Yakuza Graveyard Review

A year after his pointed condemnation of the Japanese authorities and law-enforcement services in Cops vs Thugs (1975), Kinji Fukasaku (Battle Royale) explored the theme further in Yakuza Graveyard.

Kuroiwa is a maverick cop back on a new beat after an incident where he shot a suspect two years earlier. The police are taking a laissez-faire attitude to the yakuza situation, knowing that any heavy-handed involvement could set-off an unwanted gang-war. As long as the gangs keep to themselves and their own areas of prostitution and gambling, and as long as the cops receive their pay-outs, it's probably best to just leave them to it. Kuroiwa is not that type of character however, and his unconventinal working methods threaten to destabilise the current situation.

Kuroiwa also has women problems. He is involved with the wife of the man he has killed, as he feels responsible for her. He also gets mixed up with Keiko from the Nishida organisation, forming an alliance with the yakuza gang which, when the police decide to crack-down on the organisation for political reasons, places him in a difficult position.

Fukusaku’s depiction of the criminal underworld is rather more uncompromising that the one seen in Japan Organised Crime Boss (1969). His picture of a poverty-stricken post-war Japan is not a pretty place. The conditions and slums that the people are living in is an ideal breeding ground for low-life criminals, rife with drugs, prostitution and gambling. Against this background, Fukasaku shows a corrupt law-enforcement service and an authoritarian and self-serving political leadership.

While Yakuza Graveyard shows a more realistic portrayal of social conditions in Japan, it didn’t strike me being as effective or as convincing as Cops vs Thugs, made the previous year in 1975 and also scripted by Kazuo Kasahara. Surprisingly, it is one of the director’s less graphically violent films. The sense of danger doesn’t really seem to be there as too many people survive hails of bullets with only minor wounds that don’t seem to slow them down much. Even in a series of drive-by shootings, the assailants seem to be using toy guns – although this could be something to do with the weak soundtrack on this DVD that is somewhat inadequate at conveying gun blasts.

The image here is closer to the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio than some of the other titles in the Fukasaku series, but again there seems to be some slight stretching of the picture. The quality of the print used here is very poor indeed. You name it, this DVD is a text-book case of almost every example of DVD artefact in the book. The image is grainy, soft and flat – there is no sharpness at all and the image is even quite fuzzy. Colours are dull and there are no true blacks. Elsewhere there are numerous instances of aliasing, flare and cross-colouration and a picture that never seems steady with constantly wavering backgrounds and blocking. It is not unwatchable, but it is far from good.

The soundtrack, as mentioned earlier, fails to get across any real impact – probably a combination of the limitations of the original material and the poor quality of the source material. It lacks the punch that some of the other films in the Fukasaku series have.

Director’s Profile
A short but comprehensive overview of Fukasku’s career is presented in text form. It is a shortened version of a Midnight Eye Fukasaku feature, which is available on-line here. It presents a good overview of the director’s work.

All in all, Yakuza Graveyard is a superior Japanese yazuka film, that has a lot of admirers, but I personally think Fukasaku has made better ones than this, including the similarly themed Cops vs Thugs made a year earlier. The DVD quality does not justify the full recommended price, but a budget re-packaging of the film in a set with The Yakuza Papers and Street Mobster is released in July and is better value.

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