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The Yakuza

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When George Tanner (Brian Keith) does business with the high-ranking Yakuza Tono, Tono kidnaps his daughter, and George summons his old friend Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) to Japan to investigate. Harry starts by visiting his old flame, Eiko (Kishi Keiko), and enlists her brother, Ken (Takakura Ken), to help him search. Together, they find the girl, but Ken wounds one of Tono’s men and is subsequently marked for death by the Yakuza.

Paul Schrader grew up in a Calvinist household in Michigan so strict that he saw his first movie at the age of 17. He studied philosophy and theology, fell in love with cinema, and became a movie critic with the help of his mentor Pauline Kael. In 1972 he published a book, Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer, and the same year published an influential essay, Notes on Film Noir, which seemed to set the scene for the neo-noir revival that followed. His first screenplay (cowritten with his brother Leonard – who lived in Japan at the time – and polished by Robert Towne of Chinatown fame) was The Yakuza, which drew on his twin interests in Asian culture and the crime film.

“The general word on The Yakuza, from both Schrader and the big deal critics of its day, was that director Sydney Pollack was not the man for the job. Pauline Kael spent about thirty percent of her review listing all the filmmakers who would have been better suited for this property. Pollack wasn’t perfect casting for the project. Nevertheless The Yakuza remains a unique, nifty 70’s gangster thriller with two great action stars being outstanding… This was the last time Mitchum was vibrantly alive on screen. And the film’s final coda, ’The Finger cutting scene,’ is, for me, one of the great endings of any movie of its era. And arguably Mitchum’s single greatest acting moment on film.” Quentin Tarantino

Schrader would go on to write films for Brian De Palma (Obsession) and Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver; Raging Bull) and Joan Tewkesbury (Old Boyfriends) before becoming a director himself with Blue Collar in 1978.

Taxi Driver, Old Boyfriends and Blue Collar are all screening in our Ragged Glory: Summer in the 70s series.

Writer Paul Schrader’s homage to the Japanese gangster movie, with the standard plot opened out to accommodate Mitchum and American support, who share the screen with Ken Takakura (the No 1 star of such pictures) and some attractive Japanese locations. Takakura’s terse, spring-coiled performance nicely complements Mitchum’s somnolent bulk, and the formalised violence is rivetingly choreographed. The final show-down is one not to be missed.

Chris Peachment, Time Out

Matching an aged and rugged Robert Mitchum with ultimate Japanese gangster actor Ken Takakura, The Yakuza is, frankly, a piece of masculine cinematic heaven. Hard boiled, quiet, observant of code and tradition, The Yakuza treats the Japanese underworld with reverence and respect, while also sensationalizing it as exotic and romantic.

Ed Travis, Cinapse

Aug 4 Only: Introduction from novelist AJ Devlin (Rolling Thunder; Hammerhead Jed Mysteries)


Sydney Pollack


Robert Mitchum, Ken Takakura, Brian Keith, Richard Jordan, Kishi Keiko

Country of Origin






112 min

Book Tickets

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Sydney Pollack


Paul Schrader, Robert Towne


Okazaki Kozo, Duke Callaghan


Don Guidice, Thomas Stanford

Original Music

Dave Grusin

Production Design

Stephen Grimes

Art Director

Ishida Yoshiyuki

In the Spotlight: Crime Scenes

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