Japan Organised Crime Boss Review

Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku died in January 2003, while making the sequel to the controversial Battle Royale, the film that made his name worldwide. Yet Fukasaku’s career goes back much further than this, throughout the 60s and 70s creating a large number of stylish and violent as well as successful and highly influential Japanese gangster films.

In Japan Organised Crime Boss, Tetsuo Tsukamoto has just been released after 8 years in prison. He returns to the Hamanaka organisation to find that things have changed since he has been inside. The Danno organisation – an Osaka-based yakuza gang, is extending its influence throughout Japan, using local gangs to do their work and catch their bullets for them. The Hamanaka boss regrets getting his men involved and asks Tsukamoto to help get them out. But the gang violence continues to escalate as the rival mobs slug it out.

Fukasaku’s visual language owed some influence from the French New Wave, but he developed and refined a style that became uniquely his own. Japan Organised Crime Boss is a beautifully stylised film, making use of a number of techniques that enhance and aid the visual storytelling. Voice-over narration taking you through the complexities of the plot, striking camera angles, close-ups and beautiful day-glo 60s colour schemes reminiscent of Tokyo Drifter. Other techniques employed by Fukasaku in this film are freeze-frames and splash screens which practically depict score-sheets of the tally of gang wars.

The acting is first class and one of the highlights is a wonderfully eccentric performance from Tomisaburo Wakayama – Itto Ogami in the Lone Wolf & Cub series. At this stage in his career, as in Street Mobster, Fukasaku would still adhere to the cinematic conventions of an underworld code of honour between gangsters. This would change in later films such as Cops vs Thugs and Yakuza Graveyard to depict the yakuza in a less glamorous light. Japan Organised Crime Boss is a violent and bloody film, but it is not just a straightforward action thriller. There are strong statements made about the poverty of post-war Japan, and the rise of opportunist gangsters to exploit the situation, but in this film there is a bit of a contradiction between the social commentary and the glamorous activities of the Japanese crime bosses.

The picture quality on this Eureka DVD is pretty poor. The transfer is anamorphic and it looks like it should be transferred at 2.35:1, but the image here is closer to 2.00:1, looking slightly stretched and giving characters an elongated appearance. The image is very rough and grainy, covered with a mesh like texture that gives the film the appearance of being printed on canvas. The picture is quite soft, almost blurry in places and there are frequent shifting artefacts, colour bleed and flare. Despite all this, the film is not unwatchable. Colours are slightly faded, but there are decent levels of contrast and brightness and there actually isn’t that much physical damage to the print in terms of marks and scratches.

The soundtrack is the original mono presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. It is actually quite clear and functional with good noise reduction. Voices are clear, but obviously there is a lack of dynamic range considering the source and the age of the material.

Photo Gallery
A Photo Gallery displays a dozen or so black and white promo stills from the film. These are very nice indeed and of excellent quality.

Director’s Profile
A short but comprehensive overview of Fukasku’s career is presented in text form. Basic, but at least it places the film and the director’s work in perspective historically, culturally and cinematically.

The quality of the DVD might be very poor and there might be some contradiction between the social commentary element and the glamorous depiction of gangsters, but neither of these elements detract from a terrifically stylish and exciting film. It would be great to see Japan Organised Crime Boss in a pristine DVD edition, but what we have here at the moment is probably better than nothing.

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