Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Yakuza (1974)

A Surprisingly Unrecognized Yet Quite Excellent Film

- Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) finds himself back in Japan for the first time in 25 years. His powerful friend George Tanner (Brian Keith) is in dire need of Kilmer's services, as his daughter has been kidnapped by the dangerous Yakuza (a Japanese form of the mafia) because of a business deal gone wrong. Kilmer had not planned on going back to Japan. He has a complicated past there - he fell in love with a Japanese woman, Eiko Tanaka (Keiko Kishi), at the end of World War II but painfully left when she stopped having anything to do with him upon her brother's return home. Now that Kilmer is back in Japan, he tries to rekindle what he lost 25 years ago, only to find out that his current mission has become complicated and dangerous enough....

One of Sydney Pollack's (Tootsie (1982), Out Of Africa (1985)) best and astonishingly forgotten films, 1974's The Yakuza is an excellent film about family, friends and obligation. What a great story! Written by Leonard Schrader with a little help from now Hollywood heavyweights Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver (1976)) and Robert Towne (Chinatown (1974)), The Yakuza starts off simple enough but gets very interesting and is always full of heart.

The performances are also all fantastic. A matured Robert Mitchum is excellent here in The Yakuza, giving one of his very best performances of his long career. Mitchum has a soft intensity and still carries that classic Mitchum swagger - plus he is as convincing as you can possibly get in the Harry Kilmer role. An experienced tough guy, Kilmer still is emotionally vulnerable and unable to detach himself the unfolding events throughout. And, even though he has spent years in Japan and is familiar with its customs and people, Mitchum's Kilmer still has to deal with a little bit of culture shock as well. Other members of the cast give good performances as well: Richard Jordan is all too likable as the brash but loyal Dusty, Keiko Kishi gives a warm performance as the quiet Eiko Tanaka and Ken Takakura is powerful and authoritative as the troubled but strong Ken Tanaka.

The Yakuza is also extraordinarily filmed. The camera angles and movements give the film an interesting perspective and the great, dark, neo noir-like cinematography drapes the audience in an exciting film atmosphere. Plenty of terrific and unique action scenes can be found in the film, certainly. Not very often do we see a great sword fight and a great gun fight in the same film going on at the same time - well, we do here in The Yakuza. But the action scenes are not filmed in a fun and games sort of way; they are all interestingly displayed and real brutal. Including the great story and acting into account with the spectacular visuals, Sydney Pollack's The Yakuza really fires on all cylinders to thrill, move and entertain.

CBC Rating: 10/10

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