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Sydney Pollack
Robert Mitchum, Ken Takakura, Brian Keith
Writing Credits:
Paul Schrader, Robert Towne

Harry Kilmer returns to Japan after several years in order to rescue his friend George's kidnapped daughter - and ends up on the wrong side of the Yakuza, the notorious Japanese mafia.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 112 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 2/14/2017

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


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

The Yakuza [Blu-Ray] (1974)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 20, 2017)

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 warns George Tanner (Brian Keith) that the American 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, as it gets into a lot of elements related to Tanner’s mistakes and other gang-related intrigue.

However, Yakuza doesn’t seem to care much 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 Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

The Yakuza appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a high-quality presentation.

Sharpness was solid. I thought a few scenes early seemed a smidgen soft, but those were rare, so most of the movie seemed crisp and concise. No issues with jagged edges, shimmering, or edge enhancement materialized. Print flaws also failed to appear.

Colors looked positive. At times the hues could threaten to become overly dense, but they remained warm and rich. Blacks were nicely deep and full, while shadows looked clear and smooth. The final product presented the film well.

Don’t expect anything memorable from the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of The Yakuza, as this was a consistently average mix for its age. 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.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original 2007 DVD? Audio seemed fairly similar, as the lossless mix couldn’t add much to the limitations of the source. The DTS-HD MA track might’ve boasted a little more range but not much.

On the other hand, the visuals brought us clear improvements. The Blu-ray gave us stronger definition as well as more natural colors and reduced print flaws. The Blu-ray was an obvious step up from the DVD.

The Blu-ray repeats the DVD’s extras, and we get an audio commentary from director Sydney Pollack. He offers a running, screen-specific chat that looks at 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.

In addition to the film’s trailer, a “vintage featurette” called Promises to Keep runs 19 minutes, 26 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, and 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 Blu-ray presents very good picture with decent audio and a few useful extras. The film merits a look and the Blu-ray upgrades the DVD well.

To rate this film visit the original review of THE YAKUZA

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