Category Archives: Yakuza films

My 10 anticipated films of the Melbourne International Film Festival

The Duke of BurgundyThe Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is almost upon us and, this year, I am seeing more than my usual quota of films. I won’t go into detail regarding everything I’ve booked, but here are the ten films I am most excited about.

The Duke of Burgundy

Confession: I missed this in my first pass of the MIFF program and, thankfully, was alerted by a friend to the fact it was playing. Despite some problems with the last quarter of the film I adored Berberian Sound Studio (2013), Peter Strickland’s tasteful, authentic non-Tarantinoesque homage to Italian giallo films of the seventies. So The Duke of Burgundy, a tribute to the Euro sleaze films of Jess Franco and Walerian Borowczyk has me very excited.


My search for a decent Indian neo noir continues with Partho Sen-Gupta’s 2014 feature, Sunrise. In 2012 I sat through all six hours of Gangs of Wasseypur, the sprawling saga of two rival crime families in the Indian state of Bihar. It held together well for the first half before degenerating into a Spaghetti Western-like shoot ‘em up. In 2013, it was Monsoon, a Mumbai based crime drama about a rookie cop and his corrupt older partner. It showed promise but I felt it was too focused on achieving the right aesthete at the expense of story.… Read more

Blackmail Is My Life

A couple of nights ago I finally got around to viewing a film that’s been on my must-watch pile of DVDs for ages, Kinji Fukasaku’s Blackmail Is My Life.

Regular Pulp Curry readers will know I have a bit of a thing for Fukasaku’s work, having previously reviewed two of his films on this site, Yakuza Graveyard (1976) and Street Mobster (1972).

Released in 1968, Blackmail is set in Tokyo at the beginning of the country’s economic boom. The story revolves  around four young slackers who will do anything to avoid the trappings of mainstream middle class life. They are a tight knit group comprising former Yakuza, Seki, ex-boxer Zero, Tom Boy sex bomb Otoki, and their leader, Muraki.

Muraki may look like a bit of a fool with his hounds tooth jacket and permanent grin but he’s an expert in his chosen craft – blackmail. He’s also completely unafraid of anything. As he puts it: “The bigger and tougher they are the more reason to taker them down.”

Their targets are mostly “stupid arsed salary types”, low level starlets and businessmen who the gang secretly film committing adultery in seedy love hotels. But Muraki is keen to take things up a notch. His opportunity comes when he leans of the existence of the ‘Otaguro Memorandum’, a document that could bring down a corrupt high-level Japanese politician if it ever saw the light of day.… Read more

Street Mobster

Kinji Fukasaku’s Street Mobster focuses on the short, fast life of Isamu Okita (Bunta Sugawara), a chinpira or low–level street punk with no firm gang allegiance, trying to carve out a criminal living in an unknown Japanese city sometime after World War Two.

His mother was a prostitute who drowned while on a drunk, his father unknown. As Okita’s narration over a photomontage at the beginning tells us the date of his birth, August 15, 1945, the day Japan formally surrendered, is considered unlucky.

Okita doesn’t care, he makes his own luck, pimping, brawling and extorting his way through life with his gang of fellow chinpira, until their activities come to the attention of the local yakuza, the Takigawa, who want their cut of the takings. His refusal to pay homage results in a severe beating, which Okita pays back by charging into a sauna and slashing several yakuza goons with a butcher’s knife.

Upon his release from prison many years later, Okita finds the world has changed. The streets are full of “straight people” enjoying the prosperity of Japan’s economic boom in the sixties. The yakuza, meanwhile have retired to their glass and concrete office towers to manage their illegal activities.

It’s not long before Okita has formed another gang of chinpira.Read more

Crime scene at the Melbourne International Film Festival

The Yellow Sea

I don’t know what everyone else thinks, but I’ve found the last couple of Melbourne International Film Festivals a bit lacklustre, especially when it comes to crime cinema. Having just read the latest program, I’m happy to say it looks like a very different story in 2011.

Maybe it’s the influence of new artistic director Michelle Carey, but MIFF 2011 offers a veritable feast of local and international crime cinema, including a section solely devoted to the genre, Crime Scene.

That said, the tickets are not cheap and time is limited. I’m also keen to avoid films that will probably get a mainstream release soon after the festival or be easier to check out on DVD.

My top pick for MIFF 2011 is the Congalese crime thriller Viva Riva! about a small-time gangster in Kinshasa who ignites a gang war when he steals a truck load of petrol in the middle of a fuel shortage. I’ve never heard of the director, Djo Munga (who cites his chief influences as Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leonne), but the film has done fantastically in his native Africa and if the trailer is anything to go by it’s definitely worth checking out.


Viva Riva! (2010)


Viva Riva! is one of several interesting looking films in the Crime Scene program.… Read more

Yakuza Graveyard (and the start of my journey into Japanese crime cinema)

For someone who hosts a blog on crime fiction and film from Australia and Asia, I have to admit I’ve seen very few Japanese Yakuza films.

Indeed, one of my New Year resolutions for 2011 is to make some serious inroads into this fascinating genre of Asian crime film.

But where do I start the journey?

A large number of films featuring the organised crime syndicates known as the Yakuza have been made in Japan since 1945. These can roughly be categorised into several distinct phases.

The first was the so-called ninkyo eiga or ‘Chivalry films” made after World War Two. Japan was occupied, much of it had been destroyed and the economy was a mess. The public needed a hero and the Yakuza began to replace the samurai as the staple of popular Japanese cinema, sticking up for the little guy against Westernised, corrupt Japanese businessmen and politicians.

The sixties saw the emergence of new directors (the best known of which was Seijun Suzuki) who depicted the Yakuza and their elaborate rituals as no different to the trials and tribulations of the average Japanese salary man. Whether you worked for a homicidal crime boss or a large corporation, the hours were long, career advancement was hard and someone was always ready to take your place the moment you tripped up.… Read more