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Kino on Video presents
Yakuza Graveyard (1976)

Iwata: You're the wildest, stupidest cop I ever met. I can take punches, but you sure know how to give'em.
Kuroiwa: Been doin' this since I was a kid.

- Tatsuo Umemiya, Tetsuya Watari

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: June 26, 2006

Stars: Tetsuya Watari, Meiko Kaji, Takuzo Umemiya, Seizo Fukumoto, Hideo Murota, Nagisa Oshima
Director: Kinji Fukasaku

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for violence, language, nudity, adult themes, drug use
Run Time: 01h:31m:59s
Release Date: June 27, 2006
UPC: 738329046729
Genre: gangster

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BB-C- C-

DVD Review

We've been very lucky in the age of DVD to get releases by directors who were previously underepresented in terms of Western exposure. One of those is Kinji Fukasaku, whose body of work has received a number of fine releases from Home Vision, to name one. His visceral, often angry films use such populist genres as yakuza to prod Japanese audiences into seeing the ugly underbelly of their society. Two more of his gangster films have now been released by Kino, and they're each a bracing shot of the Fukasaku ethos. This review looks at Yakuza Graveyard (Yakuza no hakaba: Kuchinashi no hana); click here for the review of Cops vs Thugs.

Yakuza Graveyard's title bears a double meaning, as Fukasaku and screenwriter Kazuo Kasahara (who wrote Fukasaku's epic Yakuza Papers series) tell a story filled with death, not only in a literal sense, but in a metaphorical one as well, as the never-ending hunt for the big money results in the death of the old ways. At the story's center is Kuroiwa (Tetsuya Watari), a volatile cop who has already seen disciplining after a fatal shooting. Back after a rural exile, Kuroiwa gets involved in a turf war between two yakuza families, the Nishida and the Yamashita. The Nishida are small-time in relation to their foes who have the money, the business ties, and the police in their pocket. Kuroiwa is warned off by his superiors, but continues to work his beat, and discovers that he has more in common with the Nishida than he does his fellow cops.

The film is framed through the viewpoint of outsiders; Kuroiwa, eventual mistress Keiko (Meiko Kaji), and Nishida leader Iwata (Tatsuo Umemiya), all of whom would have been considered inferior due to their non-Japanese blood. Kuroiwa, born in China, Keiko, who is half-Korean, and Iwata, a full-blooded Korean, bond naturally through their outsider status. The film forms a pair of sorts with Cops vs Thugs; both films even introduce the lead the same way, with the respective cops of each film allowing petty yakuza thugs to go about their business before letting them know who's watching them. In a larger sense, each film features lead characters who, as cops, find more in common with the classic yakuza and its world of honor instead of the establishment and its deep-seated corruption. That identification leads nowhere, as the yakuza world is obviously just as corrupt as the establishment, even if Iwata and his ilk want to believe differently.

The film features its fair share of violence, which is nothing unusual for Fukasaku's work, especially his yakuza films. His use of handheld camera and frenetic editing creates a viewing experience that is immediately gripping, though the script for this film sags a bit in the characterization; having Kuroiwa constantly punching his fist into his palm to indicate his barely contained aggression and contempt for the legal way of doing things comes off as rather forced from Watari, who makes something of a spectacle of it. Otherwise, this is recommended as a fine genre exercise by one of its best proponents.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Kino has presented Yakuza Graveyard in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and the image is generally solid looking and moderately colorful.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio end comes off worse than the image, with a shrill, tinny sound that is occasionally unpleasant to listen to.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Cops vs Thugs
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Publicity stills gallery
Extras Review: Kino has provided the same type extras as Yakuza Graveyard; a trailer, a brief photo gallery, and an insert with the original Japanese poster art.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Fukasaku's profile can only go up in the West, and films like this one should only help that effort. Yakuza Graveyard is a bitter pill of a film, a bumpy ride with a doomed man. Kino's DVD is fine, with a decent if not stellar picture.


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