Director: Hideo Gosha
Starring: Noboru Ando, Akira Kobayashi, Isao Natsuyagi
In 1971, director Hideo Gosha released his Yakuza epic, The Wolves. Bloody brooding and revealing, it is considered one of the key films in both the director's cannon and the genre it represents. Three years later, Gosha returned to the subject matter and unleashed Violent Streets. In many ways the polar opposite of it's predecessor, Violent Streets is one of the wildest, bloodiest and most visually stunning Yakuza yarns ever made.
As the opening credits role over a nightclub scene that features a suggestively filmed flamenco dance performance, we are introduced to the club's nearly somnabulist owner (terrifically underplayed by Noboru Ando). Ando is a retired Yakuza who now uses the club to run a legit business and to help out his wayward pals who also wish to go legit. However, remnants of his past present thmselves in the form of his buddy (Aklira Kobayashi) who representing his old gang, wishes to buy him out. They also wish to go straight and leave the old ways behind them once and for all. Of course, this is much easier said than done. For starters, Ando refuses to sell, despite the pleas and warnings from his old friend soon to turn foe. Infighting begins to rear it's ugly head as well. Matters are further complicated by a rival gang who kidnap a female pop singer under the old gang's employ. They hold her for ransom, but accidentally kill her during a rape attempt gone wrong. This sets off a brutal chain of events which ultimately ruin all involved.
Ever the resourceful eccentric, Gosha (who's style always seemed to hover somewhere between the two Sams, Peckinpah and Fuller) loads the admittedly generic main story with one amazing visual after another. From Ando's violent sex scene with his alchaholic girlfriend intercut with the club's flamenco number to the monster masks worn by the bumbling rival gang to the odd pair of assassins employed (one a bald guy with a pet parrot, the other a psychotic, bloodthirsty transvestite) to the chicken coop used as the backround for both an excrutiating midfilm battle as well as the final showdown to (most strikingly of all) a junkyard execution scene that's littered with mannequins (filmed in such a way as to make the increasingly blood smeared statues appear to stare at the protagonists with a perverse, mocking leer), there is not one scene that does not positively drip with seedy atmosphere.
As if this film weren't rich enough, Gosha includes cameos by a pair of ringers. The first is Bunta Sugawara (the top Yakuza movie actor and one of the coolest cats you will ever see on celluloid) who plays an old contact of Ando's. A retired weapons supplier, Sugawara goes along for the ride (literally) in a mid film shootout (one last hurrah, it seems). Sitting in the back seat of Ando's' car, eating a sandwhich and with headphones in use (!) Bunta blasts away with a "been there, done that" casualness. The second is by the "Empreor" himself, Tetsuo Tanba (possibly the most ubiquitous of all Japanese actors) as what amounts to a modern day Godfather. Perched high above the city in his helicopter late in the film, Tanba contemplates running all of Japan through his "honest" businesses while allowing the "dogs" (warring gang members) to basically eat each other, thus ridding them of the old ways. It is a humbling revelation considering the (increasingly pointless) carnage that had been on display.
Violent Streets is a masterpiece, plain and simple. One of Gosha's best (just maybe his very best) and one of the crowning achievements in Japan's Yakuza cycle of the 70s. A must see.
**** / ****