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.
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)
Paul Schrader, Robert Towne
Okazaki Kozo, Duke Callaghan
Don Guidice, Thomas Stanford
In the Spotlight: Crime Scenes
Mikey and Nicky
Marked for assassination, lowly gangster Mikey (John Cassavetes) calls his best friend, Nicky (Peter Falk), the only man he can trust, and they deviate around New York City all night, one step ahead of a professional hitman (Ned Beatty).
Scorsese's expressionist, hallucinatory rendition of an infernal New York puts us in the head of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro),"God's lonely man", an insomniac who crisscrosses the city at night and dreams of claiming something better for himself.
The Late Show
Ira (Carney) comes out of retirement when his old partner Harry bleeds to death on his doorstep. What had he been working on? The case of a missing cat... Lily Tomlin, Harry's kooky client, joins forces to unearth the truth - and get her cat back.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Ben Gazzara is Cosmo Vitelli, proud owner of the strip joint Crazy Horse West and in every sense a showman. His fondness for gambling lands him in trouble with the mob, but they offer him an out: all he has to do is murder the eponymous Chinaman...
More Films in This Series
Dog Day Afternoon
Based on a true story of a New York bank robbery which turned into a hostage siege (and a media spectacle), Sidney Lumet's gripping movie showcases a bravura performance from Al Pacino as the homosexual, married, unhappy, decent, confused bank robber.
The biggest hit from the 70s phase of Brian De Palma's career, Carrie takes Stephen King's horror novel about a troubled telekinetic teen and weaves it into a purely cinematic rhapsody of angst and (retali-)elation, what Pauline Kael termed "a terrifyingly lyrical thriller".
All the President's Men
This gripping account of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's investigation into the Watergate break-in is a masterclass of cinematic craft from director Alan J Pakula (Klute; The Parallax View) and DP Gordon Willis (The Godfather).
The Parallax View
The most lucid and ingenious, the most deeply, creepily satisfying of paranoia thrillers, Alan J. Pakula's film posits an assassination corporation. Reporter Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) is on to Them, or so he believes…
A passion project for producer-star Warren Beatty, this frothy boudoir comedy of Beverly Hills manners views its hairdresser hero's bed-hopping with a certain sadness. Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, Lee Grant and Carrie Fisher come along for the ride.