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Coming out of jail and hoping for a quiet life, Yokohama yakuza has to take the lead of his gang after the death of his boss. His small group is is taken in a crossfire between a big yakuza... See full summary »
Early Fukasaku picture sees the great director still honing his style, on his way to greater things
Blackmail is my Life came in a transitional period for Japanese crime cinema and it shows that by being somehow stylistically confused. The genre was with one foot still set on the earlier Nikkatsu pictures that portrayed yakuzas as people who operated with some sense of chivalry (and BIML reflects that by having the blackmailers act as the heroes), the cool of Seijun Suzuki who bid the genre adieu with Branded to Kill one year earlier (and what an adieu that was) and one foot looking at the future.
The first half of the picture resembles the colourful pop air of Suzuki and anticipates the disjointed timelines and narrative style of The Yakuza Papers. Hiroki Matsukata is Muraki; professional blackmailer and quite successful at that. He lies on a bed and remembers. Flashbacks show us his humble beginnings. They start in black and white then colour kicks in. Frames freeze while he narrates in a voice-over. We go back and forth like that until after the half hour mark the story starts to shape up. His rise as a prominent blackmailer is seen through a series of incidents that lead up to the big con.
The second half is predicated more on character than style. Fukasaku puts the quirky flashbacks, stills and narration of the beginning to the side and focuses on the story in a straight-forward manner. He's just as good this way. The movie turns more cynical and gritty and the ending is particularly memorable.
The director is still not at the top of his craft (it's relatively still early in his career) but he shows that he's not willing to settle down for a simple, run-of-the-mill yakuza flick. He gambles; sometimes he wins, sometimes he doesn't. But he dares and as the saying goes, fortune favours the brave. If he hadn't taken a stab at a different approach like BIML, maybe The Yakuza Papers would have never materialized in all its glory. In that sense, Fukasaku deserves kudos for taking chances and following his vision.
Blackmail is my Life may not always be successful in its stylistic daring but it's entertaining and cool. As the missing link between the hard bop of the 60's and the grittiness of the 70's, it's an important part of the general picture. Fans owe it to themselves to check it out.
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