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Sydney Pollack
Robert Mitchum, Ken Takakura, Brian Keith, Herb Edelman, Richard Jordan, Keiko Kishi, Eiji Okada, James Shigeta, Kyosuke Mashida, Christina Kokubo
Writing Credits:
Leonard Schrader (story), Paul Schrader, Robert Towne

A man never forgets. A man pays his debts.

From Academy Award-winning director Sidney Pollack (The Firm, Absence of Malice) comes this suspenseful adventure about a Harry Kilmer (Oscar-nominee Robert Mitchum, Cape Fear), an American man determined to rescue his employer's kidnapped daughter from the Japanese mafia in Kyoto. Written by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) and Acadamy Award-winner Robert Towne (Chinatown, Tequila Sunrise). "Dazzling displays of swordplay," praises Newsweek, while Rex Reed proclaims this "an exciting, riveting, totally original motion picture."

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Monaural
French Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 112 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 1/23/2007

• Audio Commentary with Director Sydney Pollack
• “…Promises to Keep” Vintage Featurette


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

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The Yakuza (1974)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 18, 2007)

Veteran tough guy Robert Mitchum goes to Japan in a 1974 thriller called The Yakuza. Kato Jiro (Kyosuke Mashida) joins the Tono gang and acts as their agent in Los Angeles. As one duty, he visits George Tanner (Brian Keith) and warns him that Tanner needs to repay his debts to the Tono.

Tanner visits his buddy Harry Kilmer (Mitchum) and asks for his assistance. Tanner wants his pal to use an old relationship with Tanaka Ken (Takakura Ken) to grease some wheels. With that the men head back to Japan, a land they once knew as part of the US military occupation. They go with Dusty (Richard Jordan), Tanner’s “bodyguard” and the son of a mutual war buddy.

The movie follows Harry’s path in Japan. He looks up his long-lost love Tanaka Eiko (Kishi Keiko) before he reconnects with her brother Ken. We watch as these relationships re-complicate and go into the story as Harry deals with various Japanese gangs and problems.

The Japanese setting and society manage to enliven what otherwise might have been a fairly pedestrian thriller. Actually, that’s not totally true, as the movie’s backstories allow it to feature a level of emotional maturity unusual for this sort of flick. The presence of so many older actors and the emphasis on their relationships creates something a little different. This isn’t a simple gangster tale in a foreign setting ala Black Rain. Instead, the film invests its tale with the prior lives of its characters and makes us feel those bonds as it progresses.

Yakuza also manages to follow a surprisingly Eastern approach to its story. This can be frustrating at times, especially during the film’s first half-hour or so. The opening act moves at a painfully slow pace, as it really takes quite a while for the various plot points to emerge. It’s easy to grow impatient with the tale since it doesn’t throw the usual story elements at us in rapid succession; the flick makes us wait to get all the details.

But Yakuza isn’t really about its plot. Sure, the film features quite a lot of story our way when push comes to shove. It gets into a lot of elements related to Tanner’s mistakes and other gang-related intrigue.

However, Yakuza really doesn’t seem to care about those. It’s more about the Japanese way of thought and its concepts of honor and ethics. We see the intersection of East and West, but not in the clumsy “ugly American” view usually observed. Harry is fully cognizant of the Japanese system and remains conscious of that throughout the film. It’s the way the movie examines these ideas and their execution that makes the film interesting.

Ultimately, The Yakuza proves unusual and successful. While the slow pacing can cause some impatience, the movie uses its time to better explore its characters and relationships. Because of that, the story prospers and boasts greater depth than usual.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

The Yakuza appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not a stellar transfer, the movie usually presented positive visuals.

My biggest complaints connected to source flaws. Through the film, I noticed a mix of specks and marks. These were fairly inconsequential, though, and only truly distracted in a few sequences.

Colors were also a little off at times. Though most of the flick featured clear, full tones, some scenes looked a bit muddy in that “Seventies” way. Nonetheless, the majority of the movie offered accurate hues. Blacks were nicely deep and full, while shadows looked clear and smooth.

Sharpness was generally solid. I thought a few scenes early seemed a bit iffy, but those were rare. Most of the movie seemed crisp and concise. No issues with jagged edges, shimmering, or edge enhancement materialized. All in all, the transfer satisfied.

Don’t expect anything memorable from the monaural soundtrack of The Yakuza. This was a consistently average mix. Speech sounded a little thin but the lines were always concise and easily intelligible. Music lacked much range but seemed clear and didn’t suffer from any shrillness. The same went for effects. Though I failed to notice much dynamic range from those elements, the effects seemed acceptably distinctive, and they lacked distortion. This was a decent track for an older flick.

Two extras fill out the package. First we get an audio commentary from director Sydney Pollack. He offers a running, screen-specific chat. Pollack discusses what led him to the project, the script and its development, shooting in Japan and working with Japanese crew, cast and performances, some background about the Yakuza and Japanese culture, action scenes and choreography, and various other production topics.

At his best, Pollack offers a good examination of the flick. He tells us a reasonable amount about the shoot and other issues and makes the chat informative. He even gets into details about his storyboarding preferences and his choice of aspect ratio. Unfortunately, more than a little dead air crops up along the way, and those moments cause the track to drag. It’s still worth a listen, though.

A “vintage featurette” called …Promises to Keep runs 19 minutes, 22 seconds. This takes us on location to Japan with the movie production. We learn a little about Japanese culture and also watch aspects of the shoot. A few comments from Pollack about subjects such as working in Japan emerge as well. We get too many movie shots; those can make “Keep” feel like a trailer. Nonetheless, the glimpses of the shoot and Pollack’s notes allow the program to become interesting.

The Yakuza offers a somewhat unusual thriller. Rather than pursue a simple course, it takes a windier path toward its destination, a choice that allows its underlying themes to develop in a satisfying way. The DVD presents fairly good picture with decent audio and a couple of useful extras. The film merits a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 10
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