Tuesday, June 2, 2009
The Yakuza (1974)
Directed by Sydney Pollack. This is a weird movie because a lot of people don't know about it but there's a lot of reasons to check it out. In general, Yakuza (Japanese mafia) films from Japan are a major genre and this is a U.S. take on it, though what's particularly well done about it is that it's not just some parasitic exploitation of the Japanese phenomenon. This is an original story of Yakuza business politics that involves an American who gets in the way a little, and helps a little.
It's also interesting because it's more than 30 years old. If it were made these days, some asshole like Vin Diesel would either turn the Yakuza upside-down and do everything his way or exist as some Yakuza fixture, condescendingly defending the honor of the Japanese against a bunch of horrible racists.
Instead here, Robert Mitchum struggles with an unfamiliar mob culture that happens to exist in another culture. This was Paul Schraeder's breakout screenplay, the script that eventually partnered him with Martin Scorcese for "Taxi Driver" (1976) and "Raging Bull" (1980).
The story is complex but takes place in a Japan on the verge of reaching its massive post-war economic success in the early '70s. There is significant awareness of finding the right balance between Eastern and Western cultural values and a fear of losing Japan's classic identity amid its contemporary identity.
The film takes its time to establish all this, but in the second half there is a lot of action and the third act has some intensely rewarding character development and plot resolution. Really. No, I mean really.
Anyway, you should see this.