Graveyard of Honor
May 25, 2005
Instead of resting on his laurels with the hugely successful Battles Without Honors series, Kinji Fukasaku took one of Japan’s biggest movie stars, Tetsuya Watari, and had him play a cruel junkie gangster protagonist. Graveyard of Honor (1975) is based on actual legendary Yakuza, Rikio Ishikawa, who left home at 16 to become a member of the Wada family in Tokyo. He used his vicious nature to aggressively climb the organization’s hierarchy and earn the moniker “mad dog.” Eventually, his reckless methods would prove to be his downfall.
Ever since he was a boy, Rikio Ishikawa (Watari) wanted to be a gangster. Right from the opening credits, his backstory is quickly established much like a documentary with old photographs and a voiceover narration. The film’s thesis is stated rather simply and effectively, “What turned this young man into a rabid dog?” Was it the ensuing chaos and confusion of postwar Japan? Over the opening credits is footage of crowded masses eating food in a bustling marketplace, trying to eke out some kind of existence while kids play in rubble. It is a sobering picture of postwar Japan trying to rebuild. Out of these ashes comes Rikio who shakes up Japan with the kind of ferocious energy it has rarely seen before.
Kinji Fukasaku quickly establishes the kind of frenetic energy that Rikio possesses right from the first action sequence. He shoots it through a sepia-toned filter with skewed camera angles as Rikio announces himself to a rival gang by shooting one of them in the foot. Like with his previous films, Fukasaku uses jarring hand-held camerawork for the action sequences to create an immediate, visceral intensity.
A member of the Kawada gang, Rikio purposely provokes a gang war with Shinwa, a rival clan. He and his gang are extremely Xenophobic. They rob and fight other thugs who aren’t Japanese. Of course, his wild ways don’t sit well with the important people in his own clan.
Rikio’s a real charmer. He deliberately pees in a nearby fire that several women congregate around. When they protest, he tells them to “Shut the fuck up, you whores!” Impressed by his chauvinistic bravado they eventually become part of his gang. Rikio and his buddies have no illusions about their lives. As one says, “We’re kamikaze. Could be dead in a few hours.” So, this gives them motivation to have as much sex, drink and fights as they possibly can. They live life moment to moment because, as the dropping of two atomic bombs demonstrated so vividly, nothing is forever and life is fleeting.
“A Portrait of Rage” is a tribute to the late Fukasaku from friends, family and contemporaries who talk about the man and his work. One commentator points out that the filmmaker had compassion for losers, or, “the fallen.” Everyone speaks eloquent and affectionately about Fukasaku and often recount anecdotes about the man that illustrates his unforgettable character.
“On the Set with Fukasaku” features Kenichi Oguri, who worked as an assistant director on Graveyard of Honor, talking about his experiences working on the movie with Fukasaku. At the time, they were making the film for Toei studio but had to work fast because strikes were always shutting things down. He talks briefly about his Fukasaku’s methods and his first impressions of the man.
There are also trailers for various Fukasaku films and a selected filmography.
Graveyard of Honor personifies Kinji Fukasaku’s own rage and frustration with Japan and the state of its cinema—hence the overt, in-your-face style that flies in the face of more stately cinema, like that of Akira Kurosawa. Like Rikio, Fukasaku wanted to shake things up.