Tuesday, 3 June 2008

THE YAKUZA (1974)

Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum), sometime Private Eye, returns to Japan after many years to try and rescue the daughter of an old wartime buddy (Brian Keith in a dodgy wig) who has been kidnapped by yakuza gangsters. Kilmer has history in Japan with an ex-yakuza whose sister Harry had helped (and lived with) the end of the war and who despite his resentment of Kilmer feel obligated to him. It is to this man, Tanaka Ken (played by Japanese star Takakura Ken) that Harry goes for help. Reluctantly Tanaka Ken "picks up the sword" again. The girl is rescued but Harry soon learns that he has been a pawn in a much more complicated game. Director Sidney Pollack (who took over the project from Robert Aldrich) brings a real sensitivity to the relationship between Harry and the Japanese family and brings out the film's theme of two contrasting cultures. Mitchum is at his very best in this film and Takakura Ken (whose only other English language film to my knowledge was Aldrich's TOO LATE THE HERO) perfectly compliments him - two men who don't particularly like each other striving to work together and cemented by completely different understandings of duty, loyalty and obligation. According to director Pollack the original script by Paul Schrader based on a story by his brother Leonard was a much less complicated martial arts story until he (Pollack) brought in Robert (CHINATOWN) Towne to flesh it out. The action scenes have an authentic chaotic feel to them and the climatic final assault on the yakuza headquarters is an all time classic. Rumour is that the film will be remade next year...oh dear, Hollywood continues to eat its own children. Rating ****

1 comment:

Terry Frost said...

This is one of my favourite later Mitchum films. I think he's one of those actors whose intelligence is always underrated and he brings a good subtlety to Harry Kilmer which is the core of the story.

The action sequences work well, too and the love story is handled wonderfully well.