Thursday, February 2, 2017

THE YAKUZA (1975) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Warner Archive

Region Code: A
Duration: 112 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.4:1)
Director: Sydney Pollack
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Takakura Ken, Brian Keith, Herb Edelman, Ric, Richard Jordan, Kishi Keiko, James Shigeta 

Synopsis: Former private eye Harry Kilmer knows a lot about Japan — and the gangsters who keep an iron grip on its gambling, prostitution and protection rackets. He knows there’s a right way to approach the brutal underworld. And he knows there’s one thing powerful mobsters respect: greater power. Robert Mitchum is Kilmer in this haunting East-meets-West-head-on thriller powered by a team of heavy Hollywood hitters: writers Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) and Robert Towne (Chinatown) and director Sydney Pollack (The Interpreter). Costarring Japan’s Takakura Ken and veteran character actor Brian Keith, The Yakuza is a modern film noir in which honor and loyalty become issues of life and death. Violence erupts with the speed of a Tokyo-bound bullet train. And the last thing to die is tradition.

In Sydney Pollack's 70's yakuza flick we have an retired P.I. named Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum, The Night of The Hunter) being called on by an old army buddy,  crooked businessman George Tanner (Brian Keith), whose daughter has been kidnapped by yakuza gangster, Tono (Eiji Okada), after a shady arms deal tasked to Tanner went South, and the gangster is none too pleased by Tanner's cavalier attitude about the loss. 

Tanner calls on Kilmer's hoping his history and connections in Japan will  bring his daughter back to him. Both Kilmer and Tanner had been stationed in Tokyo during the post-war occupation, where Kilmer fell in love with a black market runner named Eiko (Keiko Kishi, Kwaidan). They become lovers but Eiko refused to marry Kilmer for unknown reasons. It was during this time in the past that Eiko's brother Ken (Ken Takakura, Black Rain)returned to Tokyo, having been stranded on an island during the war as an Imperial Soldier. Ken is outraged that his sister has fallen in love with an American G.I. - the enemy - and breaks off all relations with her, but he is conflicted, also swearing a life-long, unpayable debt to Kilmer, who saved his sister's life and that of her young daughter during the occupation. Ken joined the Yakuza shortly after and disappeared into the Tokyo underworld, becoming something of a legendary swordsman. 

Kilmer boards a flight to Tokyo with a bodyguard named Dusty (Richard Jordan, Logan's Run), arriving in Tokyo they stay with another old army buddy named Oliver (Herb Edelman), a Japanese scholar and collector of some wicked Japanese weaponry. Kilmer visits Eiko after a twenty-year absence looking for her brother, the reunion is bittersweet, the emotion between the two is thick enough to cut with a knife, he is also reunited with her now grown daughter, Hanako (Christina Kokubo ). 

Through Eiko Kilmer tracks Ken to a kendo school in Kyoto, we learn that he has not been a part of the Yakuza for many years, he is a peaceful man but he is also honor-bound to help Kilmer free the daughter of Tanner when called upon. The rescue mission results in the death of Yakuza soldiers, and a price is put on the heads of Kilmer and Ken, we also learn of a double-cross, and the two honor-bound men must fight their way to the top of the Yakuza food chain, arriving at Tono's residence, facing off against two dozen highly skilled yakuza soldiers, Ken with his katana blade and Kilmer with his shotgun!   

Having never watched this I must say that I was surprised by the sophistication of the story, which was written by screenwriters Paul Schrader (Hardcore) and Robert Town (Chinatown). There's a lot of attention to the detail of Yakuza culture, and to the honor, tradition and ceremony of Japanese society, this is no simple exploitation flick. That's not to say we don't get a bucket load of violence, we do, it's well-paced and tightly executed. The violence comes in short spurts, the stakes are high and lives that matter are lost. It's bloody but not Kill Bill/Tarantino high pressured Asians bloody, but we have dismemberment and decapitations, multiple instances of yubitsume, wherein a subordinate will ritually sever their pinky finger as a showing of remorse/respect, there's even a touching pinky severing that crosses cultures. 

I've always found Robert Mitchum sort of, not bland, but not deep either, however, I think his quite/cool works remarkably well in this movie, as an American with a deep understanding of Japanese culture he expresses as much in quiet ways, it really comes through. His Japanese counterpart Ken Takakura is fantastic, while Mitchum get the more traditionally dramatic role with his love for Eiko, Takakura is a smoldering figure in his own right, burning from within with honor and vengeance, his fight scenes are fantastic with well-staged swordplay and some nice bloody blades.

One of the more gut-punch elements of this tough as nails film is a secret revealed late in the game that casts a different sort of shadow on the main cast of characters, it's a whopper, and the build-up and reveal are expertly staged. Also saddening is the death of two young lovers, cut down before it can really begin, there's a lot of depth to this one, so dig in and check this out, this might have gotten by you without notice, but it's time to take note, The Yakuza (1975)is bad ass.   

Audio/Video: The Yakuza (1975) arrives on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive with a brand new 2017 HD remaster, looking mighty spiffy. 

The sources is in grand condition, grain is nicely managed and the colors are vibrant. Black levels on the Blu-ray are pleasing as are the fine details and textures throughout. Audio on the disc s handled by a capable DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track with optional English subtitles. The Dave Grusin score, dialogue and effects sounds just fine. Extras on the set include a vintage 20-min making of featurette, trailer and an audio commentary with Director Sydney Pollack.  

Special Features: 

- Commentary by Director Sydney Pollack
- Featurette - Promises to Keep (20 min) HD
- Theatrical Trailer (3 min) HD

This was a first time watch for me, I found it enthralling, the honor-bound story and mix of East meets West action is fantastic and
the drama and swordplay are top-notch! 3.5/5