Sunday, 26 February 2012
Silver Screen Gems: The Yakuza (1974)
There are always going to be films that are enjoyed far more by the viewer than the critic, and the Yakuza is one of them. Watched at 01:00 last night through a haze of scotch and smoke, I had forgotten what a gripping, interesting film it really is.
The initial plot is very simple: A man is asked by his old army friend to investigate the kidnapping of his daughter by the infamous Yakuza gang. What seems like a routine trip to Japan is upset by the unveiling of his past life as a post-war GI in that country and the relationship he had with a Tokyo lady whilst he was there.
Written as a classic film noir, there is no end of betrayal and double crosses, however the overriding themes in this brilliant film are honour and debt, made all the more concentrated by intertwining Japanese culture and the code of the Yakuza into the story.
Anyone who has seen Chinatown and Bonnie and Clyde will be familiar with the legendary Robert Towne, as they will with the equally talented Paul Shrader (Taxi Driver, American Gigolo, Blue Collar) who wrote the subtle and understated screenplay. But all this would be incidental if the film was not supported by a fantastic cast lead with an earthy performance from the great Robert Mitchum. His character, Harry Kilmer (or 'Kilmer San' as he is referred to in most of the film) is the epitome of unfulfilled potential, disappointment, sadness and general pathos. Mitchum plays him with detachment and it is not until the end of the film that we see his character change through redemption and rehabilitation.
Easily the most interesting aspect of this film, apart from the excellent and intense filming is the relationship between Mitchum's character and his Japanese rival Tanaka Ken (played by the renowned Japanese actor Ken Takakura). There is intense, unspoken interplay between the two character ranging from brooding hatred, begrudging respect, and genuine affection.
Scored by the legendary David Grusin and directed by the prolific Sydney Pollack, this is a film that was aptly described in a user review on IMDB (Internet Movie Database) as 'melancholy' and for me this is an a pat description. But, please don't let this put you off as it has a strong life message about both friendships and the sacrifices that we have to make for the greater good rather than our own pursuit of happiness. Let me reiterate that anyone who likes films like Chinatown, Mean Streets and Taxi Driver will love this one - I am so surprised that it has a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes as I think in this case it is not deserved at all!
Whilst I urge you to check this film out, I would also like to add - for my more foodie followers - that the next post will be on a culinary theme and if you are lucky I might throw in a recipe or two into the bargain! :-)