I'm not sure if 1975's Graveyard of Honour (仁義の墓場) is a violent, nihilist, vicarious wish fulfilment fantasy or something between that and a Taxi Driver style psychological reinterpretation of the lone gun action film. Although it was always stylish, there were parts where I wondered what the director, Kinji Fukasaku, was trying to get at with his raging psychopath protagonist. But by the end I found, while the story is definitely a fantasy, the film is a somewhat haunting statement about a man always seeking an impossible fulfilment.
We meet the violent young yakuza, Rikio Ishikawa (Tetsuya Watari), shortly after the end of World War II. We see him opening his pants and unashamedly pissing in front of a group of prostitutes whose brightly coloured western clothes make them strikingly resemble the prostitutes in Seijun Suzuki's Gate of Flesh. When they react in disgust, Rikio explains to them that they're whores so their feelings don't matter.
This casual bullying behaviour is in one sense typical for a gangster in any country. Pushing social boundaries and laying down disparaging statements are the ways a gangster establishes psychological dominance in a community. But Rikio's instincts for sadism go beyond this and we see a series of episodes where it proves a problem for his gang when he tends to start fights with rival gangs his own boss has no desire to provoke.
Rikio never seems to lose a fight, something in the film that strains the sense of realism. Generally an asshole who tries to fight the whole world ends up getting killed. There's also a geisha, Chieko (Yumi Takigawa), who falls in love with him despite the fact that he rapes her. Her motives are a little mysterious in the way that I'm not sure the filmmakers thought them out but a scene where he asks her to hide a gun for him reminded me of the scene in Goodfellas where Henry asks Karen to hide a gun. But maybe she senses something about his lack of a mental capacity for empathy and this makes her pity him--the rape scene is very strange, throughout it he keeps telling her in a bewildered tone that he doesn't want to hurt her even as he doesn't stop while she's clearly trying to fight him off. It's as though he's unable to understand anyone who resists giving him what he wants and so the only response he can think of is physical force.
He meets a prostitute who introduces him to heroin, to which he becomes immediately addicted. This doesn't seem to slow him down in the action scenes somehow. But the addiction fits in with the general sense of a personality that has no barriers to constantly seeking some elusive satisfaction.
Tetsuya Watari had played the cherubic young gangster in Seijun Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter nine years earlier. He comes off as more closed off and worn down here, curiously almost always wearing the aviator glasses like the villain in Tokyo Drifter.
Twitter Sonnet #1018
A chancing glance to fish confirmed the word.
However bleak the beaker fogs, take wing.
Without the stance of science, blanks're heard.
Like paper noodles teaching forks to sing.
In bread, a buoyant bean abuts the base.
The camel recks no farther coin than dimes.
The eastly wind arranged a bitter taste.
No more could count the hands or face of times.
In groups defined in foam they swim to Earth.
In visions sought by graceful planes they eat.
The sky became a trade in starry worth.
A thousand ghosts to-day are in your seat.
This sand'll bounce beyond the radar's scope.
The morning brings a quest for velvet rope.