Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Yakuza

The Yakuza; crime, USA / Japan, 1974; D: Sydney Pollack, S: Robert Mitchum, Ken Takakura, Keiko Kishi, Eiji Okada, Brian Keith, Richard Jordan, Christina Kokubo

San Francisco. Ex-detective Harry Kilmer gets a phone call from an old friend, Tanner, who asks for his help. In Tokyo, Tanner claims he was coerced by Yakuza boss Tono into doing an arms smuggling business, but that he lost the weapons and now Tono kidnapped Tanner's daughter and threatens to kill her unless he gets the weapons back. Flying to Tokyo, Harry visits his unrequited love again, Eiko, a woman he saved during the US occupation of Japan, but she never wanted to marry him. Harry visits Eiko's brother, Ken, and persuades him to attack a house and save Tanner's daughter. However, it turns out Tanner never lost the weapons: he sold it and kept the money, anyway, since he was in financial trouble. When Tanner and Tono team up to kill Harry, their men accidentally kill Eiko's daughter, Hanako. In retaliation, Harry and Ken kill both Tanner and Tono. Afterward, Harry finds out Ken is actually Eiko's husband.

For a long time, American films were fascinated with American-Japanese culture clash, leading to several films about these encounters, including "Black Rain", "Sayonara" and "Lost in Translation". Another contribution was director Sydney Pollack's 8th film, "The Yakuza", a crime film that is watchable, yet rarely more than that. While the script is all right, it never rises to the occasion, settling only for a standard, routine and sometimes even bland achievement without much inspiration. When the only moments that 'stir up' the viewers are sudden outbursts of violence (in one sequence, Ken uses a sword to cut off the hand of a gangster who wanted to shoot at Harry; the codex of cutting your own finger as an apology to someone...), then that is a bad sign. Robert Mitchum is again in good shape and has some charisma, yet he has little to work with since his character Harry is underused, save for the tragic love story he found himself in. He is also effective in probably the film's best sequence, the long tracking shot of Harry entering Tanner's office in order to shoot him. A few more of highlights of such calibre would have been welcome, since it is hard to shake away the feeling that "The Yakuza" is one of Pollack's lesser achievements. If anything, Harry's friend Dusty at least said one memorable quote in the spa: "When an American cracks up, he opens up the window and shoots up a bunch of strangers. When a Japanese cracks up, he closes the window and kills himself. Everything is in reverse."


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