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The Yakuza (1974)

R  |   |  Action, Crime, Drama  |  March 1975 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 4,761 users  
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Harry Kilmer returns to Japan after several years in order to rescue his friend George's kidnapped daughter - and ends up on the wrong side of the Yakuza, the notorious Japanese mafia...



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A man returns to Japan to rescue his friend's kidnapped daughter.



Cast overview, first billed only:
Harry Kilmer
Tanaka Ken (as Takakura Ken)
George Tanner
Keiko Kishi ...
Eiko (as Kishi Keiko)
Tono (as Okada Eiji)
Kyôsuke Machida ...
Christina Kokubo ...
Eiji Gô ...
Spider (as Go Eiji)
Lee Chirillo ...
M. Hisaka ...
William Ross ...
Tanner's Guard
Akiyama ...
Tono's Guard


Harry Kilmer returns to Japan after several years in order to rescue his friend George's kidnapped daughter - and ends up on the wrong side of the Yakuza, the notorious Japanese mafia... Written by Michael Brooke <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

japan | yakuza | love | mafia | business | See All (33) »


Separated by blood and centuries - United by a Woman - Now, hurled together against the Yakuza . . . brotherhood of the East. See more »


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:







Release Date:

March 1975 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Yakuza  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

,  »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Martin Scorsese wanted to direct after Mean Streets (1973) but the producers wanted Sydney Pollack. See more »


The boom mic is clearly visible in one scene when Oliver Wheat grabs his cat while telling the story of Eiko to Dusty, the mic appears behind the table and is retracted as Wheat advances. See more »


Harry Kilmer: Everywhere I look, I can't recognize a thing.
Oliver Wheat: It's still there. Farmers in the countryside may watch TV from their tatami mats and you can't see Fuji through the smog, but don't let it fool you. It's still Japan and the Japanese are still Japanese.
See more »


Referenced in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) See more »


Only the Wind
Japanese Lyrics Yû Aku (as Aku Yu)
Composed by Dave Grusin
See more »

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User Reviews

One of the great films of the 70s
28 November 2006 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

The Yakuza is one of the great films of the seventies. Although this didn't make much noise in the seventies (despite a truly surreal promotional gimmick, 'Join the Yakuza Set' tattoo transfers!), it has held up a lot better than he plethora of seventies thrillers that swamped it at the time.

Belonging to that subgenre of Americans-in-Japan thrillers (Fuller's House of Bamboo, Scott's Black Rain, Frankenheimer's The Challenge), The Yakuza is a film about the price of honor and about people who face their responsibilities. The film could almost be called 'giri' - Japanese for obligation or the burden hardest to bear. Richard Jordan's bodyguard may start out wiseguy ("That can work both ways. If you ain't alive tomorrow, he don't owe you s***.") but even he lives up to his moral obligations when discharged from them by Mitchum. All of the plot developments are a result of obligations, with the characters following through as per their personal codes of honor, taken to the ultimate extreme in Mitchum's final apology to Takakura Ken for destroying both his past and his future.

The hook might be that Mitchum returns to Japan to help secure the release of an old army friend's daughter from a Yakuza clan and in the process reopening old wounds with former lover Kishi Keiko and her brother Takakura Ken, but the emotional undercurrents are as important as the plot developments, with the film's criminal double-dealing mirrored in the myriad personal betrayals he is as he is forced to face the fact that he has always confused his friends with his enemies.

It is not a film that wears its emotions on its sleeve, and is all the more affecting for that the awkwardness of Mitchum's meeting with Ken and the hesitancy of his reunion with Keiko (and the subtle re-enactment of the old photos in her album) - everything is in the pauses and between the lines. It's these emotional undercurrents that make it stand up to repeated viewings.

The early seventies was a last golden age for the eternally under-rated Mitchum, with outstanding performances in The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Farewell My Lovely and Ryan's Daughter, and this is one of his best. His 'strange stranger' and Takakura Ken's 'man who never smiles' ("He's been unhappy ever since he lost the war. I keep trying to tell him it's not his fault but he won't take my word for it") is a match made in casting heaven. Their screen presence is remarkably similar, exuding a lifetime of world-weariness and personal loss that attracts both empathy and respect for their characters. Both give superbly understated performances, with the great Takakura Ken getting his best English-language role to date.

Jordan gives a nicely unassuming performance in the juvenile lead, making the most of his romantic subplot by showing the least, and there's an added poignancy to his fate since the actor's death. Indeed, all the performances are superb, with the emphasis on being rather than acting.

The screenplay as filmed is a terrific mixture of the commercial and the cerebral. Where most modern American thrillers are driven by indiscriminate violence ("In America, a guy cracks up he opens a window and kills a few strangers. Here, a guy cracks up, he closes the window and kills himself," observes Jordan), here events and participants are interconnected. All of the main characters are friends or surrogate family, and although Robert Towne was brought in to up the gangster element from the Shraders' more philosophical approach (the differences can be found in Leonard Schrader's novelization), he knows enough to keep it personal. It's witty too, without being condescending or resorting to the pre-kill one-liners so prevalent today that divorce the audience from the consequences and ramifications of violence.

Sydney Pollack's sensitivity to the material is remarkable. There's an unshowy adventurousness to his direction that he hasn't displayed since. In particular, the action scenes are extraordinary without ever straying from the credible, and a complete departure in style for the director.

(A version of this review appeared in Movie Collector magazine)

20 of 26 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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