Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Kinji Fukasaku's scattershot yakuza saga poses as the true documentary story of a real post-war thug, a loose cannon
far too reckless for the even his own gangland buddies. Filmed with an erratic handheld camera, it covers all the
bases in corruption and venality but doesn't offer much insight to its subject or Japanese history.
Rikio Ishikawa (Tetsuya Watari) makes himself a notorious outcast in the post WW2 turf wars on the
streets of Japan. He picks brutal fights with rival Chinese and Korean gangs, but also refuses to follow orders of
his own leaders and is eventually given ten years' suspension from gang activity. Helped by sympathetic friends,
he tries to rejoin but betrays every code in the yakuza book by striking one superior and killing another.
With a long-time, long-suffering girlfriend, Rikio eventually becomes a drug addict.
In the 70s explosion of violent and increasingly nihilistic yakuza films, Fukasaku's Graveyard of Honor searches
for originality with its 'true biography' account of Rikio, a violent sociopath who cannot function for a day without
commiting some outrage or another. That's all we ever really learn about him, even with flashbacks to not-particularly
illuminating childhood traumas. Even though an objective narrator peppers the story with regular updates on Rikio's
criminal progress, the thug never becomes an interesting character.
Rikio is incapable of forming any normal human contacts, although he allies for a number of years with a fellow
drug addict, and abuses a common-law female companion for decades. In true yakuza "meeting cute" fashion, she hides
a gun for Rikio and is then cruelly raped for her trouble. In yakuza films women always seem to be drawn
to the men who rape them, so this innocent starts a life of humiliation and drugs that the film treats as a
positive relationship. The title refers to the aged and dying Rikio's act of giving her an honorable burial, which
seems pointless after a life of mistreatment.
There's nothing wrong with picking a radical filming style, but Kinji Fukasaku frequently opts for visuals that
but disorganized chaos. Early fight scenes crowd dozens of people before a jerking, blurring camera and the action
is such a mess that we can't tell for a moment what is going on. Another scene has two people carrying on a conversation
in the middle of a drunken orgy, shot with a long lens as loud revelers stumble and grapple all around them. We're
incapable of understanding what the scene is supposed to telling us. There are plenty of scenes shot in a normal
fashion, but Fukasaku's style is highly suspicious - it seems a
way of getting a 'scene' in the can with the least effort possible.
There's plenty of violence, drug use, casual nudity and blood that looks like fire engine red paint, all shot in a
disjointed way. The erratic technique substitutes pace for characterization, precluding our emotional involvement.
Graveyard of Honor barely tells a story and is for yakuza fans entertained by the abstract, ragged edge of
Home Vision Entertainment's DVD of Graveyard of Honor is a stunning enhanced transfer of a movie that scrupulously
hides any notion of design or preplanning. The blaring soundtrack is also clearly reproduced. The disc docus A
Portrait of Rage and On the Set with Fukasaku laud the long career of the maker of Battle Royale
and Battles without Honor and Humanity (soon to come to DVD) without really defining his merit for the
unacquainted. Liner notes by Tom Mes place Graveyard of Honor within the evolution of the yakuza genre.
There are trailers for this feature and several other Fukasaku crime films.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Graveyard of Honor rates:
Movie: Good -
Supplements: two docus, trailers
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 21, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson