Review: The Yakuza
The title comes from the Japanese mafia organisation with a strict, unbending code of honour, and into this murky and violent world comes weary American PI Robert Mitchum, whose old buddy Brian Keith (both were part of the occupied forces after WWII) asks him to rescue his daughter, kidnapped by the Yakuza (after a foolish, botched gun-running deal that doesn’t convince) Mitchum in turn seeks the help of a retired Yakuza, Tanaka Ken (Ken Takakura), who owes Mitchum a debt after he saved two members of the man’s family, one of whom (Kishi Keiko) Mitchum even had a dalliance with. But Ken (or Tanaka if you will) is a tad reluctant, despite owing Mitchum a great debt. You see, he is a proud man, and the fact that his family put him (as he sees it) in a position whereby he owes someone a debt, is a hit to his pride. Herb Edelman has a terrific supporting role as another old war buddy who stayed behind, has led a peaceful life as a teacher, and has definitely become accustomed to the surroundings. James Shigeta excels in a few scenes as Tanaka’s estranged, straight-arrow brother. Richard Jordan, as Mitchum’s bodyguard, spends much of the time waiting around for someone to write his part in.
Entertaining 1974 Sydney Pollack (“Tootsie”, “Out of Africa”, “The Firm”) early fusion of East and West doesn’t feature a whole lot of action until the kick-arse finale, but when it does, it’s outstanding, violent stuff. The rest of the film plays a bit better than you would expect for a film of the era, even if films that mix Eastern culture and Western culture have become a bit old-hat over the years since (“Black Rain”, “Rush Hour”, “The Hunted”, “Showdown in Little Tokyo” etc.). Also, the scenes focusing on the Japanese actors are far more interesting than those featuring a bored-looking Mitchum, who barely tries to hide his bewilderment at being cast in this sort of thing. Geez, where was David Carradine? Filming “Kung Fu” at the time? What about James Coburn? I guess he was busy, too. James Shigeta (“Die Hard”) and Takakura are especially effective, as is Edelman, stealing his every scene in the only non-Japanese part that really works. The occasionally hokey screenplay is by the rather interesting teaming of Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver”, “Blue Collar”) and noted script doctor Robert Towne (“Chinatown”, “The Last Temptation of Christ”), from a story by Leonard Schrader (“Blue Collar”). The film may be lumpy, but aside from a sleepy Mitchum, it never fails to be highly watchable. Definitely worth a look.