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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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 <michael@everyman.demon.co.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

japan | yakuza | love | mafia | business | See All (38) »


A man never forgets. A man pays his debts. See more »


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:







Release Date:

21 December 1974 (Japan)  »

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?


The gambling game played by the Yakuza in the film is Tehonbiki. 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 »


Goro: Ken is a tormented man. It is Eiko, of course, but it is also Japan. Ken is a relic, a leftover of another age, of another country.
See more »


Referenced in Making 'Taxi Driver' (1999) See more »


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

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User Reviews

Powerful and melancholy
20 December 2001 | by (nashville, tn) – See all my reviews

A neglected classic of 70s film-making, this is perhaps the most "Japanese" movie ever made by a non-Japanese. The story is rich and multi-layered, featuring not one but two sets of star-crossed lovers in a brilliant and melancholy examination of contrasting themes of memory, secrets and betrayal, friendship, honor and obligation. The script is both literate and intricate; the characters' motives are almost always obscure until another layer of deception is stripped away.

Only Robert Mitchum could have done justice to the role of Harry Kilmer, a retired detective returning to Japan for the first time in many years to rescue his old Army friend Tanner's daughter, who has been kidnapped by the Yakuza in a dispute over a debt Tanner owes them. When Kilmer arrives in Japan, he seeks out Ken, the brother of his ex-lover Eiko (played by the astoundingly lovely and talented Kishi Keiko). Ken is a lone wolf, an ex-Yakuza who now runs a martial arts school, and though there is obviously no love lost between the two, Kilmer knows Ken carries an obligation to him for rescuing Eiko and her infant daughter in the early days of the Occupation.

Kilmer is still bitter about the past, deeply wounded by his love for Eiko, who would not marry him even though she loves him deeply. This was the reason why he left Japan and never meant to return.

Now, with Ken's reluctant help, he rescues Tanner's daughter, but this only leads to an intensifying spiral of tragic consequences, because nothing is quite what it seems. Only when Kilmer begins to understand the truth of the situation is he able to act constructively.

Everyone in this film, from Brian Keith to Herb Edelman to Richard Jordan (in one of his first starring roles) turns in a first-rate performance. James Shigeta and Christina Kobuko also deserve honorable mention. But it is Mitchum and Takakura Ken who make this movie.

This is not an action film in the sense of later -- and far inferior -- efforts like "The Challenge" and "Black Rain", though there are scenes of intense and graphic violence. Nor does it have a happy ending, although some of the characters do ultimately find redemption and a hope of reconciliation.

"The Yakuza" is a work that deserves a much larger audience, one which will totally engage a thoughtful viewer with its universal themes worked out against the background of a very different culture, with its own mindset and traditions. I give it my highest recommendation.

52 of 56 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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