I used to watch yakuza movies, like, all the time. Old Kinji Fukasaku flicks, new shot-on-video cheapies about “outlaw” pachinko and mahjong players, anything really. I wasn’t picky. As long as there were tough guys, just out of jail, strutting around Tokyo, Osaka, and Hiroshima in bad suits and expensive sunglasses, I wanted to be there right alongside them with a punch perm hairdo shouting "Aniki!"
But like I was trying to let on in that post about Riki Takeuchi below, they really don’t really make them like they used to. In fact, they barely make them at all! Following the hearty “V-cinema” boom of the ‘90s, lead by directors like Takashi Miike and Shigeru Ozawa, the turn of the century has seen yakuza movie output slow to barely a trickle. And I’m not sure who to blame. Could it be the film industry’s fault for allowing the TV producers to take over the racket? Had the Japanese people wimped out by betraying the burning flame of manly passion? Or was it just a matter of time until the cycle began anew?
Such were the questions I was asking myself when I stumbled across a copy of the new YAKUZA MOVIE COMPLETE GUIDE last month at Tower Records in Shibuya. Produced by Cosmicpub, a 1500 yen investment gets you 80 full color pages of scowling street punks and troubled men in power. Think lots of grainy, high contrast pin-up shots of Hiroki Matsukata , Show Aikawa, and the ever-enigmatic “Hakuryu” (but no Riki Takeuchi, oddly enough).
Detailed coverage of series like Waru, New Don of Japan, and Osaka Yakuza War makes it easy to get caught up on the V-Cinema turf battles of the last few years. Helping much in this area is the overwhelming bonus DVD that comes packaged with the Complete Guide (Otaku USA style), which runs nearly three hours and contains 101 trailers in all. That's a lot of sake cup ceremonies, fake pistol gunfire, and filmed-in-public beatdowns!
Now the bad news…The majority of the titles in the Complete Guide hover around the 2002-2005 mark. Passing mention of five new productions for '08 aside, there's not much to do except to push the back catalog titles. It's pretty clear we are well past midnight on the doomsday clock. Someone needs to hit the reset button on this genre, and fast.
If I sound desperate, it’s only because of how much the last page of the Yakuza Movie Complete Guide bodes ill for the future. It's a full page ad for a new Hitoshi Ozawa movie called Unregistered Daycare (think: “Kindergarten Yakuza”). But flip the pages back a bit, and see if you don't disagree that Ozawa and his gang are much more warm and lovable when stabbing someone in the stomach with a dosu sword. Now that's entertainment!