What! Robert Mitchum against The Yakuza! I’m sold, drop very thing and press play now.
Tagline – 100 years ago they were called Samurai.
How I had never heard of this film is beyond me but what a pleasure it was to excitedly stumble across it and watch this perfect beautifully paced thriller set in Tokyo.
Robert Mitchum plays Harry Kilmer, a humble retired detective who receives a distressing call from his old World War Two buddy George Tanner (Brian Keith). George had set up an arms deal with a guy called Tono (Eiji Okada) who happens to be a ruthless yakuza gangster. The deal goes south pretty quickly resulting in George’s daughter being kidnapped as ransom for the deal. George knows he can only turn to his trusted loyal friend Harry to help in this unfortunate turn of events.
Both Harry and George had been stationed in Tokyo after the post-war occupation. Harry being the decent upright man he was had helped a young lady called Eiko (Keiko Kishi) in an unfortunate incident, effectively saving her life. Falling deeply in love with Eiko and moving in with her causes a rift between herself and her returning brother Ken (Ken Takakura), an ex Imperial Japanese soldier. Seeing his sister living with the enemy as a deep dishonor but ultimately conflicted with the knowledge that Harry had saved his sister, he leaves and retreats into the criminal underworld of the yakuza.
In a time and culture devoid of showing true emotions, Harry and Eiko go their separate ways. However even time can’t break the love he has had for Eiko and what with his mission to find his friends daughter he decides to pay her a visit. Is there still passion bubbling away under all that forbidden love, pondering brooding looks of loves lost throughout the years? But all that will have to wait! as the Yakuza are coming!!
Opening Credits – “To this day it is said the yakuza abide by a code of honor as rigorous as the samurai code of bushido.”
The pace of this film is just perfect, slowly moving through the story revealing little pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. You meet various friends and enemies along the way with everything tuned beautifully into the traditions of Japanese culture. This film is abound with respects, shame, honor, duty and obligation.
Now that pace might be slow but don’t get you knickers in a twist, sit back and enjoy the build up because there are a few sweet pay offs, none more so than the end. Man it’s a set piece to make you wanna knock back half a bottle of sake to calm you down.
This superb film is by director Sydney Pollack who went straight into the outstanding CIA political thriller Three Days Of The Condor. Someone who has a connection to both The Yakuza and Three Days Of The Condor is American jazz pianist and composer Dave Grusin who brings a mellow jazz score to the film but what is special is he manages to merge both American and Japanese cultures in the soundtrack giving both a feel of a gritty 70’s film but embracing the traditions of Japanese life. It was never released on vinyl at the time however the label Film Score Monthly released the CD in 2005.
Here’s a documentary from Sydney Pollack about the making of the film. It’s really very good but I would be hesitant to watch it if you haven’t seen the film yet. Pop back when you have or if you don’t mind spoilers, then jump on in.
What did you think of this one back in the day, or are you like me and just getting to see it? It’s a fantastic film wouldn’t you say?