The menu screen on this disc titles the film Lust And Honor, the subtitles on screen titled the film Yakuza Goddess: Lust And Honor while the cover art uses the title Yakuza Justice: Erotic Code Of Honor. Call it what you will, this 1973 offering from famed pink film directed Tatsumi Kumashiro (probably best known for his seminal The Woman With Red Hair) is a pretty wild ride.
When the film begins, a Buddhist monk finds himself an unlikely midwife when, while out fishing in the river near his monetary, he pulls in the lifeless body of a very recently murdered pregnant woman. The baby still alive inside her, he delivers the child and raises the boy in the monastery. From there, jump ahead twenty years where the baby boy is now a young man named Seigen (Jiro Okazaki of Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter). Having excelled in his studies, his mentors consider him next in line to become head priest. All of this changes one day when he's forced to defend a young woman he comes across from a group of Yakuza thugs. After he saves her life, she repays him physically, noting in the midst of their passion that she 'feels it right to the bone.' After a passionate lovemaking session in the waters of the same river from which his mother's corpse was dragged, he learns that she's the daughter of a yakuza boss.
Not wanting much to do with the daughter of a crime lord, he tries to get this girl, Misako (Nozomi Yasuda), off of his mind but it's to no avail. When he learns that he and she have the same father, however, he rebukes his former Buddhist lifestyle and falls fast, head first, into a life of crime. Making up for lost time, Seigen lays with prostitutes, gets in with gangsters, and plots his way back to the sister he knows he shouldn't love but who he can't stop thinking about. And we'll leave it at that.
A twisted, bloody virtually unknown gem of a film, Yakuza Justice: Erotic Code Of Honor falls somewhere in between the more traditional Yakuza Films made by the likes of Kinji Fukasaku and the Pink Films and Roman Porno Films that Nikkatsu, who produced this picture, became known for. Kumashiro's film, based on the script by Youzou Tanaka (who wrote Zigeunerweisen) is unrelenting in its nihilism as our central character slowly begins to accept his position as a reprobate. Sex in the film is generally an act of power and sometimes of violence rather than an act of passion or love, the only exception (and it's a notable one) being the first time Seigen and Misako make love where, before they learn of their relation, they're able to fully give themselves to each other. The rest of the time, darkness is favored over passion (though certain scenes are not devoid of eroticism), the prime example being a scene where Seigen uses his gun on a woman. Using the gun as a phallic symbol is rarely done as blatantly as it is here, right down to the money shot.
Moving at a good pace and carefully composed, Yakuza Justice: Erotic Code Of Honor is a very well put together film on a technical level. Western audiences may be put off by the matting the obscures any instance of pubic hair or genitalia appearing on screen. Japanese censorship laws were very strict at the time that this picture was made and so it's not uncommon to see large black squares in the middle of what would otherwise be a very graphic sex scene, but that issue aside (a regulation filmmakers were forced to abide by), the cinematography is excellent. Long, languid shots of the waterfall that sits near the monastery are picturesque and make for a serene backdrop to an otherwise very nasty little movie. Recurring Buddhist imagery and theology plays a big part in making the film as unique as it is, contrasting the serene monks with Seigen's quite literal fall from grace and some of this may be lost on those unfamiliar with the basics of the religion but it shouldn't affect anyone's appreciation or understanding of the film enough to be a problem.
Yakuza Justice: Erotic Code Of Honor may not be as well known as other Japanese cult films made in and around the same time but it certainly deserves to be. It's well acted by its principal leads, both of whom give rather daring performances here and it succeeds in hitting that right blend of art and sleaze that make the best exploitation films so enjoyable regardless of where they came from. Part crime film, part sex movie, Yakuza Justice: Erotic Code Of Honor is as impressive as it is entertaining, twisted and unpredictable.
Yakuza Justice: Erotic Code Of Honor arrives on DVD in a decent 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents the film in its original aspect ratio and is flagged for progressive scan playback. Color reproduction looks nice and accurate as do flesh tones save for a few scenes that are just a bit on the dark side and where skin can look just a little orange. Detail is generally strong though some scenes are definitely softer than others and it's hard not to notice this. There are no major problems with print damage or noticeable debris, in fact, the image is surprisingly clean looking. Some grain is present, which is to be expected, but otherwise the film looks very good. The film was reportedly released in Japan by Geneon but that disc didn't have subtitles. Without the disc available to review, it's impossible to say if it's the same transfer or not.
The Japanese language Dolby Digital Mono track on the DVD sounds fine. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and the performers are always audible. The score sounds good but doesn't ever get overly loud and the levels are all properly balanced. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
Disappointingly, aside from a rather tacky looking menu offering up chapter selection, the only supplement on the disc is the film's original Japanese theatrical trailer, presented in anamorphic widescreen and running 1:57. Unfortunately, the trailer hasn't been subtitled.
Yakuza Justice: Erotic Code Of Honor won't be for all tastes but anyone with an appreciation for the Yakuza and Pink films that the Japanese were churning out with interesting results in the seventies would do well to give it a shot. It's stylish, well acted, and genuinely surprising and if it goes a little over the top at times, so be it. Kim Stim/Kino's DVD is weak in the extras area and the transfer isn't perfect, but overall it's a decent, if barebones presentation that comes highly recommended on the strength of the film.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.