Friday, April 8, 2011

The Yakuza

Sydney Pollack, 1974 (8.8*)
Though a little slow-moving at times, this is one of the best films in the long careers of Robert Mitchum and director Sydney Pollack. Mitchum plays a former U.S. soldier Harry Kilmer, once stationed in Japan, who returns to help an old friend rescue his kidnapped daughter from Japanese mobsters, known there as the Yakuza, or the Japanese 'mafia'. Veteran actor Ken Takakura turns in a credible performance as his longtime friend Eiko.

Mitchum, at 58, is perfectly cast as a world-weary retired detective, yet not insensitive or jaded enough yet to ignore a friend in need; his sense of personal loyalty overrides his cynicism. Co-written by Paul Schrader (his first, he later wrote Taxi Driver, Light Sleeper, Raging Bull) and Robert Towne (an Oscar winner for Polanski's Chinatown, released the same year), this is a believable crime story without the pretensions of so many western films, which normally mindlessly inject crowd-pleasing action sequences like car chases, designed more to attract fans than to provide essential narrative exposition.

Adding to the plot complexity is the fact that Mitchum had fallen in love with Eiko's sister when he was in Japan earlier, so we get a sense of his own personal motivation. We also learn a lot about the Japanese crime underworld, a subject rarely tackled in western films. The film also stars Brian Keith, Herb Edelman, and Richard Jordan (his first film) in the supporting cast.

Along with Kurosawa's 49 classic Stray Dog, this ranks as among the finest films about the Japanese crime underworld. Some accurately call this "the most Japanese of non-Japanese films". All in all, one of the neglected crime classics of all time. It's puzzling that it has only a 7.2 rating at IMDB - the fans there are usually sharper than this, hence it's status as an overlooked classic.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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