The Gamblers, Gangsters, and Other Anti-Heroes: The Japanese Yakuza Movie film series at Asia Society in Manhattan continues Thursday night, April 3, 2008, with this fine film from the venerable Japanese director Seijun Suzuki.
A traditional ninkyo eiga (chivalry) film, Tattooed Life is set in the first year of Showa, the name Emperor Hirohito gave to his reign in 1926. Tetsu (Hideki Takahashi), a member of the Owada family, kills the leader of a rival gang as ordered. In a plot device often used in Yakuza films, he is betrayed by his gang and is to be killed. Kenji (Akira Yamauchi), his younger brother and an artist, saves him by killing his would-be murderer. Hoping to get to Manchuria, the brothers flee, but end up in a rural, coastal village where they work for a family-owned construction company.
Kenji, who declared that "I can't make art with hands that have shed blood," finds his talent rekindled by Mrs. Yamashita (Hiroko Ito), the wife of the owner of the company. A hopeless romantic, Kenji begs her to allow him to draw her when she's naked. Although she doesn't directly agree to this, she slyly lets him know that she's only naked when she bathes. Meanwhile, her younger sister, Masayo (Masako Izumi), has fallen for Tetsu.
When a rival family puts the screws to Yamashita and his wife, all hell breaks loose. Tetsu goes to rescue them sword in hand and cuts down bad guys right, left and down the middle. His final confrontation with the other gang's boss is shot partially from underneath a glass floor, the kind of visual touch that Suzuki would throw in to keep from getting bored with standard genre material.
Tattooed Life offers great fun, some astoundingly beautiful screen compositions, and detectives who for some enigmatic reason wear red shoes! My ACF rating is 3.5 out of 4 stars.
Ian Buruma curated this series and is set to introduce the screening, which like all the films in the series will start at 7:00 pm. The Asia Society is located at 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street). The facility is fabulous, and the theater features nicely raked stadium-type seating with really comfortable seats.
For more information about Thursday night's screening, or other films to be shown, click here, or call the society at 212.288.6400.
For those of you not in the New York City metro area, Tattooed Life is available on DVD from HVE (Home Vision Entertainment). If you're interested in purchasing it, here's a link to amazon.com. (And, no, I don't have any sort of arrangement with Amazon; the link is provided purely for your convenience.)