Saturday, May 20, 2023

YAKUZA GRAVEYARD (1976) (Radiance Films Blu-ray Review)


Radiance Films
Region Code: A, B 
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 95 minutes 53 Seconds 
Audio: Uncompressed Japanese PCM 2.0 Dual-Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Meiko Kaji, Nagisa Oshima, Nobuo Kaneko, Tatsuo Umemiya

Yakuza Graveyard comes to us from Kinji Fukasaku, the late director of Battle Royale and The Green Slime and the screenwriter of Battles Without Honor and Humanity and Big Time Gambling Boss, the former of which was also directed by Fukasaku. In it hardboiled rogue cop Detective Kuroiwa (Tetsuya Watari, Graveyard Of Honor) is investigating the escalating Yakuza war between the Nishida and Yamashiro clans. While his corrupt bosses at the precinct regularly rub elbows with the Yamashiro family the anarchic Kuroiwa choose not to partake, showing no quarter for the yakuza clans. However, after initially grating against the acting leader of Nishida, Iwata (Tatsuo Umemiya, Battles Without Honor and Humanity), the two form a mutual bond of respect for each other after fighting, whoring and drinking together -  with Iwata eventually performing the Yakuza ritual of brotherhood with the cop, which is unheard of, which puts Kuroiwa even more at odds with his corrupt superiors at the precinct, among them Nobuo Kaneko who I loved in Big Time Gambling Boss as the a moustache-twirling double-crosser, he's sort of the same sort of character here. 

Watari as Kuroiwa is a force of nature, tearing through the Yakuza underworld and through other cops in his pursuit of a sort of justice dictated by his own peculiar brand of morality than by any sort of black and white justice. His life complicated by his torn allegiances and the women he beds, namely the wife of an incarcerated Yakuza boss, Keiko (Meiko Kaji, Female Convict Scorpion), as well as the wife of a Yakuza gang member he shot to death and cares for out of a sense of guilt. 

This is an action-packed flick from start to finish, the opening scenes of Kuroiwa laying waste to a trio of low-level Yakuza rabble is kinetic and powerful, the fight scene shot with hand held camerawork that gives it a gritty edge. This is a cop with a huge chip on his shoulder, who has no issue with violently beating suspects, and even other cops (including one who just asked him to turn his music down after complaints from his neighbors), who get in his way. Torn between his loyalties to Iwata, the corrupt justice system, his own complicated moral code, and falling for a Yakuza bosses wife in the midst of an all out Yakuza war, doesn't make life easy for the hard-living detective, leading to some nihilistic acts of violence will most likely spell doom for the seriously compromised cop. The sad truth of it that he might be dirty as Hell but he's still the cleanest cop on the beat in this violent Yakuza flick that's lousy with cop corruption.

Audio/Video: Yakuza Graveyard (1976) arrives on region A,B friendly Blu-ray from Radiance Films utilizing an HD master supplied by Toei Company Ltd, presented in 1080p HD framed in 2.35:1 widescreen. The source is in near flawless shape, grain looks good, colors are solid, and depth and clarity are modest but appreciable. It does have that greenish lean that a lot of Japanese films of this era tend to have, but it's not too intrusive. The lone audio option is a solid uncompressed Japanese PCM 2.0 Dual-Mono with optional English subtitles. It's range is limited but sounds accurate, dialogue, score and action oriented moments come through nicely without any age-related wear and tear. 

Brand new disc extras include a 15-min Appreciation by filmmaker Kazuya Shiraishi (2022), the 12-min The Rage and the Passion - A visual essay by critic Tom Mes on Meiko Kaji and Kinji Fukasaku's Collaborations (2022), a Gallery of Promotional Imagery, 3-min Theatrical Trailer, plus an Easter Egg for the menu explorers out there, the 4-min Kinji Fukasaku’s Influence on Kazuya Shiraishi’s Blood of Wolves - Interview with Kazuya Shiraishi

The single-disc release arrives in a clear, full-height Scanavo keepcase with a Reversible Sleeve of Artwork featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow, both options featuring a numbered spine [this being #2], plus it has Radiance's Removable OBI Strip, aka a spine card. The OBI strip is an additional removable strip of paper wrapped around the spine of the release containing a rating, synopsis, technical info and advert for other Radiance releases on the flipside of it, and when removed it leaves the wrap unmolested by credits or ratings logos. Inside there's a slickly produced 31-Page Illustrated Booklet containing new writing on the film by academic Mika Ko, who explores the role of "zainichi Koreans" in Yakuza cinema, plus a pair of re-prints of a contemporary review and writing by screenwriter Kazuo Kasahara, plus cast and crew info, notes about the transfer, and release credits. 

Special Features: 
- Appreciation by filmmaker Kazuya Shiraishi (2022) (14:37)
- The Rage and the Passion - A visual essay by critic Tom Mes on Meiko Kaji and Kinji Fukasaku's collaborations (2022) (12:11)
- Gallery of Promotional Imagery
- Theatrical Trailer (3:13)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow
- Limited edition booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mika Ko on the representations of Koreans in the yakuza film, and newly translated re-prints of a contemporary review and writing by screenwriter Kazuo Kasahara
- Limited edition of 3000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings
- Easter Egg: Kinji Fukasaku’s Influence on Kazuya Shiraishi’s Blood of Wolves - Interview with Kazuya Shiraishi (4:10)

Screenshots from the Radiance Films Blu-ray: