Blackmail Is My Life
December 24, 2002
In the 1960s, Kinji Fukasaku was the Japanese equivalent of Sam Fuller. He cut a violent swath of gangster films that were garish mini-masterpieces of the B-movie variety. Among them was Blackmail Is My Life (1968), a scathing, two-fisted attack on corruption in Japanese society and government.
Shun (Matsukata) is a gleefully amoral opportunist. He and his partners, Seki, an ex-Yakuza, Noguchi, an ex-boxer and Otoki, a sexy single girl, are professional blackmailers. Through a series of flashbacks we learn that they started off extorting money from small-time store owners and moved up to blackmailing gangsters. They acquire enough money to immerse themselves in a swinging, carefree lifestyle of the rich that involves frolicking on beaches and racing fast cars. However, they get mixed up in an extortion scheme that involves high-ranking officials. Shun and his gang soon finds themselves way in over their heads as they encounter corruption and powerful opposition to their petty schemes beyond anything they’ve ever encountered.
Blackmail Is My Life is a dynamically shot movie. The camera is restless and always moving, just like its protagonist. Fukasaku liberally uses zooms, freeze frames and jarring edits a la the French New Wave. He cranks everything up an energetic notch to an almost cartoonish, over-the-top level that is audacious and exciting. The action sequences are kinetic and chaotic and this is complimented by the film’s soundtrack which features ultra-hip jazz mixed with surreal psychedelic music.
Blackmail Is My Life is an angry protest film hiding under a B-movie façade. Like Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963), Fukasaku’s movie is a prime example of stylish visual filmmaking with an axe to grind. His film exposes the corruption that was rampant in 1960s Japan when all sorts of government officials were embroiled in scandals.
The liner notes that come with the DVD are written by Patrick Macias, author of TokyoScope, an excellent book about Japanese cult films and filmmakers. It’s a nice introduction to the cinema of Kinji Fukasaku and he puts the movie into its proper historical and social context.
On the DVD is a 19-minute interview with Fukasaku. He talks at length about his influences, the movie and how he got involved and worked with Japanese studios like Toei and Shochiku. This is a good interview as the veteran director speaks quite eloquently about the strengths and limitations of working in the studio system.
Rounding out the extras is a Fukasaku filmography.