Monday, June 3, 2013

El Professore Movie Reviews: The Yakuza

Director: Sydney Pollack
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Ken Takakura, Brian Keith, Herb Edelman, Richard Jordan
* * * *
So there was director Sydney Pollack, fresh off the huge financial success of the Barbara Streisand/Robert Redford romancer, 'The Way We Were'. So successful was that film that Pollack could now hand pick his next picture with the studio's blessing. Pollack took advantage of this and lensed his dream project; a film that he knew would not be a success and would only find a very specific audience. If he were to make such a picture, now would be the time. Basing his story from a script penned by a then unknown Paul Schrader, Pollack along with the great Robert Mitchum flew to Japan to film, 'The Yakuza', one of the finest of all Neo Noir thrillers.

Full review after the break.

Mitchum plays Harry Kilmer, an ex army man turned private eye. He returns to Japan in order to help out an old friend (Brian Keith) who's daughter has been kidnapped by The Yakuza over money owed. In order to rescue his daughter, Kilmer must reconnect with an old local flame who he romanced 20 years ago, but could not marry. Teaming with her 'brother', ex-Yakuza fencing master Ken Tanaka (the great Ken Takakura who made a long and storied career out of such roles) our oddly joined pair take on the underworld. However there are secrets to be revealed about Kilmer's former love and her honor bound 'brother' that will only cause further angst for our already guilt ridden Yank protagonist.

As Pollack predicted, 'The Yakuza' was a flop. Even it's targeted audience in the U.S. were more interested in Samurai and Chinese martial arts films and were not yet ready to embrace a genre that had already been the most popular in Japan for nearly ten years. Regardless, this is in El Professore's humble opinion the finest example of Asian action directed by an American (yes, better than Enter the Dragon). Pollack's wonderful visual sensibilities were complemented by some of the finest cinematographers that Japan had to offer. This dark visual feast along with the towering dual presence of Mitchum and Tanaka (who play wonderfully off of each other) and a clever script by Schrader created a perfect union, one where literally everything fell into place just right. Even the action sequences are shot with supreme skill and with maximum impact, easily rivaling the little seen local action films being produced at that time.

'The Yakuza' is simply a masterpiece as Noir, as an action film and as a clever and subtle character study with two all time greats from opposite ends of the Earth sharing center stage. In case my gushing didn't make it obvious, it's one of my favorite films.

1 comment:

  1. The sound dusty makes and the way he squirms when hes stabbed is tattooed in my brain. The yakuza thug didn't even do a big downward stab, he just stuck the blade in from point blank and it went in slowly. Horrible way to die.

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