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Recently in yakuza / tough guy Category

A Yakuza in Love
[Koi Gokudo]

Genre: Love Tale amidst Dismal Street Realism

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When an innocent young country girl falls for a low level yakuza, she enters a completely different world in which the line between good and evil are quickly blurred. Through great ups and downs their love will be tested, but the ultimate test lies in whether or not they will survive the downward pull of the lifestyle they have chosen.



Youth of the Beast
[Yajuu no Seishun]

Genre: Yakuza / Tough Guy

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Director Suzuki Seijun teams up with prolific tough guy Shishido Jo in this tale of bad cop seeking employment by the highest paying yakuza lord. Though initially enamored by his formidable brutality, the yakuza soon realize there may be more to this rouge than they initially perceived. And then all hell breaks loose.



Kanto Wanderer
[Kanto Mushuku]

Genre: Tale of Principled Yakuza Folly

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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.



Blood and Bones
[Chi to Hone]

Genre: Proto-Yakuza Korean Immigrant Drama

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This amazingly gritty saga of the formidable rise and demise of Kin Shunpei, a Korean immigrant to Osaka, Japan in the 1920's depicts not only the struggles and victories of the early Korean immigrant communities within Japan but also the almost unwitting emergence of a highly entrenched (Korean-immigrant-based) Yakuza presence which (it is said) exists to this day. Chi to Hone offers the Japanese version of a far more brutal and far less idealized Godfather. This is undoubtedly one to see.



Be-Bop High School: Elegy
[Koko Yotaro Aika - Erijii]

Genre: Outrageously Over-The-Top Brawl Comedy

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Based on the popular manga of the same name, Be-Bop High School drops you into the middle of brawling rival high school gangs who do little else than chase each other around with knives and baseball bats. Using local yakuza ruffians as their role models, these high school hooligans pound themselves senseless as fawning girls adore them from the sidelines. Not much plot here; Just a WHOLE LOTTA fighting!



Afraid to Die
[Karakkaze yaro]

Genre: Demise of a Yakuza Schmuck

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When Takeo is released from prison for attacking Handa, a rival yakuza lord, the last thing on his mind is taking over the position of his recently deceased father, boss of the Asahina clan. As he and his older brother Aikawa contemplate their options, they soon entertain the idea of falling in love with maidens and leaving the yakuza life altogether. But their exit proves more difficult than planned when their rival clan steps in to exact a little revenge.



Versus

Genre: Extreme Zombie Action

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When you exempt the mega-budget/block-buster stuff of Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and the Wachowski brothers, what movies come to mind as jaw-dropping entertainment? Well, director Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus is now at the top of that list. Of course you and I are different (for example, we can both agree I am better looking) and so our lists of "most memorable" may indeed differ. So let me qualify this praise. For those interested in non-stop, full-throttle action involving, yakuza, zombies, karmic cycles, sinister priests, human sacrifice, revenge themes, and limb-hacking extraordinaire, this will likely top your list as well.



Tokyo Drifter
[Tokyo Nagaremono]

Genre: Noir Yakuza Tale

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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.



Shinjuku Triad Society
[Shinjuku Kuro Shakai: China Mafia Sensou]

Genre: Extreme Cop Versus Crime Syndicate

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"I know a love story that's both sweet and sickening.
That's the way love really is."

These are the opening lines to Shinjuku Triad Society and this is precisely what this film delivers in eye-popping manner; a complex, disturbing, yet absolutely gratifying story of violent sacrifice for the sake of one's parents and sibling.



Revolver
[Riborubaa: Aoi Haru]

Genre: Youth Self-Discovery

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Revolver is directed by Watanabe Takashi, whose earlier work leans primarily toward themes of guns and yakuza. His latest films, which include this one, focus on an overlap of such social violence and fringe groups of high school youth. The Japanese term Aoi Haru which appears as the subtitle of this film, though literally translated "Blue/Green Spring", is a common idiom connoting the vigor and wide-eyed expectation of youth. (Due to a long running manga by that title.) Thus here Watanabe presents audiences with a rather entertaining and thoughtful tale wherein the naivete of three high school boys is challenged by a brush with harsher realities.



Rainy Dog
[Gokudo Kuro Shakai]

Genre: Yakuza Existentialism

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"I heard a story once of a prisoner who was alone in his cell so long that he started to care for a fly. Then one day, he found that the fly had disappeared. From that day, he began to lose his mind."

Rainy Dog is the second film in director Miike Takashi's Black Society Trilogy. Each of the three tales in this trilogy is an independent story involving different characters and storylines. The commonality among the three (besides their all being yakuza stories) is that each of the main characters is of mixed Taiwanese/Japanese blood and is thoroughly bi-lingual and bi-cultural. By choosing such an mixed ethnicity for his protagonist, Miike immediately taps into an inevitable atmosphere of social isolation and ostracism. Miike's characters thus not only find themselves outside the mainstream of normal society (due to their criminal behavior) but also outside the mainstream of both cultures. Rainy Dog, as will the other films of the Black Society Trilogy, leads audiences, perhaps as never before, through the violence, desperation, and social isolation within this ethnically marginalized criminal group.



Onibi
[The Fire Within]

Genre: Yakuza Drifter tale par excellance

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A classic theme in traditional Japanese film is that of the nagaremono, a yakuza soldier set adrift following the demise of leaders to whom he had pledged his utmost loyalty. In many respects such nagaremono are a contemporary version of the more traditionally beloved ronin tales of masterless samurai who despite thorough and terrifying training in the disciplined ways of bushido nevertheless wander, almost as vagabonds, once their traditional hierarchy is suddenly, often violently, taken away.



Ley Lines
[Nihon Kuro Shakai]

Genre: Youth Yakuza Action

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Ley Lines (Nihon Kuro Shakai) is the third and final film of director Miike Takashi's "Black Society Trilogy". Each of these films is an independent story and contains no overlap in location or characters. The commonality of these films lies in their exploration of an underground and ostracized world of crime populated by characters of mixed Japanese-Chinese ethnicity. The first of the trilogy, Shinjuku Triad Society (Shinjuku Kuro Shakai: China Mafia Sensou), has a storyline which leads audiences from Tokyo to Taipei, Taiwan and back, while the second, Rainy Dog (Gokudo Kuro Shakai) takes place solely within Taiwan. This third film, Ley Lines follows the violent adventure of three Japanese-Chinese youth as they attempt to find passage off the Japanese Islands in the search of new beginnings.



Kyouki no Sakura
[Madness In Bloom]

Genre: Japanese Fascism Meets Clockwork Orange

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The title Kyouki no Sakura, though translated rather simply as Madness in Bloom, is in fact a play on words. The pronounced term "kyouki" perhaps most commonly connotes "madness" (aka "dangerous spirit/mind"), but it can also mean "chivalrous spirit". In the title of this film, the term is spelled using one character from each of these meanings, specifically using the character for chivalrous rather than madness. The term "sakura" could likewise mean "bloom" in general but here most clearly refers to the more specific cherry blossom, long beloved by Japanese as their national flower. (The flower permeates the film, most dramatically in the yakuza boss' home.)



1-Ichi

Genre: Bizarre Underdog Super-Hero Action

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1-Ichi is the directorial debut of Tanno Masato and is certain to be a favorite among fans of Miike Takashi with whom he worked as assistant director on Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya Ichi, 2001), Happiness of the Katakuris (Katakuri no Kazoku no Kofuku, 2002), and Gokudo kyofu dai-gekijo Gozu (2003).



Heat After Dark

Genre: Yakuza Action par Excellence

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Heat After Dark is director Ryuhei Kitamura's first theatrical release. This 50 minute film is predominantly a character study within an intense action drama. Those familiar with Kitamura's later works, perhaps especially Versus will realize this is the beginning of his characetristic modus operandi. Here, the well defined characters consist of the innocent (the cop), the relatively good (Atsuro Watabe), the relatively bad (Shinichi Suzuki), and the absolutely bad (Shigeru Izumiya ), and a few other Yakuza hoodlums thrown in for entertainment.



Full Metal Yakuza
[Full Metal Gokudo]

Genre: Extreme Sci-Fi Yakuza Action

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Full Metal Yakuza is a very effective blend of yakuza tale, science fiction and real comedy. The main character is Hagane Kensuke (played by former "Kodomo Band" rock star Ujiki Tsuyoshi), a young yakuza initiate whose good-natured, over-sensitive demeanor make him perhaps the most inept yakuza to hit the streets of Japan. When Hagane's child-like admiration for a yakuza strong man places him smack in the middle of a yakuza power struggle and betrayal, he is literally shot into pieces and considered dead. But Hagane is put back together and revived by a quirky, yet well hung mad scientist. When Hagane awakes, he realizes that he is now an assemblage of human and robotic parts with a variety of powers and strengths well beyond those of normal humans. As a Full Metal Yakuza Hagane can find solace in only one thing, seeking vengeance on those who had betrayed him.



Branded to Kill
[Koroshi no rakuin]

Genre: Noir Yakuza Action

review in one breath

"He loves the smell of boiling rice more than anything in the world."

Enter the world of rice-sniffing Yakuza killers! Enter the world of moth-collecting nihilists! Enter the world of Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill (1967)! This is the type of pop noir movie where you sit with mouth open in a state of disbelief.



Another Lonely Hitman
[Shin Kanashiki Hittoman]

Genre: Humanitarian Yakuza Hitman Tale

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Mochizuki's earliest directorial work was limited to pink / "porn" films, producing six such films between 1983 and 1992. Following this fleshy foray, Mochizuki turned almost exclusively to Yakuza-themed films, starting with Gokudo Kisha (1993) for Daiei Productions. Since this shift in content, Mochizuki has directed 29 yakuza-based films the most recent of which is Gokudo Kisha (2004) starring pop legend Matsukata Hiroki. Another Lonely Hitman, the film under review here, is the 6th film following Mochizuki's reformation and is a sequel of sorts to the 1989 film Lonely Hitman by director Ichikura Haruo starring (then) heart-throb idol Miura Tomokazu as the hitman.



Tattooed Life

Irezumi ichidai

Genre: Old-School Yakuza Reverence

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A convicted Yakuza felon is forced to decide between his own safety and the protection of his good-natured, devoted younger brother. Choosing the latter, both brothers flee to a remote mining town in the hopes of finding work and solace from the police. Their career choice brings them into contact with the motley and volatile crew of mine workers, each seemingly with a similarly notorious background. In spite of the elder brother's relentless efforts to keep them both out of harm's way, once the younger brother becomes fixated on the exemplar beauty of boss's wife, all hell breaks loose. This early film by renowned director Suzuki Seijun brings classic depictions of Yakuza nobility and Japanese humanism to the fore. Definitely worth checking out!



Drunken Angel [Yoidore Tenshi]

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

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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.



Tekkonkinkreet
[Tekkon Kinkreet]

Genre: Yakuza-infused Orphan Youth Angst

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In the last remaining vestige of an otherwise over-modernized metropolis, two orphaned children have learned to live both freely and violently amongst rival gang intrusion, yakuza activity, and the good-natured help from some similarly-minded, decade-weary citizens. This tale, seen through their own eyes, is wholly about the survival and destruction of these two orphaned youths, not only in terms of their physical safety but also their mental landscape. Childhood dreams and hopes struggle headlong with the reality of urban decay, vicious crime, and the crippling sense of loss.




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.


Criminal Woman: Killing Melody
[Zenka Onna Karoshi Bushi]

Genre: Bad Girls Causing Yakuza Wars

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After the ruthless murder of her father, Miki swears revenge against the Oba Yakuza Clan, but her reckless attempt only gets her locked up in jail where she is befriended by a number of socially delinquent females. After serving their time, the girls band together in order help Miki carry out her plot to take down the Oba gang. But problems quickly arise when they discover one of their toughest former cellmates is Oba's lover.



Wild Life

Genre: Good Tough Guy Meets Bad Tough Guys

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Ex-boxer Sakai now lives a normal life fixing pachinko machines under the friendly eye of his aging boss Tsumura. When their long lost mutual friend Mizuguchi suddenly shows up, their placid routine is soon overrun with yakuza gangs and corrupt police officials, all of whom become increasingly hostile to Sakai and Tsumura. Believing Mizuguchi passed along "the package" to Sakai, they abduct the elderly Tsumura and attempt to blackmail and physically harass Sakai. Things look pretty bleak indeed until Sakai begins re-evaluating his pachinko-mending ways.



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.



Pale Flower
[Kawaita Hana]

乾いた花

Genre: Bleak Yakuza Tale

review in one breath

After three years in prison for killing a rival yakuza leader, Muraki is released back into his old haunts to find little has changed. There is, however, one new face in the crowd, Saeko, a young and beautiful woman who seems hell-bent on thrill seeking. Together, Muraki introduces her to increasingly high-stake scenarios until they both soon find themselves on the brink of self-destruction. Based on the novel by Ishihara Shintaro, this film will have significant influence over the subsequent formation of the yakuza genre.


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