally taking matters into his own hands Katsuta shocks the other yakuza families and appears to return his Izu boss to a prominent and respected stature. Ironically however, his honor-based actions quickly set off an unexpected chain of events which undermines his life and his allegiances.



Giants and Toys
[Kyojin to Gangu]

Genre: Satire of Capitalism Run Amuck

review in one breath

As three rival Caramel companies prepare for their annual promotional campaigns, the corporate backstabbing begins. But when the PR director of World Caramel discovers Kyoko, a cute but rather unpolished girl to star as the new face of the campaign, the competitive tide seems to turn in their favor. Until, that is, Kyoko becomes such a wild sensation that the entire campaign implodes. Director Masumura here explores the non-ceasing battle between pursuit of profits and business ethics in Japan's increasingly cut-throat corporate world.



Tokyo Drifter
[Tokyo Nagaremono]

Genre: Noir Yakuza Tale

review in one breath

Tokyo Drifter is a stylish noir film by director Suzuki Seijin. The film is very well-known, as is Suzuki, and both have a well-deserved cult following. Suzuki directed several memorable films in addition to this, including Fighting Elegy (1966) and perhaps the mother of all Japanese gangster noir, Branded to Kill (1967). In Branded to Kill Suzuki tells an amazingly bizarre yakuza tale in black and white, with stark photography and vibrant, over-the-top characters. In Tokyo Drifter, the characters seem much more mainstream and Suzuki chooses the visual medium to channel the majority of style. The film moves from one colorfully designed set to the next, employing various camera techniques and angles. The result is clearly a pop-noir yakuza movie whose characters border between the stereotypical and comic book-like.



Seishun zankoku monogatari

Cruel Story of Youth

Genre: Extreme Youth Coming of Age

review in one breath

Holy Cow!
Let's just start by saying that the word "Cruel" in the title should be in all caps! As in: CRUEL(!) Story of Youth ...

This movie is directed by Nagisa Oshima, who is perhaps better known for his much later In the Realm of the Senses (1976). Both movies revolve around a love relation in which the main characters find themselves; a relationship of such intensity that it breeches the confines of social expectation, thereby requiring the characters to redefine themselves solely in terms of their love. Both movies also view social expectation as ultimately unyielding, resulting in inevitable tragedy for the characters who have forsaken the protection of convention in the pursuit and realization of passion. The world, we find, is brimming with harsh, harsh reality. (Some might even call it Cruel!)


Drunken Angel [Yoidore Tenshi]

Genre: Quasi-historical Yakuza Drama [Post-war Japan: 1948]

review in one breath

Quote: "Will power can cure all human ailments."

Here is the first time Toshiro Mifune appears in a movie by Akira Kurosawa!

This very early post-war film is set in a squalor, yakuza-ridden slum of 1948 Tokyo. In the heart of this neighborhood is a large, bubbling cess pool into which residents have heaped garbage and waste. This cess pool, as our main character, Dr Sanada, warns, is brimming with typhus. The pool is intended by Director Akira Kurosawa as a symbol for the moral decay and corruption permeating post-war Tokyo. In this new world, traditional social values and honor have not survived the war. In their stead have emerged selfish opportunism, greed, and the yakuza, flamboyantly embodied in Matsunaga (Mifune), the suave yet unruly young and upcoming mob leader. While his boss Okada has sat in prison for four years due to a brutal knifing, Matsunaga has risen in power and control. Now, however, with Okada's release from prison, Matsunaga finds himself in a desperate and violent power struggle. And yet Matsunaga's ultimate opponent is not Okada, but the tuberculosis which has gradually eaten away at him through years of unrestrained living.




Pornostar
[Poruno Sutaa ]

U.S. release tile: Tokyo Rampage

Genre: Psychotically Anti-Social Neo Yakuza Youth
Director: Toyoda Toshiaki (1998)

review in one breath

Here is an absolutely excellent film for fans of the contemporary neo yakuza genre. Director Toyoda Toshiaki may be better known to Western audiences for Blue Spring (Aoi Haru), another excellent nihilistic urban youth tale, which he directed 3 years after this film. Set in the urban youth culture of Shibuya, Tokyo, Pornostar offers its own exploration of the impact of yakuza influence upon youth culture. By creating a truly unique protagonist, which is simultaneously beyond morality yet somehow set against the moral scourge of the yakuza, Toyoda leads his audience into the deepest corners of Tokyo's influential sub-culture of crime.


Stray Dog
[Nora Inu]

Genre: Post War Crime Thriller

review in one breath

When homicide detective Murakami's pistol is stolen, a rash of murderous crimes begins. Plagued with the knowledge that his own weapon is causing the harm, Murakami is driven to extreme lengths to track down the killer and recover his gun. But the closer Murakami gets to the killer, the more he realizes how much they have in common. This is a great film filled with early Kurosawa social commentary on the condition of postwar Japan.



Totsunyu seyo! Asama sanso jiken
[The Choice of Hercules]

Genre: Fact-based Police Drama

review in one breath

When student revolutionaries of the Red Army held a woman hostage in the remote and snowy mountains of Karuizawa, Nagano, the National Tokyo Police were called in to oversee the incident despite the objection of the local Nagano Police force. This film recounts the true events surrounding the 1972 Asama Sanso Incident and is based on the published memoirs of Sassa Atsuyuki, the Tokyo Police commander in charge of the hostage's rescue.



Graveyard of Honor
[Jingi no Hakaba]

Genre: Yakuza Moral Implosion Extraordinaire

review in one breath

This infamous Fukasaku film marks a turning point in Japan's cinematic portrayal of yakuza, from that of a dying bushido breed to self-destructive and societally dangerous criminals. In a powerful and violent tale based on a real-life gangster from Fukasaku's own hometown, audiences are led to both simultaneously sympathize with and revile the monstrous Rikio and the path to hell he chooses.



Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter
[Nora-neko rokku: Sekkusu hanta]

Genre: Nearly Hip Youth Sub-Culture Confusion

review in one breath

Mako and her female gang of Alleycats are still battling the wannabe bad-guys known as the Eagles, this time over the latter's desire to purge their town of "half-breed" war children. When the Eagles take things one step too far, they're faced with the Molotov cocktail wielding wrath of Mako and the well-armed Kazuma, the dark-skinned hunk searching for his long lost sister Megumi.



Gate of Flesh [Nikutai no Mon]

Genre: Extreme Post War Survival Tale

review in one breath

Set immediately after WWII, this film explores the desperate lengths to which a squalid, burned out community must go to in order to survive. Originally intended as a gritty erotic tale starring Shishido Jo, director Suzuki Seijun turned this into an exceptional and immediate cinematic success. Suzuki's own experiences in the War come through clearly as he retells the depths to which post-war urban centers fell.



Hikari no Ame [Rain of Light]

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Genre: Student Revolutionary Implosion - Based on a True Story

review in one breath

This documentary-style film recreates the infamous Asama Sanso Incident of 1972 wherein an extreme faction of the Students Allied Red Army holed themselves up in a mountainous cabin in the dead of winter. By the time the police finally caught up with them, it was discovered that they had murderously turned upon themselves in a bizarre extension of their radical philosophy. This event virtually marked the end of the Student Revolution.



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