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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Kanto Wanderer (Kanto mushuku) (1963)

"The yakuza code, in their fight, what will they wear, red or white?"
- Hanako (Cheiko Matsubara)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: February 03, 2004

Stars: Akira Kobayashi, Chieko Matsubara, Daizaburo Hirata, Hiroko Ito, Sanae Nakahara
Director: Seijun Suzuki

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, violence)
Run Time: 01h:32m:15s
Release Date: January 20, 2004
UPC: 037429186220
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

There is a scene in Kanto Wanderer that finds our protagonist, Katsuta (Akira Kobayashi), in trouble with the law. He has come to this point willingly, unaware of the ultimate futility of his actions. The man he has just protected has suddenly become insignificant, yet Katsuta's convictions remain stronger than ever. This is the way of the yakuza, where life means living on the edge of a blade—one false step could land you in red clothing (prison) or in white (death).

Director Seijun Suzuki's colorful film history includes many tales of Japanese criminal bosses and the underlings that do his dirty work. In this 1963 entry, Suzuki does not present a distinct plotline, but a slice of yakuza life, culled from a continuous tale of crime, honor, love, loyalty, prostitution, gambling and ultimately, the desire to live on the top. Films like this could easily fall into a glorification mode. Generally, directors want their audience to identify with or support a main character. When your main characters are essentially a group of criminals (even though some within that group try to live honorably), it is simple to romanticize such activity, making crime seem reputable. Suzuki does not succumb to this trap.

Katsuta is a traditionalist, bent on upholding the yakuza code at all costs. He wears the kimono, not suits, and though he appears as a time-displaced samurai in the vein of Mifune's Sanjuro, make no mistake—he is yakuza through and through. Times are changing, though. Tradition is making way for modern sensibilities, infusing an air of irrationality into his exaggerated cohorts. Being surrounded by such greed, carelessness and selfishness is disturbing to him, yet he respects their place in the code.

As Katsuta's boss, Izu, gains more assets, other gangs vie for power. Katsuta desperately tries to give the clan a façade of power, but when his fellow member sells a young, willing teenage schoolgirl named Hanako (Cheiko Matsubara) into prostitution, he grows concerned. The gang's gambling operations are frequently disrupted by the police, and things are getting more difficult to maintain. To complicate matters, Katsuta encounters Mrs. Hachi (Hiroko Ito), a love interest from his past. She is now married to an illustrious card sharper, who swindles money freely from scores of willing businessmen through cunning and deceptively simple tricks. Hachi is also sister to a member of a rival gang who wrongs Izu, forcing Katsuta to choose between honor and love. Skirmishes occur and consequences follow, completing a bleak picture of the treacherous side of yakuza life.

This film takes an interesting approach to the material. As stated, Suzuki chooses not to glorify the material or to depict its overwhelming brutality, but to show the consequences and difficulties of such a life. The film ends on an appropriately dark note, driving this point home. Kobayashi's performance also captures the desperation of trying to live on crime. At the same time, there is an almost comedic pitch to many scenes, some of which include a band of giggling, naïve, yet sexually curious schoolgirls. Exaggerations are evident, embodied in Katsuta's conspicuous facial scar and bold, painted eyebrows. Though there are many strengthts, some moments can feel rather empty and ultimately come off as filler.

Stylistically, this work is unique. Lighting takes on a very theatrical approach, changing drastically during the course of a scene (similar to Vittorio Storaro's work in the first Dune mini-series). This is not meant to emulate weather conditions, but to heighten emotion. Red hues make a memorable appearance during one of the film's very few scenes of violence. Like many Japanese films from this era, odd zooms and somewhat clumsy framing can pop up. Suzuki is clearly an experimental director, and showcases some interesting trials here.

Home Vision continues their recent line of '60s and '70s Japanese cinema, in conjunction with the American Cinematheque. This release is well-timed with Criterion's Crime Wave film series on IFC, which includes two other Suzuki films: Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: HVe continues to impress by delivering a beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. Suzuki does not utilize the 'scope frame as well as some of his counterparts, but his distinctive style is well captured. There is very little grain, and the image is surprisingly clean with good contrast and no edge enhancement. Colors are washed out at times and the image has a very soft appearance that causes some elements to lose detail if they are further away. These issues are probably present in the source, which is characteristic of films of the era.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: As expected, the Dolby 2.0 mono track has very limited range, but captures dialogue, sound effects and music well. There is some minor hiss, but it does not distract. Perfectly acceptable for this kind of material.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Liner notes by Tom Mes of Midnighteye.com
Extras Review: On the disc, Home Vision has included the film's theatrical trailer and a director's filmography. The insert has a very informative essay by Tom Mes that provides a welcome cinematic context for the viewer. That's all, folks.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Suzuki's film is an admirable exploration of the consequences and difficulties that arise from a life of upholding the yakuza code. A slightly experimental style fuses with scenes that are comedic, dramatic, and sometimes flat. Still, this is an intriguing work that deserves attention. Recommended.


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