"There is so much writing in English on Japanese cinema that can't be accepted at face value — not because the writers are careless, but because the differences in culture and language are just too intricate. When I see August Ragone's name on a piece of writing, it gives me permission to place my faith in it completely. Among Japanese fantasy film historians, he's the best working in English." —Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Yakuza Chronicles of Sin, Sex & Violence


From March 9th-19th at the Japan Society of New York, the Globus Film Series presents the Japanese gangster movie genre through its various avatars, transformations and contradictions, from 1960s productions featuring chivalrous kimono-clad, sword-wielding gangsters and gamblers to today's ruthless gun-toting villains dealing in debt, hustling hardcore porn and scheming and scamming in dark trades and deeds. Over the past 50 years, they've remained snarling, swaggering, tattooed and inexplicably sexy.

The violent romantic world of the yakuza (the Japanese mafia) steeped in cryptic ritual and customs involving full-body tattoos and missing digits, has long excited the imagination, decades before viewers started existing on a diet of The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire melodrama, and has been one of the mainstays of the Japanese film industry since the 1960s. Harking back to the days when samurai still embodied traditionalist values of honor, selfless duty (giri) and the noble warrior spirit (ninkyo) on the silver screen, the shadowy demimonde of organized crime (which included wandering gamblers and lowly peddlers) rivaled with the noble swordsmen as the representatives of honor and heroism, in the context of a rapidly changing society trying to come to terms with a shameful defeat. In the darkness of movie theaters, they became the very picture of superhuman macho cool and reptilian menace.

In the line-up, there will be blood and broken bones, hookers and hopheads, and plenty of juicy political blackmail… in 15 films that rack up the stiffs like Jacobean tragedies and show grand visions of manly amity and betrayal: classics and lesser known titles by Kinji Fukasaku, Takashi Miike (Dead or Alive), Hideo Gosha (The Wolves), Takeshi Kitano (Outrage), Rokuro Mochizuki (A Yakuza In Love, Onibi: The Fire Within) and Sydney Pollack (The Yakuza), among other offerings you can't refuse.

My personal recommendations for this festival, lays squarely on the shoulders of the pre-1980s films, produced during the prolific Golden Age of Japanese Cinema. These include Hideo Gosha's THE WOLVES (1971), Teruo Ishii's THE WALLS OF ABASHIRI PRISON 3: LONGING FOR HOME (1965), Kiyoshi Saeki's BRUTAL TALES OF CHIVALRY (1965), Tadashi Sawashima's THEATER OF LIFE: HISHAKAKU (1963), Tai Kato's BLOOD OF REVENGE (1965), Kinji Fukasaku's COPS VS. THUGS (1975), Fukasaku's THE YAKUZA PAPERS 3: PROXY WAR (1973), Seijun Suzuki's YOUTH OF THE BEAST (1963) — even Sydney Pollack's THE YAKUZA (1975), which teams up Ken Takakura and Robert Mitchum, is a must-see!

For more information on this film series, showtimes, and how to purchase tickets, please visit the Japan Society's official page at THE HARDEST MEN IN TOWN!

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