Friday, June 16, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 16: Yakuza!


  1. GRAVEYARD OF HONOR (1975, dir. Kinji Fukasaku)

    The director of the magnificent Battles Without Honor And Humanity series brought a similar style to this tale of a violent yakuza set during the years right after the end of World War II. Rikio Ishikawa stands out even among his criminal class as a savage man, much to the harm of his reputation and standing in that world. In his descent into ostracization and drug dependency, he causes plenty of mayhem. Besides telling his story, however, Fukasaku delves into the experience of living in the squalor and corruption of post-war Tokyo. The staging of the market and street scenes brings a fascinating texture to the narrative. According to one of the DVD features, this was an important aspect of Fukasaku’s vision for the film. Though very stylized, there is an energy to the violent scenes that give them sense of realism. There is a reason why Kinji Fukasaku was the master of the gritty yakuza film.

    1. The Beast's Carnival (AKA Human Beasts) (1980)

      Director, writer and star Paul Naschy in a Yakuza film. Yes, Naschy co-produced this and The Beast and the Magic Sword with Japanese filmmakers and here, he plays Bruno Rivera, a cold blooded killer currently working for a Japanese crime family.

      After a plan is made to steal diamonds along with his lover Meiko (Eiko Nagashima) and her brother, he goes wild and kills everyone in the car that has the precious stones and screws over his girl and her family. Perhaps you don’t understand how the Japanese honor system works, Bruno, because these people will never stop hunting you, particularly when you break a woman’s heart and kill her brother.

      Bruno doesn’t walk away in one piece and barely makes it to the home of Dr. Don Simon (Lautaro Murúa), who offers to nurse him back to health until he can deal with whatever honor he needs to repay. This being a Paul Naschy movie, the house that his character is recuperating in also has two obscenely gorgeous daughters living there, Monica (Silvia Aguilar) and Alicia (Azucena Hernandez).

      As he comes back to the land of the living, Bruno exists barely in our world, being visited by a ghost and hearing the human sounds of pigs as they are slaughtered. That’s because this town is obsessed with a gigantic bacchanalian celebration in which each person makes a stew and a pig-based dish.

      Sure, seems strange so far, but it gets wilder inside the very same house used for Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll. Meiko has found where Bruno lives thanks to a weirdo who eventually gets messily masticated by swine as Naschy makes sweet, sweet and sweaty love; the black maid loves being beaten by Dr. Simon; rocking chairs rock all by themselves and a black-gloved killer is turning this into a giallo by stalking people in POV and murdering them with a hook. And what is wrong with Teresa (Julia Saly), who has been confined to her room?

      Also: Paul Naschy blows up a woman with a grenade.

      As if you didn’t guess, Naschy gets love scenes with both Aguilar and Hernández. If you’re going to write and direct your own weird riff on how horrible people are and how close pigs are to us, well, go for it.

      Between the diamond theft and the fact that this movie stitches together a Yakuza storyline with pretty much the same exact story as the aforementioned Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, this feels like the most Jess Franco or Bruno Mattei take on a Naschy film. You have to love that Bruno’s character development is that he decides to stop killing people and ruining lives once he starts sleeping with even hotter looking women, only to have that be the death of him. Oh yeah, spoiler.

      Also known as El carnaval de las bestias (The Beast’s Carnival), a title that makes even more sense once a gathering of maniacs shows up in costume to go hog wild on some stem, call each other all manner of off-color insults sure to offend people and then pull out one woman’s breasts.

      Naschy gets it all in: nearly giallo — the killer is never revealed — and also a crime movie, a rumination on man’s inhumanity to beasts and his fellow men, sexy hijinks and an ending which makes every single minute of watching this worthwhile. Impossible to put a genre tag on, kind of ramshackle but completely wonderful. You did it again, Paul.

    2. I forget about Human Beasts as a yakuza film.

  2. New-to-me: YO-YO GIRL COP (2003)
    A teen girl with a mysterious past works undercover with the cops. Instead of a gun, she's given a yo-yo loaded with James Bond gadgets. Turns out this is a reboot of a franchise that's been going since the '80s, so I'm probably missing a lot of references. It's a cool action flick, though. The flashy music video style helps us swallow the absurd premise. Unfortunately, the villains are more of a sci-fi conspiracy than yakuza (as advertised), so I fear I failed the assignment. I enjoyed the movie, though, and I might check the earlier films in the series some time.

    Old fave: DEAD OR ALIVE (1999)
    This was one of those movies found way, way in the back of the video store that made me say, "What is THIS???" and I'd have to rent them, opening my eyes to a whole other world of movie watching. This introduced me to Takashi Miike, the guy who allegedly cranked out 5-10 movies a year. DEAD OR ALIVE is even more wild than I remember, all flashy edits and in-your-face action. The opening few minutes are like Brian De Palma meets John Woo meets David Fincher meets all the drugs. Miike's career has been a lot of clunkers with occasional great films, and this is happily one of the latter.

  3. TEENAGE YAKUZA (1962)
    dir. Seijun Suzuki

    I’ve only seen Suzuki’s classics Branded to Kill & Tokyo Drifter, which I loved.

    This was a much more conventional story than those two but you can see his style in this early work.

    Also, Christopher Nolan must have watched this before he wrote the line: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

    And it’s got a krazy kool schnazzy jazzy soundtrack.

    “The cops have scared him.”
    “How uncool!”

    1. I think Seijun Suzuki is a much more influential film maker that people talk about. Or at least that I have been hearing 😁

  4. I watched The Challenge as well, similar thoughts to you. Overall a pretty good movie although it did drag in parts. To me it's all about that ending, Scott Glenn and Toshiro Mifune assaulting that building is truly awesome, and I loved the frantic nature of the final showdown. Also, how cool is Scott Glenn? Who else can rock a pageboy haircut and still look badass somehow.

  5. Actually l thought Scott Glenn was miscast. He looked stoic, but didn't buy him as someone who'd beg Toshida to train him. Mifune is enough of a cool mofo to carry the ending... until Glenn goes fucking ape on Hideo. 😄👍

  6. First Love (2019, dir. Takashi Miike)

    A pr0stitute on the run and a boxer with a brain tumor have a chance meeting in Tokyo and bond over one crazy night, while the Yakuza, the Chinese Triad, a corrupt cop, and a ghost wearing tighty-whities are all on their tail.

    A strange mix of touching human drama, bloody action and goofy comedy. A mix that on paper shouldn't work, but Miike makes it hum by sheer willpower. The soundtrack is excellent, my favorite track is an amazing mix of frantic drums, driving bass, discordant saxophone licks, and... didgeridoo?

    1. I guess the P-word is forbidden, wouldn't let me publish until I censored it.

    2. I had to use the French title of a Jess Franco film because the software would not accept the English title.

    3. This was almost my pick for today. Still want to see it!

    4. The 2nd half of that song sounds a lot like Primus! I need to see more Takashi Miike movies. I've only seen a few of his "greatest hits".

    5. You're right Paul, definitely some Claypooly slap bass there.

  7. Battles Without Honor and Humanity - 1973, dir. Kinji Fukasaku

    Not sure why I’ve been putting this off for so long considering it’s been dubbed by many to be the yakuza spin on ‘The Godfather’. After having now seen it, I can firmly say that comparison is only made due to their release date proximity. ‘Battles’ is way more ‘Goodfellas’ in almost every way. This is a rise to power story full of small, ugly violence, clumsy and often moronic hoods who can’t help but fuck everything up, everyone dies suddenly and ignobly, and the whole thing moves with the cocaine pacing of 80s Scorsese.

    Fukasaku continued playing in this arena for a total of eight films released between 1973-76 (holy shit!). Bunta Sugawara appears in every entry as Shozo Hirono, a fictionalized version of real life yakuza Kōzō Minō, whose exploits the movie is loosely based on. I’ll admit, Fukasaku’s work is a huge blind spot for me other than ‘Battle Royale’, but I’ll definitely be checking out the other entries in this series post-Junesploitation.

    One aspect that is reminiscent of Coppola’s saga is how the old world traditions and structures of organized crime were forcibly changed to better accommodate the times. The Yamamori family starts as a political enforcement and protection racket with the boss wearing traditional kimonos. As western capitalism and culture slowly seeps in post-WWII, the crime family starts buying up various industries and real estate investments while the boss starts wearing suits and ties. As the title suggests, the veneer of romanticism and fraternal security that the crime underworld was wrapped in slowly begins to peel away and reveal the true banality and underneath.

    Our lead character Hirono was forced into this life out of desperation and he takes equally desperate measures to keep things from capsizing. As his friends all begin to disappear, he once again finds himself in a lonely and desperate place without direction or purpose. You’re left with the sense of emptiness at the end and you can’t help but wonder what Hirono could have done with his life if societal and economic forces had not forged him into an unflinching killer.

    1. Correction, while Bunta Sugawara appear in all 8 movies, the later 3 movies of the series are not part of the same stories, so his characters are different (but he's always awesome). The movies are all good, but the only the first 5 are part of the saga, and it's a straight up masterpiece. I was lucky enough to buy the awesome boxset from arrow a few years ago. One of the jewel of my blu-ray collection.

  8. FULL METAL YAKUZA (1997, d. Takashi Miike)
    Rewatch on grey-market DVD, 8/10 up from 6/10.
    To provide the perfect segue from Rip-Off Day to Yakuza Day, Miike presents the story of a bottom level yakuza (Tsuyoshi Ujiki from CURE) who wakes up after a hit with a mostly robotic body. Mad scientist Tomoro Taguchi (TETSUO: THE IRON MAN) augmented Ujiki's brain with the hands, legs & penis of his beloved boss. What will they get into next? Absurd violence, nasty yakuza business & a ridiculous ending, as per Miike's usual arrangement.
    I haven't seen this in at least 20yrs, when I bought a so-so disc at a horror convention. It's not perfect, but it was much more fun than I remembered. Who's gonna blu this one?

  9. Fudoh: The New Generation (1996)

    A mobster’s son steps out of line, drawing anger from the city’s yakuza council. To appease their superiors, his father personally executes him, which is secretly witnessed by his younger son. Ten years later the younger brother is a very adult looking high schooler and a crime boss in his own right. Surrounded by his super effective gang of underage assassins, he begins to eliminate the elder bosses one by one to avenge his dead brother, until only his father remains. But then, things start to get really ugly.

    This early, crudely shot Takashi Miike joint is dripping with his trademark over the top violence. There are numerous beheadings and other imaginative ways of dispatching enemies (a teenage stripper has a preferred method of killing which is both anatomically highly implausible and totally awesome), dramatic reveals of true identities and familial connections, sleazy, gratuitous sex scenes, eight year old boys with guns, hidden, heat-sensitive tattoos, a character who's a hermaphrodite, a character who I guess is a cyborg, and many more attractions. It’s a wild, vicious movie, and I definitely recommend it.

  10. Sonatine (1993)

    This was my first exposure to Beat Takeshi as a director, and while the movie's violence definitely qualifies it for Junesploitation, it's got more on it's mind than most of the other movies I'll watch this month.

    Sonatine has an interesting mix of measured, thoughtful stretches, comedic beats (both light and dark), and some of the calmest, most matter-of-fact shootout violence I've seen in a movie. It took me 20 minutes or so to get my footing, but shortly after the yakuza boys made it to the beach house hangout, I was pretty hooked. I don't know if I totally wrapped my head around Sonatine on this first watch, but it really had me engaged over the second half, and it feels like a flick that'll reward repeat viewings.

  11. YAKUZA WOLF 2: EXTEND MY CONDOLENCES (1972, d. Buichi Saito)
    First-time watch on Shout! Factory BluRay, 8/10.
    Arms dealer Sonny Chiba befriends boxer-turned-robber Tatsuya Fuji (IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES) while doing time & the two plot against the ruling Yakuza clan. Chiba is burning for vengeance, but also knows the financial gains from taking out the gangsters will be great. No small feat, the pair need to build a team. Has former cop Mikio Narita (COPS VS THUGS) joined the Yakuza? Will old flame Reiko Ike be bait or an asset? What’s a smuggling undertaker got to do with it all? For that matter, who’s the dude with the hook for a hand? This unrelated sequel is much lighter in tone, branching into men-on-a-mission territory. There’s still enough brutality to keep things serious, but EXTEND MY CONDOLENCES leans a little toward the SISTER STREET FIGHTER pictures while YAKUZA WOLF: I PERFORM MURDER meshes with Chiba’s own THE STREET FIGHTER.

  12. The Outsider (2018)

    Jared Leto makes a Yakuza movie, surprisingly not the worst thing ever. Though what I wonder is how many people has he actually killed for the yakuza while doing research and studying this role?

    But in all seriousness, this was not too shabby. Nick, an American GI stuck in prison (I think, the beginning was a bit fuzzy) gets bailed out by some yakuza people, they then incite him to be part of their clan, and thats where they got the title. But then things go awry when his clan and the neighbouring get into a kerfuffle.

    The action was good, the plot was fun, but it was very visually dark, and everyone mumbles. Why do modern movies do this ? We'll never know.

  13. FIRST LOVE (2019)

    Lots of fun. Twisty-turny plot, satisfying action, likeable underdog leads.

  14. THE YAKUZA (1974)
    Pretty good neo noir, gritty crime movie that I feel like would go from good to great with one more pass at the script and another director.

    I actually enjoyed this one a lot. It stars a young Viggo Mortensen and in some ways feels like a companion to Eastern Promises.

    The sequel, however, I thought was pretty terrible. An over-acting Michael Rooker is a sad replacement for Viggo.

  15. Yakuza Wolf: I Perform Murder (1972, dir. Ryûichi Takamori). This movie was fantastic! Starring Shin'ichi "Sonny" Chiba, it about a lone "wolf" pitting 2 gangs against each other to get revenge for the murder of his father. It's got all sorts of fights, martial arts, guns, swords, sometimes brawls with all three mixed together. It's definitely got western vibes, with our hero being mostly silent and wearing a hat and duster, and the soundtrack is got a western sound with Japanese flairs. This is the highlight of the month so far. It was just incredibly well made as well, with plenty of gorgeous camera shots and tricks, and paced just perfectly.