March 25, 2005
Kinji Fukasaku’s Street Mobster (1972) is a fast-paced, balls-to-the-walls Japanese gangster film shot in glorious anamorphic widescreen that has been beautifully restored by the fine folks at Home Vision Entertainment. Virtually unknown over here (except for the notorious Battle Royale), he spent the greater part of his career cranking out memorable Yakuza films filled with loads blood-soaked action and amoral protagonists.
Isamu Okita (Sugawara) was born the day Japan lost World War II to a single mother who abandoned him as a child at a local flophouse. He grows up to become an amoral thug who knows nothing but violence his whole life. As the film begins, Okita is released from prison. He’s been in so long that he notices how much things have changed: he is a man out of time. Okita lives by a very simple ethos: “You gotta grab what you want with your own bare hands.”
Okita is his own man. He runs a gang that answers to no one—even refusing to kowtow to the local Yakuza clan after learning that their kingpin has gone soft (i.e. legit) by fronting a respectable business to keep from being hounded by the police. Okita decides to organize the local street punks marginalized by the Yakuza and starts trouble, knowing that they can’t do much with the cops watching. The rest of the film plays out in an explosive rise and fall arc that is the standard of many gangster films. Okita betrays his own personal philosophy and this ultimately seals his fate.
Director Kinji Fukasaku really cuts loose stylistically in Street Mobster with skewed camera angles, freeze frames and restless, hand-held camerawork like some unhinged French New Wave homage by way of Sam Fuller. This chaotic technique perfectly mirrors Okita’s own frenetic lifestyle. It also lends the many fight scenes a certain level of realism. They are often chaotic messes where it’s hard to figure out who’s fighting whom. Okita is a character who lives for chaos; he is the eye of a very restless, savage storm. In one scene, he sits calmly in a bar while all around him his gang tears the place up. It’s the perfect visual image that defines his character.
Fukasaku shares Fuller’s coarse, brutal relationship with women. Early on, Okita crosses paths with a woman he raped and sold to a brothel years before. She’s become as hard-boiled as he has and after a violent reunion and courtship they become a couple. Women don’t rate too highly in Fukasaku’s films but one gets the feeling that he is also accurately depicting how they are treated in this rough and tumble world.
“Street Mobsters: A Conversation with Former Yakuza” is a ten-minute interview with an anonymous ex-Yakuza who recounts some of his experiences as a gangster. He talks about numerous run-ins with the cops and paints quite a vivid picture of what it is like to exist in the world depicted in Street Mobster.
There are trailers for various Fukasaku films and his filmography.
The transfer for Street Mobster has never looked better. Kudos to Home Vision for championing Fukasaku’s films over here. Hopefully their releases, coupled with high profile fans like Quentin Tarantino will result in more exposure for this fascinating filmmaker.