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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Blackmail Is My Life (Kyokatsu koso waga jinsei) (1968)

Shun: There are three rules to blackmail—
Otoki: Don't make any new friends.
Zero: Don't push too hard.
Seki: Never hit up the same mark twice.

- Hiroki Matsukata, Tomomi Sato, Akira Jo, Hideo Murota

Review By: Robert Edwards  
Published: January 27, 2004

Stars: Hiroki Matsukata, Tomomi Sato, Akira Jo, Hideo Murota
Other Stars: Yooko Mihara, Tetsuro Tamba
Director: Kinji Fukasaku

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, sex)
Run Time: 01h:29m:17s
Release Date: January 06, 2004
UPC: 688321200622
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B-CB- B

DVD Review

Director Kinji Fukasaku is best known for 2000's controversial Battle Royale, which has been released in many DVD versions in just about every region (except region 1). But he's had a long and distinguished career in his native Japan, directing some 60-odd films from the early 1960s until his death last year. Under the auspices of the American Cinemathèque, Home Vision have released two of his earlier films, and one of those is Blackmail Is My Life.

It's the tale of four partners, Shun (Hiroki Matsukata), Otoki (Tomomi Sato), Noguchi—aka "Zero" (Akira Jo), and Seki (Hideo Murota). As we quickly learn, they're in the blackmail business, and they've just discovered that a nearby "safe house" is secretly filming the call girls and their clients. Sensing a potentially lucrative opportunity, the four decide to infiltrate the house and horn in on their business.

As the plot moves along, we learn in flashback how the partners met and discovered blackmail as a career, how Shun got involved with a beautiful, but unwilling actress (hint: it involves blackmail), and snippets of Shun's and Otoki's pasts. Soon, they decide to move on to bigger and better things, and Shun's almost-accidental saving of a government minister from an assassin's bullet provides them with the chance to obtain a secret memo that could potentially bring down the government. But bigger and better also means more dangerous, and the self-described "punks" might just be in over their heads.

If there's one word to describe Blackmail is My Life, it's "fun." Just about every element of the film is a joy, from the briskly moving plot to Fukasaku's visual style. Obviously influenced by the French New Wave, he pulls out all the stops, from flashbacks that start out in black-and white-and then change to (beautiful) color, to freeze-frames, zippy pans and zooms, and unusual camera angles. The visual style is completely in keeping with the fractured narrative, and the bright '60s color scheme and Hajime Kaburagi's pop-y score are like more frosting on the cake.

But it's not just bubbly froth, and the film does contain some serious elements. There is a fair amount of violence, although even the bloodiest scenes are hard to take entirely seriously, at least from the viewpoint of 2004. And there is some implicit criticism of Japan's affluent society (Shun says the blackmailees "won't even feel the pinch"), and a seriously cynical depiction of the government. But on the whole, this is not a film to ponder or think about too much—it's a film to enjoy.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image is plagued constantly by grain, which worsens in the darker scenes, and is constantly distracting. It's so egregious that one wonders if the transfer were made from a 16mm rather than 35mm print. But the colors are bright and pop-y, and the amount of black level is not unreasonable for a film of this vintage.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Japaneseyes

Audio Transfer Review: The mono sound is limited in fidelity and occasionally sounds harsh. There is quite a bit of music in the film, and one wishes that the mono sound could have been better, but Home Vision probably did as good a job as they could with the source materials on hand.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview with director Kinji Fukasaku
  2. Printed insert with chapter listing and liner notes
Extras Review: A director filmography is included, and the two pages of notes by Patric Macias are both interesting and informative. The most important extra is an 18-minute interview with director Fukasaku, which is filmed in black-and-white, nonanamorphic widescreen (but the subtitles appear on the image, so it can be blown up on a widescreen television). He discusses his early influences and the genesis of Blackmail Is My Life. But most interesting for fans of Japanese film is his rather lengthy discussion of the contrasting studio styles of Toei, whose crime films always had to end in the cathartic death of the bad guys; and Shochiku, whose films concentrated more on process, and even allowed their protagonists to fail in their mission against evil.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Kinji Fukasaku's Blackmail Is My Life is an enjoyable '60s Japanese crime saga whose serious thematic elements mix with a dynamic plot and visual style to create a delightful whole. The only negative to the DVD is the distractingly grainy transfer.


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