Graveyard of Honor Review
After a good five years wait for Miike fans, Graveyard of Honor finally makes its way onto legitimate English friendly DVD. Miike's reasonably faithful re-imagining of Kinji Fukasaku's 1975 true-life yakuza flick is a touching piece about the tenuous existence of a relentless mobster. Where Fukasaku's original concentrated on that director's big theme of the betrayal of the young by the old, Miike's film is about a force of nature damned by a misconceived rebellion. Miike's film is of course more violent and shocking than the original, itself quite controversial for its time, but it is also more layered and characterful. The director's usual visceral intensity and theme of loner integrity are of course present, but the film also displays an intelligence in its relationships that the original film lacks.
Ishimatsu is an accidental gangster. One night he is working as a barman at a club visited by Boss Sawada. The place is set upon by a lone assassin, played by Miike, who does away with the yakuza's henchmen swiftly and stands gun cocked in readiness for his main target, Sawada. Ishimatsu polaxes him from behind before he can finish the job and soon Sawada has taken the young man under his wing and made him a big cheese in his gang. Ishimatsu is loyal and enjoys the life of taking what he wants when he wants it and, in this spirit, he rapes hostess Chieko, only stopping to notice that he has taken her virginity as he leaves. Detailed to do a hit, he does the job and runs for cover with the terrified Chieko - "What am I to you" she pleads, and he replies, "My wife". Banged up for five years, he befriends Imamura, an under-boss in the Giyu gang and fellow jailbird, and they pledge brotherhood. When he is released he finds Chieko waiting for him and the gang life he loves. Soon recession hits the economy and young yakuza like himself find themselves dropped by their bosses, and Ishimatsu thinks Sawada has dropped him when he can't find his boss one day. This misunderstanding leads to fateful acts which turn the Sawada gang against him as he exacts a misguided revenge. He hides with his friend, Imamura, but soon he gets embittered and then hooked on smack. He drags his friends, and the loving Chieko, down with him as he fights fate every step of the way.
The great advantage that Miike's film has over other mob movies is its leading actor. Goro Kishitani is simply magnificent as the gutsy gangster who kicks against the rules of his masters and makes heinous mistakes. This performance is far from a simple one as the development of this character, who rapes, murders and hooks his own wife on heroin, is likely to lose the audience's sympathy or patience if the acting and exposition are not compelling enough. Kishitani gives a performance that gives credence to the evil of his role whilst finely judging the humanity of this senseless passionate man who destroys everyone that helps him. Ishimatsu is a truly tragic figure who blunders his way into a life he seems tailor made for, and then blunders his way to hell because of a hair trigger temper and a sheer lack of grey matter. Ishimatsu fails to explain his actions or to redeem them, and yet somehow we can understand why Chieko will live and die for him despite his infidelity and crimes against her. To manage all these impossible paradoxes takes one hell of an actor and Kishitani is supreme as the wounded animal who did it to himself.
Fukasaku has been a strong influence in Miike's career with Miike homaging the director in his use of stop frame messages on screen and rapid intense action; he even describes this film as the originals "little brother". Miike's yakuza have similarities to Fukasaku's as well, for Riki Takeuchi in Deadly Outlaw Rekka think Bunta Sugawara in Street Mobster or Hiroki Matsukata in Proxy War in Hokuriku. Miike's Ishimatsu is a modern creation, born out of the economic slump of the eighties, and he is a thoroughly Miike rebel in his outsider status and his admirable tenacious drive. Despite the previous film and the real-life roots, Miike makes his own mark with his sensitivity in the bitter romance between Chieko and Ishimatsu, and his excellent finale where blood cascades and the next young recruit rots in jail. In this yakuza life, Miike seems to conclude that youth and spirit are what gets lost and that love and integrity are the only things to live for.
Miike's updating of the original is extremely successful and it represents one of the most intelligent gangster films of recent times. It deserves to be seen to correct the impression that Miike is merely a shock merchant or that he is happily lost in a genre ghetto, and those who take the risk of recognising what a great film-maker he can be will love Graveyard of Honor.
Animeigo's release comes with two discs, with the main feature presented with no extras on the dual layer disc one, and the second disc containing all the special features. The anamorphic presentation(1.82:1) is good enough but there is a fair amount of pixelation and lack of detail in the backgrounds. Edges have been enhanced a little too noticeably, and the contrast is not as well graded as you could ask for, leaving darker parts of the image uniformly black where shade should be evident. Reds seem a little too vivid and the overall quality of the transfer is best described as acceptable to good. The sound is very good with an excellent imperfection free Japanese stereo track highlighting the superb jazz score by Kouji Endo, and the added bonus of two choices of English subtitle styles(yellow and green or white and grey).
The bonus disc is a mixed bag with background notes presented on the film and the original movie, the yakuza, and a biography of Miike. These range from the ridiculous, an explanation of baccarat, to the prosaic, a description of what is involved in having a fractured skull. The notes stutter along with little explanation of navigation and they are wholly disposable. The image gallery consists of nine production photos from the film and we get trailers for this film, Juvenile A, Shinobi no mono, Trail of Blood and Shogun Assassin. The featurettes that come on the disc are all very short with the longest being cut together interviews with Miike and his two leads. Miike explains that he cast Kishitani because he was "volatile" and applauds the actor's dedication to the role before stating that he had a "blast" making the film. There follows an eight minute Making of featurette where we see the director shooting the film on location and in the studio, and we also get a bizarre two minute long teaser for this featurette! Two other short pieces complete the extras with the director, Kishitani, and Arimori at a press conference at an HMV store in Shibuya, and the three also presenting the film at its premiére. The first piece has Kishitani admitting that he got lost in character and got road rage when he drove everyday to the set, and the second has a joking Miike praising his film's educative value in the fact he thinks that it will encourage "young people to live a clean and virtuous life"!
A great, great film from a misunderstood talent. The transfer is acceptable but the extras are rather uninspiring even if they are plentiful. Buy it for the film and for Kishitani's performance.