Bonus Review: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

If I had to pick a movie as a guilty pleasure, I might choose The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) – except I don’t feel guilty at all, because I love this movie. The third Tokyo-Drift-Poster.jpginstalment in the now massive, globe-trotting franchise, back in the mid-2000s the future of the series seemed in jeopardy: Vin Diesel had left after one film, Paul Walker after the second. Tokyo Drift was essentially a Hail Mary soft reboot with an all-new cast that transplanted the action to Tokyo, and swapped street races for suitably Japan-inspired drifting.

While the focus of this blog is, and will remain, on Japanese cinema, my tastes are eclectic. I love all kinds of movies, and sometimes, I’ll feature them here if they have some suitable hook – maybe they’re set in Japan, or from a Japanese director working on a foreign production, or it’s a remake of a Japanese movie. In the case of Tokyo Drift, I’m using the location and a scenery-chewing appearance by Sonny Chiba as an excuse.

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Gambling in Japanese Cinema

Watch enough Japanese cinema and you’ll no doubt see some gambling, particularly if you’re watching yakuza movies, but the games involved might seem alien to an outsider’s eye. Japan itself has a strange relationship with gambling: aside from a few specific, seemingly arbitrary exceptions like betting on powerboat racing, gambling is illegal. Historically, gambling is closely associated with Japanese organised criminals, with ‘traditional’ yakuza falling into one of two classes: tekiya, or peddlers, and bakuto, gamblers, though nowadays their criminal enterprises are of course far more broad in scope.

While there are many card, dice, and tile games suitable for gambling on that are popular in Japan, here are three that come up regularly on film: the dice game chou han, Mahjong, and pachinko. If you care to try any of these, digital versions that make following unfamiliar rulesets far easier can be found; in SEGA’s Yakuza series, including the recent Yakuza Zero, playable versions of Mahjong, chou han, oicho kabu, hanafuda games, and many others appear (other games in the series have also featured pachinko or pachislot machines).

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Review: Blind Woman’s Curse (1970)

The inimitable Meiko Kaji’s first starring role, Teruo Ishii’s Blind Woman’s Curse (1970) isblind_womans_curse-1 an aggressively strange yakuza movie with a touch of the supernatural. It’s so strange the Arrow Video release calls it ‘delerious’ multiple times on the cover, and for once, that doesn’t feel unfair – from the bold use of colour to the costuming to the off-kilter horror elements, the film is a phantasmagoric treat.

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Yakuza Zero (A Kino 893 x TGLG Review)

It is not my intention, still early in the run of this blog on Japanese cinema, to branch too yakuzazero-coverwildly into other areas. That said, I do think there are other, relevant things that could be discussed: American re-edits or remakes of Japanese productions, books on the subject, and videogames that draw from the history of film. There’s one series that’s particularly dear to me: SEGA’s Yakuza (龍が如く/ Ryū ga Gotoku). First launching in Japan in 2005 and 2006 in the West, the series transplants recognisable yakuza movie tropes onto a long-running videogame franchise. It’s easy to see the influence Japanese cinema of the ‘60s and ‘70s has had on it, from casting Tetsuya Watari (star of the Outlaw VIP series) as the protagonist’s yakuza mentor Shintaro Kazama, to the dramatic, freeze-frame splash screens that list the various characters’ names, ranks, and affiliations – a stylish technique ripped straight from Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity.

2017 has seen the belated, but extremely welcome, Western release of Yakuza Zero (originally launching in Japan in March 2015). Set in 1988 at the height of the Japanese Bubble Economy, the game is both a prequel to the series and the first non-spin off released on the PlayStation 4, making it an excellent jumping on point for newcomers.

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Review: Outlaw: Heartless (1968)

Sitting down to watch Outlaw: Heartless (1968), I wondered if I was being too harsh on the heartless-1series. After all, I was treating them as B-movies between the films of Akira Kurosawa: not just one of Japan’s most acclaimed directors but one of the most acclaimed directors of all time. Funny story: the first Outlaw film was directed by Toshio Masuda who, along with Kinji Fukasaku and Richard Fleischer, directed Tora! Tora! Tora! Masuda and Fukasaku were brought in to direct the Japanese side of the production after Kurosawa dropped out. While Keiichi Ozawa directed most of the other instalments, for Heartless, Mio Ezaki took the reigns.

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Review: Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 (1968)

After watching Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 (1968), I hadoutlawvip2-1 a series of amazing revelations. First, that really is the title (at least the one Arrow Video decided to go with). Second, it came out in April 1968, just a few months after the first movie. Third, no less than five movies in this series came out in 1968 – it’s almost a shame the sixth skids into 1969, but that’s a movie for another day. Fourth, these movies are almost impossible to research: there aren’t even Wikipedia articles, in English or Japanese.

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Review: Outlaw: Gangster VIP (1968)

The main reason I wanted to watch Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity series is that I’d heard they were the turning point between the old-fashioned ninkyo eiga (chivalry movies) that portrayed the yakuza as honourable heroes, and more modern, gritty, arguably more realistic takes where the criminals are actually the bad guys. Outlaw: Gangster VIP (1968) came out a few years before Battles Without Honour and Humanity, but it’s going in the same direction.

outlawvip-1
The Japanese title, ‘“Burai” Yori Daikanbu

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