Maybe I'm a bit of an oddball, because I thought this was better than Battle Royale, which is probably the director's most beloved (and famous) movie (at least, among Americans). Battle Royale was actually paced too slowly for my liking, and too much of it depended on you being surprised or amazed by the concept, whereas Blackmail Is My Life relies more on offbeat characters and the charismatic acting by the lead. I suppose I agree with other reviewers that this is something of a transitional piece, straddling the dopey 60s comedies and gritty 70s dramas. Again, I might be a bit of an oddball here, but I thought that it worked very well; for me, Battle Royale was the interesting-yet-ultimately-failed stylistic exercise! If I had one complaint, it'd be that the pacing does slow down a bit in the second half, as the story starts to become a bit more burdened with increasing plot elements, rather than the carefree first half.
The basic plot revolves around a modern day Yakuza who, as you might expect, is a blackmailer. Initially, things are pretty easy (and the movie is quirky and upbeat), because he's both skilled and lucky. When things start taking a turn for the worse, our protagonist slowly comes to realize what he's got himself into, and what kind of life he's made for himself. This is when the movie starts becoming gritty, turning into more of a revenge movie. The beauty of this movie is how the quirky first half effortlessly segues to the gritty second half, without you really ever thinking to yourself that either part doesn't belong.
If you're into stylistic or quirky Yakuza movies, this is certainly highly recommended. Even if you don't ordinarily watch Japanese movies, I'd still suggest you check this out, because it's a really great example of how you can break out of genre limitations to appeal to a wider demographic. I wouldn't oppose an American remake of this movie -- it deserves to be more well known.
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