Director: Sydney Pollack
Producer: Sydney Pollack
Writer: Paul Schrader, Robert Towne, Leonard Schrader
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Richard Jordan, Ken Takakura, Brian Keith, Herb Edelman
Running Time: 112 min.
When you rent a film with high expectations and get even more than you bargained for, you know you’ve got a great film on your hands.
In “The Yakuza”, Robert Mitchum is Harry Kilmer, a man who returns to Japan after 15 years to rescue the kidnapped daughter of his pal Tanner (Keith) from the clutches of the Yakuza. Once there, Kilmer is forced to enlist the aid of his former lover Eiko’s brother, Ken (Takakura Ken).
The main emphasis of this film is the relationship between Kilmer and Ken. While Ken was believed dead in the war, Kilmer was taking care of his sister and young niece. Everything seemed to be going great for Eiko and Kilmer until Ken miraculously returned from the war, and Eiko refused to marry Kilmer. Ken resents Kilmer because of his sister’s relationship with him, a gaijin, but is also in great debt to him for taking care of his family in his absence, and that is why he agrees to help rescue the girl. After the rescue goes bad and two Yakuza are killed, both Ken and Kilmer are in danger, and feel an obligation to help one another out. The relationship between these two characters, Ken and Kilmer, is what drives the film, and Takakura Ken and Robert Mitchum give such believable performances, that the tension is quite convincing. To see two of the world’s greatest actors ever in one film is a delight.
“The Yakuza” is perhaps best known as the writing debut of Paul Schrader, the writer of “Taxi Driver”, and the director of “Affliction” and “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters”. Like Schrader’s other films, this isn’t a light piece of entertainment. This film deals with themes of honor and self sacrifice in a more honest way then one would expect, and the themes and images of this film are apparent in many of Schrader’s works, most notable “Mishima” and “Taxi Driver”. This film is a real testament to Schrader’s skill, for there are many plot twists and surprises, but they never come at the expense of the plot or characters.
The action is also really well handled, and is never used just for the sake of having action. Each time something violent occurs, it affects the plot and characters. And let me tell you, for a 1975 Warner Bothers production, this movie kicks! It mixes samurai inspired swordplay with surprisingly well choreographed gunfighting in a very unique, yet pretty believable, (and violent!) way. The final piece of action (this film does not end at the final action scene like most action movies) in this film, featuring Takakura on the swords and Mitchum on the firearms is something to behold.
My only real problem with this film is that there are pauses in the narrative to explain Japanese culture, a culture I am pretty well versed in. Of course, for the casual viewer, this may not be a problem.
In conclusion, this is a great movie. Robert Mitchum and Takakura Ken, together in a filmscripted by Paul Schrader…need I say more? Oh, and a quick warning: If you are a fan of pinky fingers, you may want to avoid this film like the plague…OUCH!
Woody’s Rating: 9.5/10