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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Graveyard of Honor (1975)

"What a laugh. Thirty years of madness."
- Rikio Ishikawa (Tetsuya Watari), scrawled on his jail cell

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: December 13, 2004

Stars: Tetsuya Watari
Director: Kinji Fukasaku

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, drug use, sexual content)
Run Time: 01h:33m:35s
Release Date: September 07, 2004
UPC: 037429197523
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C+B+B C+

DVD Review

The liberation in filmmaking brought about by the demise of the studio system and the Hays Code didn't stop at the California coast of the Pacific Ocean; on the other side of the pond, in Japan, old genres were being reinvigorated as well, by a new generation of filmmakers. Kinji Fukasaku may have been the foremost director of gangster pictures of his era, and his best and most famous work is roughly contemporary with the first two Godfather movies; in many respects, Graveyard of Honor is the apotheosis of his anarchic, kinetic storytelling and filmmaking style, but even if you're not steeped in the period or the genre, it's easy to get swept up by the energy of this angry, difficult, energetic movie.

Fukasaku tells the true story of Rikio Ishikawa, one of the legendary yakuza figures of postwar Japan. The pre-credit sequence is almost documentary in its style, the tale of a young man who wants to get in with the bad boys, and hence moves to Tokyo; it's a familiar story, one that's parallel to that of Henry Hill and Tony Montana. The movie chronicles the fast life and violent death of Ishikawa, and in many respects is less interesting as a character study than as a portrait of the time and place. The narrative starts more or less in 1946, in which the American military presence is a fact of everyday life; the tensions stemming from that are compounded by those between the Japanese and the so-called "third nationals"—i.e., Chinese, Koreans, Thais and others living in Japan, who hate the Japanese for the ways in which their countrymen were treated during World War II. The ethnic and nationalistic tensions are the steady pulse that lies under much of this movie.

Ishikawa is certainly a cowboy, and probably a psychopath; what's most dangerous about him in his world is that he violates the code that the yakuza swear to live by, when, for instance, he attacks the local mob boss. Forget about law enforcement: he gets banished from Tokyo by the yakuza for ten years, but recklessly returns after eighteen months, daring to take on all comers. With a character like this, it's difficult for Fukasaku to get the empathy of his audience—this is a guy who rapes hookers for sport, more or less, and in his down time, during his brief exile, hangs out with the junkie whores of Osaka. (Very glamorous, the gangster life.) But the political sense that everything is up for grabs is kind of extraordinary—one local yakuza runs for a seat in the parliament, for instance, and he's a pretty fearsome candidate, in all kinds of ways.

Tetsuya Watari is charismatic in the lead role, though there's little or no introspection to the character; Fukasaku even tosses in a half-hearted personal relationship, basically Ishikawa and a geisha with a heart of gold. But what you'll take away from the film is probably not character specifics, but the show-offy and impressive filmmaking style, along with these lives of relentless violence. This isn't a movie for those weak of stomach; on the other hand, it's very easy to imagine Quentin Tarantino and his acolytes just going gaga for this stuff.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The print used for the transfer has the unrestored, faded look of many mid-1970s pictures, and while it's got its familiar pleasures, it's not as crisp as it might be. The work from Home Vision is certainly professional, though, and consistently rendered.†

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono track is well modulated, with little hiss or pop.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Street Mobster, The Yakuza Papers, HVE Zatoichi trailer
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. accompanying booklet with an essay on the film by Tom Mes†
Extras Review: A Portrait of Rage (19m:44s) features discussions with a number of Fukasakuís collaborators and friends (including his A.D., his son, and his biographer), providing more context for the director's yakuza films, and filling in some useful biographical information on Fukasaku's experiences during World War II. On the Set with Fukasaku (05m:33s) is an interview with Kenichi Oguri, the assistant director on the film, now a director himself; he remembers especially the speed with which Fukasaku worked. The accompanying essay is interesting as well, comparing this film in its time and impact to The French Connection and Taxi Driver. You'll also find a Fukasaku filmography, and occasional typos in the subtitles—e.g., "a official document."

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Stylish and violent mid-70s Japanese filmmaking; you probably already know if you're a fan of this stuff, and if you are, this one's for you.


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