THE YAKUZA — CLASSIC FILM PICK
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Robert Mitchum was a hot property coming off the success of “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” when he made Sydney Pollock’s “The Yakuza” in 1974. It was the same year that “The Yakuza’s” co-screenwriter Robert Towne scored big with his screenplay for “Chinatown,” which Roman Polanski crafted into a timeless masterpiece of political and familial corruption in Los Angeles. Why not write a script that guarantees a trip to Japan for some extravagant location filming?
For his debut screenwriting effort, Paul Schrader works with Towne on “The Yakuza” to create an ambitious cinematic apologia for the atrocities levied on Japan by the U.S. during World War II, albeit on a deep personal level. The screenwriters are quick to point out in stark narrative terms the awful damage done to the Japanese by America’s fire-bombing missions that paled even the horrific destruction done by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The film is a crash course in the ethical codes of the Yakuza, Japan’s transnational organized crime syndicate. Robert Mitchum’s World War II vet Harry Kilmer still carries a torch for Eiko (Keiko Kishi), the Japanese woman whose life he saved while serving as a U.S. Marine. Kilmer went so far as to borrow money from his fellow Marine George Tanner (Brian Keith) to help Eiko open a bar in Tokyo.
Tanner has since switched from being a private detective to selling guns to the Yakuza. A lost gun shipment has caused the Yakuza to kidnap Tanner’s daughter. Kilmer agrees to do his old War pal a favor and travel to Tokyo to track down Eiko’s Yakuza-connected brother Tanaka (played by the amazing Ken Takakura) to help rescue Tanner’s daughter. Tanner hooks Harry up with Dusty (Richard Jordan) as a personal bodyguard whose instincts for survival are no match for Harry’s fast-twitch defense mechanisms.
The convoluted narrative holds secrets about Tanner, Eiko, and Tanaka that cause Mitchum’s stoic character to take violent action, even against his own flesh. Although clunky by modern editing standards, “The Yakuza” is a fascinating film that earns its sequences of shocking violence, and pays off with a crisis of personally expressed morals that transfer from Eastern to Western philosophy through Tanaka and Harry Kilmer.
Robert Mitchum was in his stride when he made “The Yakuza,” doing a movie every year and making it look easy yet poignant with every performance. “The Yakuza” is a beautifully flawed film that nonetheless catches you off guard when you least expect it.
Rated R. 112 mins.
Documentarian Jeremy Workman ("Who is Henry Jaglom," "Magical Universe") joins the boys to talk about Sydney Pollock's THE YAKUZA (starring Robert Mitchum, Keiko Kishi, Ken Takakura, and Richard Jordan).
Although it was Cole's idea to do Mitchum's follow-up to "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," Jeremy still had his diary notes from seeing THE YAKUZA way back in 2001. Cole broke out a bottle of Hitachino Nest's REAL GINGER BREW because it only seemed right to have a legit Japanese craft beer on the show. This is one damned fine beer. Bon appetite.