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SYMPATHY FOR THE UNDERDOG (Bakuto gaijin butai) (director/writer: Kinji Fukasaku; screenwriter: Fumio Konami; cinematographer: Hanjiro Nakazawa; editor: Osamu Tanaka; music: Takeo Yamashita; cast: Koji Tsuruta (Gunji), Noboru Ando (Shark), Kenji Imai (Mad Dog Jiro), Kenjiro Morokado (Gushken), Tomisaburo Wakayama (Yanabara), Rinichi Yamamoto (Haderuma); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Koji Shundo/Tatsuo Yoshida; Home Vision Entertainment; 1971-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“I’d rather be eating sushi than watching such an undercooked flick.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Kinji Fukasaku (“Battles Without Honor & Humanity”/”The Yakuza Papers”) helms this minor stylish and hard-boiled gangster B-film. It chronicles the life of an ambitious aging gangster and the changing world around him.

Gunji (Koji Tsuruta) is a veteran gangster who is disturbed his organization has been smashed during his ten years in prison and is eager to start over with what’s left of his old gang. But he finds there’s no place for him in Yokohama’s criminal underworld. He therefore takes his motley gang to the American-occupied island of Okinawa, where no gang has control of the turf. His bid for power begins when his gang declares war on a small gang that controls the whiskey trade. Gunji has success despite foul-ups. Gunji’s ambitions are not sated and he next takes on a more powerful gang. In the anticipated bloodbath climax, he must take on a gang with ties to his former boss in Yokohama.

I guess the theme is that as far away as you go from home, there’s still no way of not being connected to your past. But that might be giving this pointless violent crime drama too much credit for having a theme. The most positive thing I can say is that the lead character is ably played by Tsuruta, one of Japan’s biggest gangster-film stars. But, other than that, I’d rather be eating sushi than watching such an undercooked flick. This is early Fukasaku, before his films became stronger and more watchable (he made over sixty before his untimely death in 2003).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”