Saturday, April 2, 2011

REVIEW: Yakuza Deka: Assassin

やくざ刑事 マリファナ密売組織 (Yakuza deka: Marifana mitsubai soshiki)

Released: 1970

Director:
Yukio Noda

Starring:
Sonny Chiba
Fumio Watanabe
Jiro Chiba
Jaianto Baba
Osman Yusuf

Running time: 87 mins.


Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

Recommending movies can be a tricky business. Even if you have additional information from the person you're addressing (such as other movies they like), you can still go wrong since within genres or a even single director's body of work you can find vast differences. As well, you may also find that one person's great pairing simply doesn't work for someone else due to reasons you never would've considered. So typically pointing people to other movies is best done with lots of context or at least one or two provisos. In the case of "Yakuza Deka: Assassin", however, I can confidently state without fear of reprisal, that if you liked the previous film "Yakuza Deka", you will absolutely like this follow-on Sonny Chiba vehicle. I know this because the two are practically the same movie.

"Assassin" isn't a sequel to the previous film (also from 1970), but more of a parallel universe where the same characters are doing very similar things and meeting in slightly different ways. Chiba's undercover cop character Hayata is once again pulled close into the inner workings of a criminal group after saving (from the cops) one of the gang and then later bonding with him. Similar to the first film, the opening scene shows Hayata coming to the rescue of a cornered gangster for no other reason than because he hates cops (at least that's what he tells the crooks). His new-found brother in crime is played once again by Ryohei Uchida, shares the same name as the previous film's character (Ishiguro) and in all respects is the same guy. After being trapped by the police with drugs, he makes a break for it and is scooped up by Hayata in a dune buggy. Their maneuvering causes havoc with the inept police and they manage to evade them. It's bordering on Keystone Cops territory at times, but the tone of the rest of the film is well set: the acting style is broad, the pace quick and the comedy none too subtle. In other words, don't take it seriously and enjoy the set pieces. This is made all too clear during a scene where Ishiguro and Hayata match each other's card tricks by flicking cards and having them land upright on their edges...on top of each other. Ridiculous...But definitely entertaining.

Hayata is caught between rival gangs (the Seiwa and Natsui families) who want to control drug trade in the area. At various times, he is on the hook for assassinating both family heads and begins trying to pit both collectives against each other. At this point, Hayata has even had his police record wiped out, so he's in very deep...Unfortunately, that detail (and oh-so-many others) never comes into play as it seems to have been discarded off to the side. The plot doesn't so much evolve as mutate and jump from scene to scene with Hayata pretty much making random decisions or moving consequence free from one thing to another. One minute he's riding horses with the pretty young orphanage-running sister of a murdered undercover cop (complete with idyllic dream-like music and cinematography) and the next he's tripping out at a marijuana party with a go-go dancer. So the film is pretty open about it's silliness particularly during some of the chase scenes - in particular one which includes sliding down a summer ski hill on boards and then winding up on a spinning tea cup ride.

This makes for a fun but also frustrating movie. None of the characters have much interesting about them outside of their cliches and since you can't really invest yourself in a somewhat random storyline, it leaves you watching a series of scenes...Cool ones for sure (the look and sound of the mod club rivals many similar scenes from yakuza films of this era), but you don't care too much how events turn out. Director Noda obviously doesn't care that much either and is purely going for goofy fun and a certain look. Speaking of looks, you'll be hard pressed to forget Sonny Chiba's most awesome big black hat - picture Meiko Kaji's "Female Convict Scorpion" wide-brimmed black hat, but bigger and droopier. It's played for laughs, of course, as Chiba keeps having to hold up the brim, but it's quickly discarded as soon as the scene is done. High on style, low on content.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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