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A Certain Killer (1967) Starring Ichikawa Raizo

Since I am STILL waiting for Bonnie to do her review here is a little known movie starring Ichikawa Raizo, A Certain Killer (1967).

A Certain Killer is a dark film in the “Le Samourai” vein, with Ichikawa Raizo playing a former kamikaze, now a restaurant chef and owner, who is slowly revealed to be working on the side as a cold, perfectionist hit man for two yakuza clans.  The main character (Raizo) is from the WW2 generation and has seen his dreams die in post-war Japan.  The movie opens with Raizo getting off a plane and hopping into a cab that takes him to the middle of what looks like an abandoned industrial field.  After looking around for a few minutes he begins to walk until he spots an obviously run down inn with rooms to rent.  Raizo (now wearing an eye-patch) rents the dirty, empty room from a nearly deaf lady and sits down to read the paper.  At this point the film begins to flash back to various scenes that lead up to his stay in the room.

First we Raizo eating along in a noodle shop while a young harlot is trying to sell her body in exchange for a bowl of noodles.  The cook wants nothing to do with her so when Raizo gets up to pay the bill he puts her meal on his check because he “does not want to see a woman sell her body that cheaply.”  While he is paying, the harlot sees the amount of cash he carries and begins to follow, nag and sell him out to her pimp.  He dispatches with the pimp but she continues to follow him to his restaurant where she chases off a nice young hard working Japanese girl by pretending to sleep with Raizo.

Then we get our first taste of his killing abilities.  He is hired to kills a Yakuza-boss who is constantly surrounded by 4 competent bodyguards.  Raizo manages to use a razor sharp needle to cut the obi of his target’s wife and when the bodyguards go to help her he inserts the tatami-needle at the base of his victim’s skull, killing him without a sound.  Raizo is paid twenty million yen for the job (in today’s currency about 2.1 million dollars) by the rival clan.

The harlot who will not leave him alone ends up sleeping with one of the clan’s henchmen that he just did the killing for.  He tells her about the twenty million yen and in their greed, they devise a plan to use Raizo to steal a drug shipment that the henchman knows about as well as to take his twenty million yen.

At this point we are pretty much caught up as Raizo looks out the window and we see the harlot running through the rain to get to the inn and meet up with Raizo.  While running, the harlot picks up the henchman and they both enter the room to wait.  Raizo the perfectionist scolds them for coming in together and makes them take the dinner garbage out separately so that no one will know that three people have been there.  Raizo gives the henchman a gun and they prepare for the heist.

At 3:00 am Raizo wakes up the harlot and the henchman and they set off to the place where the drug deal is going to take place.  Meanwhile the henchman has already dug Raizo’s grave in a garbage pit.  After they snatch the drugs, the henchman and the harlot make their move and try to shoot Raizo.  The gun is empty and Raizo asks if they think he is a fool knowing they would pull a stunt because when he was working as the junior on several jobs he thought of the same thing but never acted on it.  When they go outside to leave, they are confronted by the henchman’s clan, and the henchman is told that he now has a big problem because he is doing deals behind his boss’ back.

Our three robbers get into a good fight with their opponents but win out.  However, during the fight, some of the drug canisters are kicked into the stream and you sort of lose track of the rest.  Once they defeat the yakuza-clan the henchman is so impressed with Raizo that he wants to be his pupil.  Raizo declines and when pressed for an explanation, states “he doesn’t like a man who can’t tell the job from the romance,” whereupon he unzips his bag and pull out four canisters of the drugs, tells the henchman to split them with the harlot and then walks off.  The henchman, still standing there, is asked by the harlot if she can go with him and the answer is no because “women don’t know the difference between the job and the romance” — and he proceeds to walk away without the drugs as well.  The harlot then exclaims that she does not need him because she is going to find a new partner and makes lots of money anyway walking off—also leaving the drugs (it looks like she didn’t see them in plain sight).=320

Raizo gives a memorable performance in a role outside of his usual traditional historical film – he can ordinarily be found as a wandering ronin/antihero in (for instance) the Sleepy Eyes of Death series or the Shinobe No Mono movies (he was in 7 out of 8 of them) playing the famous ninja Goemon Ishikawa.  This story was good and based on a hard-boiled crime novel, “The Night Before,” by Fujiwara Shinji.  With little, but pointed, dialogue, sparing use of color, and an interesting penchant for objective longshot, A Certain Killer is an important rediscovery by one of Japanese cinema’s “kings of the Bs,” Kazuo Mori (1911-1989), who inspired Nagisa Oshima with the inherent rebellion of his daring constructions. Oshima said, “I was shocked to discover that the rage and hatred the world inspired in me at the time could be expressed so beautifully and powerfully by the cinema.”

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Zatoichi The Fugitive: Better Late Than Never.

Yes, I know it’s overdue, but here is my personal take on “The Fugitive.”

Zatoichi “The Fugitive” is the fourth in the Zatoichi series that centers on a blind man wandering the Japanese countryside, ostensibly making his living as a masseur. In reality, though, he is a professional gambler, a Yakuza (members of traditional, organized crime syndicates in Japan) and most importantly, an outstanding swordsman.  Zatoichi is a master of the “iaido” style—that consisting of the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard, striking or cutting an opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then replacing the sword back into the scabbard.

Like most blind people, Zatoichi possesses extremely heightened remaining senses.   His senses are so sharp, in fact, that he can hear the way dice role in a cup, differentiate between a man and a woman by their distinctive scents, and use his swordsmanship with deadly precision and lighting speed.  All of these abilities go a long way in keeping him alive in a time and place abounding in death.

In “The Fugitive,” Zatoichi strolls into a town that is in the midst of hosting a Sumo wrestling match.  Ichi decides to participate in the Japanese tradition and wins the requisite five matches to take the tournament, while the local Yakuza loose face, since they were beaten by a blind man.  After the matches have ended, Ichi is enjoying a snack next to a pond when he is attacked by local scoundrel trying to capture the 10 ryo (gold currency used during the period weighing about 16.5 grams) bounty that was placed on Ichi’s head.  Ichi cautions the man to discontinue the attacks, but his warnings go unheeded.  Ichi makes quick work of the man, and while he is dying, Ichi is able to find out the name of the mother of his latest victim.

Ichi sets out to—and does—find the dead man’s mother (herself a Yakuza) and begs for her forgiveness.  While apologizing, Ichi stumbles upon a local Yakuza power struggle, takes the side of the underdog, and eventually restores the balance of power, ending a violent turf war and returning the town to a state of peace.

While intervening in this struggle, Ichi is forced again to deal with the bounty on his head as well as with a skilled, angry Ronin.  In the end, Ichi and the Ronin fight a grueling battle, and Ichi, again, is the warrior left standing.

I must profess–I love the entire Zatoichi series and have all 26 movies.  While the general storyline in “The Fugitive” constitutes the basis for each of the Zatoichi films, they are all enjoyable individually and stand up well on their own.  Many of the original Ichi movies surprisingly contain a fair amount of humor, unlike the 2003 remakethough, which was a grim and bloody tale of the blind man’s journey.

I agree with my counterpart’s (Silver) review in several respects.  First, the Lone Wolf and Cub series (also one of my favorites) plays on the same general theme.  One could easily conclude that both of these series reflect the sentiments of Japanese movie culture popular at the time.  More importantly, I also agree with Silver in that this is not a Yojimbo or some other cinematic masterpiece, nor was it meant to be.  These movies were made to be enjoyed by a more general, mainstream audience and they were obviously very successful at doing so.

Despite its age, the movie is about 40 years old, “Zatoichi—The Fugitive” continues to entertain and provides an excellent representation of period Asian Samurai cinema.

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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