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.
Kanto Wanderer was directed by Suzuki Seijun three years prior to his similar Tokyo Drifter. Though sometimes quite implicit, a predominant theme throughout Suzuki's films may be perhaps best characterized as pacifism. His method of pursuing this theme, however, is wholly unique and has resulted in his deserved reputation as a cult film director.
Suzuki's films often present an anti-war or anti-violence message wrapped in a narrative where violence is centrally depicted to the point that the audience is forced to realize the futility of its promise. For example, his 1966 Fighting Elelgy is perhaps the most head-busting all-out brawl movie ever imagined, and yet its setting in the pre-War 1930's was intended as a powerful commentary against the type of blind Nationalism portrayed in the film.
Likewise Suzuki's explicit aim in the current film is to show the folly of expending one's life for yakuza nobility and honor. Juxtaposed the films of his era which glamorized the yakuza lifestyle, lending them near legendary status, Kanto Wanderer attempts to portray the hopelessness and meaninglessness such a lifestyle incurs. Thus through showing the natural outcome of a life of brute violence, Suzuki hopes that audience members walk away with his pacifist message.
The once flourishing Izu family is now experiencing a decline in income due to the increasing popularity of gambling on horses rather than the card and mahjjong halls the family operates. Katsuta, who works directly under the Izu yakuza family boss is increasingly concerned that the family's influence and wealth are gradually slipping away. Decisions which the Izu boss make seem more concerned with money than they do with preserving the family's sense of honor.
This money-centric outlook soon trickles down to the boss's less-than-noble employees, such as Tetsu who cruelly sells the high school-aged girl Hanako, friend of Izu's daughter and girlfriend of a rival boss's son, to a brothel for a mere pittance. When word reaches Katsuta of Tetsu's actions, he disgustedly sets out with Tetsu in tow to find the young girl.
Their search brings them face to face with the notorious gambler Omaru-Hachi whose creative cons are well-known to yakuza observers. Omaru's wife Hachi, daughter of a local yakuza boss, is someone who Katsuta has quietly fallen in love with years ago in an incident leaving him with a deep scar on his face. Though Katsuta believes his relationship with Hachi is sound, when he attempts to gamble against her husband Omaru-Hachi, he will learn a very painful lesson in a woman's allegiance.
Having thus lost all the money with which he intended to buy back Hachiko seems just the last in a long chain of insulting and dishonorable events. Thus when the next belligerent yakuza attempts to humiliate him, he unleashes his anger in a most formidable way, leaving two high ranking yakuza dead. His action becomes the talk of the yakuza families as they almost nostalgically remember the valiant old yakuza ways depicted in Katsuta's actions.
But his sudden demonstration of nobility soon causes pressure on other underlings to act similarly, resulting in an irrevocable cascade which leaves Kastuta without family or allegiance -- a Kanto Wanderer.
I have thoroughly enjoyed every Suzuki Seijun film I have seen and this is no exception. The cinematography he employs is emotion laden and undoubtedly experimental for his era. He changes the intensity and color of background lighting to correspond with characters' inner conflict, often allowing purely abstract backdrops to replace the real-life sets audiences are accustomed to.
Suzuki's pioneered theme of a yakuza wanderer or drifter becomes highly influential in later film. Of course, the notion of a drifter (nagaremono) easily traces back to that of the ronin or masterless samurai. But whereas ronin have been traditionally depicted as noble servants who avenge the death of their lord (the most famous example of which is Chushingura/47 Ronin), Suzuki's wanderers are always the victims of a dishonorable boss. Thus both here and in Tokyo Drifter (and something along these lines in Branded to Kill) an otherwise noble and well-intentioned yakuza soldier is irreversibly cut loose from allegiances through the moral corruption of his boss.
This and the other of Suzuki's films are definitely worth viewing. Nor are they difficult to access since his cult status has resulted in several of his films including this once being redistributed in Region 1 subtitled versions via mainstream venues.
Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD available via mainstream US venues.
|Pioneer cult director Suzuki Seijun here depicts the ironic folly of a glamorized yakuza.||Sword and gun violence, though nothing graphic.||SOME REALLY HOT KISSING... RIGHT ON THE LIPS!! (1963 style.).||Suzuki's wholly vibrant and abstract cinematography is indeed memorable.|