With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Monday, March 07, 2011

ACF 921: "The Yakuza" at Japan Society

The Yakuza
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Starring Robert Mitchum and Ken Takakura
Written by Paul Schrader and Robert Towne
USA/Japan, 1975, 123 minutes
When: Wednesday, March 9, 2010 at 7:30 PM
Where: Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street, NYC
Between 1st and 2nd Avenues
Info and buy tickets here

The latest Globus Film Series at Japan Society, Hardest Men in Town: Yakuza Chronicles of Sin, Sex & Violence, starts this Wednesday with Pollack's respectful nod to the genre. I'm not sure when I first came across the film, but I've owned the DVD (more on that later) for several years.

The Yakuza, being in English and with so many Americans involved, is a somewhat surprising choice to kick off the fifteen film series, but not at all an inappropriate one. And since the film never got much recognition, it's great to have it placed in such a prominent position in this terrific series.

Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) and Tanaka Ken (Ken Takakura) confer

The great Robert Mitchum stars as Harry Kilmer, who served in the Occupation Army after World War II. He returns to rescue the kidnapped daughter of one of his friends, George Tanner (played by Brian Keith). Once back, Kilmer visits Eiko (Keiko Kishi), a war-widow with whom he had an intimate relationship and whom he set up with her own business. Through her, he contacts and enlists the aid of her brother Tanaka Ken (Ken Takakura), a war veteran and former yakuza.

While they pull off the rescue, matters of course do not end there. This being a yakuza film, there has to be a double cross. There's that, some fine dialogue, a couple of great action set pieces, and an unexpected revelation before resolution and reconciliation is finally achieved.

Once again, for those outside of New York or just unable to make the screening, all is not lost. As I said earlier, The Yakuza is available on DVD, from Warner Brothers, which produced the film (along with Toei Company.). It has a nice "making of" featurette that was shot simultaneously with filming. I found watching Pollack work with his Japanese crew, using an interpreter as intermediary, to be particularly interesting.

In this overhead shot, Tanaka Ken (Ken Takakura)
moves towards some of the baddies.

My only gripe with the DVD is the tag line on the front cover of the insert: "100 years ago they were called Samurai." (see the image at the top of this post.) Some numbnuts obviously thought this sounded cool and would bring in more white customers than talking about "yakuza." And while it's certainly probable that some samurai became yakuza, the statement is essentially erroneous and fundamentally stupid.

As for the film itself, The Yakuza can more than hold its own against many Japanese films in the genre. It's a very entertaining movie with a great storyline and two fantastic stars. ACF Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; very highly recommended.

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