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These are the best movies about the yakuza

Over the years, yakuza films have undergone an evolution, evolving from a high-value feel-good formula to a gritty, naturalistic depiction of the Japanese criminal underworld, eventually pushing the boundaries of genre to become (or perhaps water down) commercial blockbusters. . fit into modern superhero-obsessed cinema?). The consistent core that has remained throughout the genre is the overly stylized violence, beautiful irezumi (Japanese tattoos) hidden beneath the elegant suits, the energetic sophistication of the inner hierarchy, and the strict code of honor.



The history of the yakuza genre begins as “boundless nikkatsu action” (meaning American film noir infused with French quirkiness and adopted by the Japanese, resulting in unique cinematic flavors) and Toei’s ninkyo “chivalrous films”. In the 1970s, however, tiredness with fairy tales led to the end of the heroic era, with antiheroes and criminal, almost documentary-style yakuza films.

Movies about gangsters used to delight audiences, but more modern entries seem to have lost their luster. After studios stopped focusing solely on producing yakuza films, only a handful have been produced in recent years. Even Takashi Miike, the prolific director, admits in an interview with Film School Rejects that the yakuza film genre is over. However, it’s never too late to enjoy great movies and become a fan of the genre, so here is a list of the most famous yakuza movies from each era.


7 Youth of the Beast (1963)

youth of the animal Seems pretty faithful to the early classic yakuza structure with its thugs, drugs and femme fatales. However, it was the film that initiated its director’s slow banishment from the Japanese film industry. Tired of formulaic films, Seijun Suzuki toyed with plot, dialogue and form, creating an edgy meta-narrative while making the film acknowledge its own artistry. He would continue to deconstruct the Yakuza film over the next few years, until he was fired and allegedly blacklisted by the Japanese studio system. Misunderstood upon its publication, later, youth of the beast became a symbol of resistance to the system and one of the most important works during the Japanese university protests in the 1960s.

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6 Pale Flower (1964)

Director Masahiro Shinoda pioneered the “Shochiku New Wave” of independent filmmaking. pale flower as one of the most important films of the movement. The action in this feature is subordinated to aesthetics; It is essentially a stylish philosophical parable of existential angst embedded in an almost surrealistic tale of a non-conformist middle-aged yakuza.

See also: Akira Kurosawa: The Best Movies of His Middle Ages

The lead role, Ryo Ikebe, was made extremely popular by Toei’s Brutal tales of chivalry series, which made the film’s approach even more controversial as it went against the formula of the genre’s major studio. Highly praised by critics pale flower was even included in Roger Ebert’s list of the greatest films of all time.

5 Fights without honor and humanity (1973-1976)

Film writers Naoto Mori and Yukio Todoroki discussed how yakuza films made a 180-degree turn, evolving from heroes to anti-heroes: “The masculine aesthetic of dashing gallantry lost traction, became overly idealized and hollow.” Both creators and Viewers found the formula disingenuous and outdated-glorified yakuza, so they turned to much more cynical, authentic portrayals. A staple of the genre is natural Fight without honor and humanitya masterpiece by Kinji Fukasaku and Bunta Sugawara, a phenomenal director-actor duo.


4 Sonatina (1993)

In the 1980s, as Japan went through economic changes, its film industry had to reorganize itself. The yakuza films began to diversify and deconstruct, undergoing a major paradigm shift from genre canons to the director’s individual style. Film Inquiry compares filmmaker Takeshi Kitano’s postmodern approach to yakuza films with Hideaki Anno’s treatment of mecha anime to his Neon Genesis Evangelion. Both intrinsically understood the genre and created something subversive and dramatically divisive. sonatinaThe highlights of are comically cold, without the loud and punchy choreography of classic yakuza films, and a fairly generic premise ends in a transgressive experience.

3 Cemetery of Honor (1975/2002)

This entry is a minor cheat as it offers two movies for the price of one. It does, however, show the creeping problem of the 2000s – the burgeoning of the film industry’s over-reliance on remakes, piggybacking on hit titles rather than creating unique content.

The original graveyard of honor is a punk quasi-documentary about real-life yakuza Rikio Ishikawa, who ended his life at the age of 30. This film is a culmination of the grim and naturalistic realities of the brutal yakuza world of cinema, a deliberate rejection of stylized cinematography and screen magic for the despair and fatalistic mayhem of the criminal’s life.

See also: Drive My Car and the Other Best Japanese Movies of the Last Years

The 2002 version differs from the original in its gallows humor. It has Takashi Miike’s signature gonzo violence and treats the collapse of traditional values ​​with derisive laughter.

2 The Blood of Wolves (2018)

In the late 2010s, filmmakers are attempting to revive yakuza films as a genre, albeit less frequently than ever. These amazing movies update the format of gritty, hard-nosed Toei movies. The blood of the wolves is a ‘blood-spattered love letter’ to ’70s yakuza films while expressing the creator’s personal artistic vision and style. Filled with gratuitous violence and black humor, neither a dull knock-off nor a parody, this film explores the legacy of the genre rather than deconstructing it, modernizing it and thus reviving it. If only for a little bit.


1 First Love (2019)

According to Takashi Miike, First love is not an attempt to artificially prolong the life of the yakuza genre, but rather a way to go out with a bang. The genre in this case is used as a medium for social commentary to tell the stories of the “invisible” people who have been thrown to the fringes of society. This is an uncomfortable love story of a terminally ill boxer and a mentally traumatized sex worker, in which a teenager’s angst is mirrored in cartoonish bloodshed and intense drama. A commercial film that behaves like a genre film about nobody and has interesting stories to tell. This is a tribute to low-budget Japanese indie films and B-cinema by pulp maestro Takashi Miike.

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