Street Mobster Review
Street Mobster is another Kinji Fukasaku yakuza movie that pulls no punches. The film introduces us to Isamu Okita (played by Fukasaku regular, Bunta Sugawara), a vicious and irredeemably violent thug. Even before the opening credits have rolled, we see Okita as a rapist who forces young women into prostitution and as a violent mobster who has killed a number of other gangsters.
On his release from prison he teams up with Kizaki, who wants to start up a new gang, thinking that they can oust one of the city's two mobs, the Takigawa gang. The boss of the rival Yato gang sees a certain dangerous recklessness in Isamu that reminds him of himself as a young man. As it is in no-one’s interest to have a dangerous element running wild on their turf, he accepts Isamu, Kizaki and their men into the Yato organisation. This brings about a peaceful resolution which is not to the liking of the untamed Isamu.
The storyline of Street Mobster doesn’t sound too dissimilar to the earlier Japan Organised Crime Boss (1969), however in this film, Fukasaku depicts the violence of the yakuza with a little more realism and a little less glamour. While the film doesn’t show the gangsters as being involved in any honourable activities – running gambling, prostitution, disreputable bars and sauna houses – the conventional depiction of giri-ninjo, the code of honour between gangsters, remains. Rival bosses will quietly admire and even pay respect to enemies who they see as behaving honourably. The director would go on to make films showing them in a more realistic light - Cops vs Thugs (1975) and Yakuza Graveyard
(1976), but here the yakuza are still accorded a certain measure of honour and respectability.
Also absent from Street Mobster is the social commentary that would come in the later Fukasaku yakuza films. There are no redeeming qualities in Isamu Okita – he is a mindlessly violent thug who cares for no-one and nothing. An early scene showing Isamu’s under-privileged childhood - his mother was a prostitute and a drunk – seems to be played more for its sleazy aspect rather than for any real sociological commentary or psychological investigation. The end of the film also makes an attempt to show the lack of a normal upbringing through a bowl of rice that Isamu’s mother never made for him as some kind of motivation for his actions, and tries to show him as in possession of some twisted kind of conscience. The fact that this redemption of his character is attempted through his complex and violent relationship with a prostitute whose life he destroyed when he and his gang raped her as a young woman, is somewhat problematic.
All in all Street Mobster doesn’t make a convincing case for the extreme violence depicted on the screen. This is a violent and bloody film with some unpleasant rape scenes, beatings and stabbings. The director handles the material however with typical aplomb, making less use of his idiosyncratic formal techniques and relying on a more traditional shaky hand-held camera to convey the wild abandon of the mob violence and an impressive slow-motion sequence for the shoot-out finale.
The cover of the DVD claims that the film has been "fully restored and digitally and remastered", but I have no idea what this means. The picture quality is no better than any of the other films in the Eureka Fukasaku series, which means that it is not good at all. The picture on Street Mobster is grainy and colours are faded and unauthentic. There is no contrast, giving the film a dull, flat appearance with no real blacks. This emphasises the lined texture can be seen in the background through most of the film. The transfer is anamorphic, but the 2.35:1 aspect ratio has been slightly stretched vertically, making characters look a little elongated. There are a few marks and flecks on the print, but the main problems are the general softness, blurring, colour bleed and compression artefacts that make objects shift and waver. Not good at all, but not totally unwatchable either.
The sound quality isn’t a lot better, but it is generally effective enough considering the age of the film and the poor quality of the source material. Car doors slam with a satisfying thud as the yakuza emerge coolly from their cars and the impact of the frequent beatings can be felt viscerally. There are not many other demands on the soundtrack, so it performs adequately.
A Photo Gallery displays a dozen or so black and white promo stills from the film. The quality is good and some of these are reproduced on the DVD cover.
The same profile of the director is presented in text form. It’s an interesting read covering the themes and techniques of the director’s films throughout his career.
All considerations about the morality and political correctness of the film aside, Street Mobster is a good Fukasaku yakuza action film. The violence is a bit overwhelming at times and rather extreme, but it is a well-paced and stylishly made film. The DVD is pretty poor, but in the absence of any other edition it's just about adequate. Not good value to buy individually, but it is also available from the affiliate links on this page in a budget-priced set with the Yakuza Papers and Yakuza Graveyard.