Thursday, August 27, 2020

A Yakuza's Land

How much trouble can a young man be in just after getting out of prison? Jiro finds his troubles began even before he got out in 1968's Retaliation (縄張はもらった, "Territory Received"). Stylish and featuring an absorbingly complicated plot, this isn't one of the best yakuza movies I've seen but it is well above average. With decent cinematography and locations, the action scenes sometimes lack focus. But there are plenty of good qualities in the film before even mentioning its best quality, which is its stars--Akira Kobayashi and Jo Shishido.

Kobayashi plays Jiro and Shishido plays Hino, Jiro's first problem. Hino meets Jiro right outside prison and after a deceptively casual stroll reveals he's there to take revenge for his little brother who was killed by Jiro's gang. They start fighting but are interrupted when Hino's girlfriend shows up.

Jiro doesn't want to fight so Hino's vendetta is left unresolved. Meanwhile, Jiro finds his old boss recovering in hospital, the medical bills having been paid by Hino's gang. So Jiro owes them a favour and gets involved in their complicated plot related to a rival gang's land zoning scheme. Jiro and Hino are forced to work together and team up with a group of particularly nasty thugs as they pose as members of the rival gang. They watch as one of the thugs, Naruse (Tamio Kawaji), and his chums kidnap a pretty young woman off the street and molest her in their car. This woman turns out to be none other than a young Meiko Kaji, credited as Masako Ota.

She's the daughter of a local farmer. The plan is this: one gang harasses the family and the other gang sweeps in as their miraculous protectors. Then they buy the land themselves for "factories". It's much more sophisticated than the heists in a lot of yakuza movies and feels pretty credible. Director Yasuharu Hasebe is well known for making a series of rape fantasy films in the 70s but all of the sexual assault feels organic to the story in Retaliation. One of my favourite moments in the film is near the end when Jiro, tired, smoking a cigarette, and covered in blood says he can't believe his former comrades were such bastards. To which Hino replies, "What did you expect? All yakuza are."

Shishido is deployed sparingly and it's always great when he reluctantly slouches into a scene. Kobayashi has centre stage most of the film, world weary, rough voiced, and oddly benevolent but quite ready to slaughter a dozen guys when necessary. After all the double crosses and heartbreaks he suffers in this story, it turns out to be plenty necessary.

Retaliation is available on Amazon Prime.

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