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Graveyard of Honor is a fantastic entry into the yakuza genre or, for
that matter, the gangster genre in general. However, more so than many
of its counterparts, it is an excellent Brechtian character study.
Filmed in a "mockumentary" style, Graveyard of Honor breaks up its
action and storytelling relatively often with bits of narration,
setting the events of the film in their period context and
transitioning over long gaps in time.
A reviewer once equated this film to the "blacksploitation" films of the same period: this betrayed the reviewer's ignorance to the genre. The Japanese gangster film is far more presentational than its western counterparts. From the bright, red, paint-like blood to the strict characterizations and operatic emotions, Graveyard of Honor and other films like it are a sort of midway point between Kabuki theater and French nihilism. It is an intriguing genre, and one that internationally acclaimed director Kinji Fukasaku uses brilliantly to pose intriguing questions and point out crucial problems in the Japanese mindset of the time.
To truly appreciate his 1970s yakuza films, it helps to have knowledge of the history leading up o that time from the end of World War II. Watching Graveyard of Honor on its own will certainly be an entertaining experience, but anyone perplexed or intrigued by the film should do research on other films of the period, their cultural context, and their societal implications. Fukasaku was a groundbreaking director, and it's a shame that his brilliance could be lost in the cultural gap.
The bittersweet irony of Fukasaku was that he was a talented man that
only became known to us through his last film. So it's enthralling to
discover small gems like this when in the West we were praising
Scorsese for his grittiness.
It helps to know a bit about this type, the yakuza film. Fukasaku's The Yakuza Papers series offer all the introduction you're going to need.
If you are acquainted this will come as a pleasant surprise. The plot is nowhere near as convoluted, the barrage of constant name-dropping that made the former occasionally hard to follow is absent. Instead we get the distilled energy, with hand-held cameras peering from the most improbable angles, filming the numerous fights not from a distance but in the middle of the swirl. We get stills, narration, clever use of sepia, fast forwards and so on, years before Tarantino made it cool.
Yet what sets Graveyard of Honour apart from other yakuza movies is the protagonist. He's not the typical rags to riches and back figure seen in gangster movies. He doesn't hit the good time before falling down, he's not Tony Montana. No, it's all down-hill for him; a self-destructive yakuza without a care in the world who brings about his own misery and challenges his bad karma at every corner. His nihilistic stare reminded me of Ryonosuke Tsukue from Sword of Doom.
Strongly recommended for crime drama fans.
Kinji Fukasaku's mid-70s faux-biopic of a sociopath Yakuza gangster in
late-40s Japan is certainly an absorbing experience, even if it never
quite manages to immerse the viewer entirely in the nihilism of the
world in which Tetsuya Watari's Rikio Ishikawa exists. It's difficult
really to determine whether Fukasaku is trying to attract or repulse us
here and, for me, this is the film's main weakness. Ishikawa has no
redeeming features: he's simply a crude, boorish rapist and murderer
who invokes unexplainable loyalty in those around him. There is some
amusement to be found in the bewilderment of Ishikawa's Yakuza
superiors, who don't seem to know quite what to do with the loose
cannon in their midst (presumably something in the Yakuza code prevents
them from simply taking him into a back alley and shooting him like a
dog) but, for all its kinetic energy and undeniable style Graveyard of
Honour mostly fails to fascinate, and fascinate it must the way a
caterpillar squirming on the end of a pin fascinates if it is to hold
an audience who can feel little or no connection with its main
Despite these criticisms, the film is never dull. Fukasaku is an unsurpassable director, completely confident of his skills, totally focused, and unafraid to adopt subjects and styles that must have seemed out of the ordinary at the time. It's to his credit that most of the techniques he uses in this film are still widely used today especially by US gangster flicks. Fukasaku fills the screen with people in this one, countless people, hundreds of them, conveying the raucous and claustrophobic overcrowding of a country recovering from a bruising war. And while attention to period detail is perhaps not this film's strong point, this shortcoming is overcome by good use of sepia tones to reinforce the sense of history.
The late Kninji Fukasaku is arguably most widely known for the more
recent "Battle Royale" (2000), but the films that have earned him the
deserved status as a true master of uncompromising cinema are arguably
his gritty Yakuza films from the 70s. Such as the famous "Battles
Without Honor And Humanity" films or this disturbing gem called "Jingi
No Hakaba" aka. "Graveyard of Honor" (1975). Produced by the great Toei
company "Graveyard of Honor" must be one of the most uncompromising and
depressing Gangster portraits ever brought to screen, and it is also
easily one of the most memorable Yakuza films I've seen. Unlike many
other gangster films which somewhat glorify the Mafia, this is a a
brutal, uncompromising utterly grim portrayal of organized crime and
one criminal in particular. Set in Japan of the late 1940s, "Graveyard
of Honor" tells the story of real-life Yakuza Rikio Ishikawa (I don't
know how accurate it is, though) in a disturbing and highly memorable
Tokyo, 1946: thug Rikio Ishikawa (Tetsuya Watari) outshines all of the fellow members of his Shinjuku Yakuza family - in madness, brutality and irascibility. His spontaneous outbursts of violence are dreaded by both enemies and associates. When he increasingly begins to attack associates and even superiors, he becomes an outcast... Unlike many Gangster characters Ishikawa isn't really likable in any way. He is portrayed as a violent madman who rapes, brutalizes and murders apparently for no reason. However, in a way, one does feel sorry for him. Overall, this tough and seemingly soulless beast of a man who is feared by even his criminal peers, is also a pitiable creature unable to find any joy in life. Tetsuya Watari is brilliant in his role of the uncontrollably violent yet pitiable maniac criminal. The only truly likable character in the film is Ishikawa's girlfriend (played by the beautiful Yumi Takigawa), who sticks with Rikio, the man who has raped her and made her a prostitute. Her story is the doubtlessly most heart-breaking part of the film. The supporting cast includes many familiar faces for fans of Japanese cinema, including Eiji Go ("Tokyo Drifter", "The Executioner", etc.) and the beautiful Exploitation-Princess Reiko Ike ("Sex And Fury", "Female Yakuza Tale", "Criminal Woman: Killing Melody",...) of whom I'm a big fan. The film is brilliantly shot in a very unique style, and seems very realistic and authentic. The violence is brutal, blood and uncompromising as the film itself. Overall, "Graveyard of Honor" is a truly remarkable film that must not be missed. Takashi Miike made a remake in 2002, but although I am a (moderate) Miike-fan I doubt that it's anywhere near as good as this one. This brutal, disturbing, sad and often depressing portrait of a violent madman must be one of the most uncompromising crime films ever made and no lover of Japanese cinema can afford to miss it.
Don't be misled. GRAVEYARD OF HONOR is not your typical Japanese Yakuza film. This genre most often depicts a battle between Good and Evil, or at the very least, the awareness of this struggle. Kinji Fukasaku, director of GRAVEYARD OF HONOR, has created a portrait of a character who is not cognizant of a single redeemable quality. Tetsuya Watari plays Rikio Ishikawa who was a real figure within the Japanese underworld in the years immediately following WWII. This man was clearly psychotic and was not to be restrained or regulated either by the police or leaders within his Yakuza brotherhood. Fresh out of jail, and then banished for attacking his own clan leader, he is sent to Osaka where he acquires a heroin habit. And, all along this downward slide, it is nearly impossible to generate any sympathy whatsoever for this reprehensible character. Fukasaku seems to suggest that US occupying forces were in some ways complicit in the corruption of post WWII Japan. As the US attempted to bolster Japanese self rule, it allowed the Yakuza's fortunes to prosper in phony democratic elections. However, in no way does this allow the viewer to empathize with the sadistically violent outbursts of Rikio Ishikawa. Kinji Fukasaku has crafted a film in which we watch as a malevolent anti-hero voraciously embraces the forces of darkness without a backwards glance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a glorified, down-beat & grim "biopic" of a Yakuza madman named
Ishikawa(Tetsuya Watari, who plays him as a quiet calm before the
tornadic release)who has this mentally unstable nasty streak that comes
out in a fiendish explosion when others stand in his way. He almost
causes a clan war when he attacks a rival Yakuza lord from another
city. This causes a downward spiral for him as his seemingly
uncontrollable path of violence and death leads to a vicious attack on
his own Kawada Yakuza Godfather and a banishment from all clans for ten
years, which is part of the code. After a brief stint in prison he's
ordered to stay in Osaka for the remaining ten and would be allowed
back once he served his time. After only a year, Ishikawa returns to
cause havoc once again. While in Osaka he developed a drug habit which
would lead him down an even more violent path for he would find those
in possession of what he needed and threaten their very lives if they
wouldn't fork over product to stick in his arm. His only real ally is a
tragic geisha, Chieko(Yumi Takigawa), who is slowly dying..but, even
she suffered rape from Ishikawa showing that he has no real respect for
anyone when it comes to getting his own degree of satisfaction by any
means necessary. When he attacks the godfather of the Imai clan, no
real avenue of escape will ever be available again. He often seems
unkillable as attempts on his life are frequent, though he is often
cunning through his hiding(..and also not so cunning when he appears in
public at gambling houses). When he kills the Imai Godfather, his life
expectancy shrinks considerably.
The film is told in a documentary form with narration depicting a specific tumultuous time in the late forties when clans operated almost like little governments dictating business within the city of Shinjuku. Each has their turf and tries to remain loyal to each other hoping to escape any means of war. All Japanese loathe a specific group of foreigners nicknamed "the thirds" making up mostly Korean, Taiwanese, & Chinese who seem to try to live within the city but are treated as the plague of the country. We also see how the loss to America in the World War seems to have created a child without it's parents as this massive collective of people frequent the streets in droves. The Yakuza clans do seem to be the only means of parent-ship available to those without a home or identity. The film is ultimately a blitzkrieg of gang wars, prostituting whores, "black-market" elections, gambling, drugs, and Ishikawa is immersed within the frenzied structure..he's certainly a doomed creature because how can such a crazed heathen as he ever survive? The film has wildly imaginative camera-work which seems to show an unbalanced world through the gaze of Ishikawa. It has visual verve and is certainly loaded with bloody carnage.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is about a supposedly real-life yakuza maniac who made his mark in post-war Japan. In many ways, this nut was like Joe Pesci in GOODFELLAS except he had no friends at all (Pesci, a socipathic idiot at least had De Nero). Like Pesci, the anti-hero of this film had a hair-trigger temper and made a bad habit of screwing up his life. While the guy made it to the mid to upper levels in his organization, his insane actions (stabbing superiors, getting hooked on drugs and then stealing it from your superiors, etc.). If this guy WAS based on a real character, then the yakuza is actually a group of pussycats because no matter what he did, he seemed to get away with a lot of smacks on the hand. Imagine a mobster killing a godfather and just getting beaten up and banished as a result! Plus, shortly after his banishment, the idiot returns to town! This is all very interesting but the film, at times, just seems pointlessly violent. Sure, this guy's life WAS that way, but I just didn't want to sit and watch him rape, kill, stab, etc. for an entire movie. By the way, this is pretty much the entire plot. For gore and rape lovers, this film is for you--others think twice about watching.
Kinji Fukasaku is worldwide known for his Yakuza movies, different from
typical overall view the cinema had from Yakuzas. This movie is a good
example of how far some yakuzas are from honor or pride.
Fukasaku films Jingi no hakaba (Graveyard of Honor) as a mockumentary (fake documentary) which gives more emphasis to the actual yakuza situation. This movie follows the story of Ishikawa, the archetypical post-war gangster (as it's defined in the film). The character development is great, and very surprising. However, you may loose the plot in some points if you don't have an overall knowledge of the Yakuza organization.
In conclusion, a very entertaining gangster movie the Japanese way. I hugely recommend for anyone looking for the roots of most of the Japanese and Hong Kongese gangsters movies nowadays (Takashi Miike, Takeshi Kitano, John Woo, etc.), you won't get disappointed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Unhinged and unpredictable renegade yakuza gang member Rikio Ishikawa (an excellent and intimidating portrayal by Tetsuya Watari) gets banished to Osaka because of his crazy and violent conduct. Only young courtesan Chieko (a fine and sympathetic performance by the lovely Yumi Takigawa) gives Rikio any shelter and support as his self-destructive behavior compounds the severity of his situation. Director Kinji Fukasaku relates the gripping story at a brisk pace, offers a fascinating and illuminating exploration of the Japanese mobster criminal underground and their strict code of honor, deftly uses a mock documentary newsreel style to give the narrative a strong sense of historical accuracy and authenticity, stages the exciting action with rip-roaring brio, and maintains a tough gritty tone throughout. The startling moments of savage violence pack a ferocious punch. However, it's the stark and unwavering way this film presents the main character as a real nasty and irredeemable bastard whose raging temper and fierce nature make him a constant threat to everyone around him including and especially himself that gives the plot its an extra potent nihilistic edge; Rikio is the sort of horrible person who just couldn't get out of his own way and thus was doomed to meet a harsh untimely end. Hanjiro Nakazawa's wild widescreen cinematography boasts loads of insane tilted camera angles and funky occasional use of sepia and freeze frames. Toshiaki Tsushima's rousing score hits the stirring spot. A blistering portrait of a dangerous psycho.
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