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GRAVEYARD OF HONOR (Jingi no hakaba) (director/writer: Kinji Fukasaku; screenwriters: from the novel by Goro Fujita/Tatsuhiko Kamoi/Fumio Konami/Hirô Matsuda; cinematographer: Hanjiro Nakazawa; editor: Osamu Tanaka; music: Toshiaki Tsushima; cast: Tetsuya Watari (Rikio Ishikawa), Tatsuo Umemiya (Kozaburo Imai), Yumi Takigawa (Chieko Ishikawa), Eiji Go (Makoto Sugiura), Noboru Ando (Ryunosuke Nozu), Hajime Hana (Shuzo Kawada), Mikio Narita (Noboru Kajiki), Kunie Tanaka (Katsuji Ozaki), Shingo Yamashiro (Hiroshi Tamura); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tatsuo Yoshida; Home Vision entertainment; 1975-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“An amazingly energetic thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Japanese cult director Kinji Fukasaku’ (“Battle Royale”) real-life biopic of one of modern Japan’s most notorious yakuzas, Rikio Ishikawa (Tetsuya Watari), is a brutal tale of the sociopath’s quick rise and decline. Co-writers Fukasaku, Tatsuhiko Kamoi, Fumio Konami, and Hirô Matsuda base it on the novel by Goro Fujita. Told in a documentary style it has Riki born in 1924 in rural Mito (as was Fukasaku) and leaving at 16 to become a yakuza in the Kawada family of Tokyo. His gang worked the Shinjuku territory, where they controlled the black market trade. His aggressive attitude made him rise quickly, but his downfall started in the postwar period of 1946 when he got into a foolish dispute with the boss (Hajime Hana) over a gang war he started that cost his gang a fortune. In a sword fight, he seriously injured his boss. It led to him sentenced to a prison term of 18 months and becoming ex-communicated from his yakuza family for 10 years for violating the yakuza code. Upon his prison release, he moved to Osaka and got involved in drugs while living in a flophouse and screwing around with hookers. Unable to resist the lure of the black market in Tokyo, he returns after 18 months (a definite no-no) and gets into a turf argument with his Kawada brother Imai (Tatsuo Umemiya) and slays him and harms his wife. Riki after he’s jumped in 1951 by his gang but survives a brutal attack, turns himself over to the police and is sentenced to 10 years. Before he jumped from the roof of the Fuchu prison in 1956, he wrote on the wall of his cell: “What a laugh! 30 years of madness.”

Riki serves as the prototype for the postwar yakuza, reaching legendary status for his reckless ways and whose destruction served as an example of liberation (following the thought process of Fukasaku’s usual theme that losing to the Americans was good because it gave Japan another chance to correct the faults of their past).

Though an unpleasant watch because of the violence, that it offers little substance, and all the scummy characters (the main character is an unsympathetic monster who rapes and beats up hookers, does drugs, glories in ruthlessly violating others and acting amoral, and is never contrite or introspective), it’s still an amazingly energetic thriller told in a forcefully impressive visual way. It does for the yakuza what The Godfather did for the mafia, but leaves even (if possible) a more disturbing portrait. In 2000 it was remade by enfant terrible auteur Takashi Miike, who added a tender love story to offset some of the violence.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”