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Graveyard of Honor
In his lifetime director Kinji Fukasaku made well over 40 films, but it wasn't until his final film, Battle Royale, became an underground hit that most people in the United States became aware of his work. When Quentin Tarantino cited him as an influence in making Kill Bill, it was all but inevitable that sooner or later Fukasaku's work would be made readily available in the states. Thankfully that time is here.
Best know for his yakuza films, depicting morally corrupt Japanese gangsters on self destructive rampages, Fukasaku is credited with reinventing the yakuza film in the 1970s, first with his 1973 film Street Mobster, and then with the Battles Without Honor and Humanityseries. But it is his 1976 film, Graveyard of Honorthat is considered to be his true masterpiece. Brimming with the requisite nihilism and the break-neck kinetic energy that are Fukasaku's trademarks, and the rollercoaster-like cinematography of Hanjiro Nakazawa, this is a great introductory film to the work of Fukasaku and the yakuza genre.
Inspired by the life of notorious Japanese gangster Rikio Ishikawa (Tetsuya Watari), Graveyard of Honor is to the Japanese yakuza film what Goodfellas is to the American gangster film (with a touch of Scarface thrown in for good measure). But seeing as how Fukasaku's film predates both Scorsese and DiPalma's classics, it's important to place Graveyard of Honorin its proper place, at the highest ranks of gangster film.
As brutal and unrelenting as any film Fukasaku ever made, Graveyard of Honor follows the rise to power and nihilistic decline of Ishikawa in post-war Japan. And as with all of his yakuza films of the 1970s, Fukasaku deconstructs the long-standing mythology of Japanese gangsters, portraying them as killers, cowards, and back-stabbing thugs. Graveyard of Honor delivers those concepts in spades, portraying Rikio Ishikawa as a deadly disease that ravages everyone he comes in contact with. Starting out as little more than a common thug, Ishikawa became legendary for his violent ways, to the point that his fellow yakuza all feared him. Watari, seething with insanity, is electrifying as the unstoppable, heroin-addicted killer who, in one of the films most memorable moments, chows down on the cremated remains of his girlfriend.
Graveyard of Honor features a new digital transfer, and is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image quality is immaculate, and looks like the disc was master from a print that was struck yesterday. Newly translated subtitles are easy to read, and appear at the bottom of the screen, so as not to interfere with the picture.
Audio for Graveyard of Honor is presented in 2.0 Monaural. The film is presented in Japanese with optional English subtitles.
Graveyard of Honor features only a handful of extras, including A Portrait of Rage, a short 20 minute video essay about Kinji Fukasaku. For those unfamiliar with the director or his work, the featurette offers a few insights, but for his fans it comes up short (pun intended). There is also a somewhat boring interview Kenichi Oguri, who worked as an assistant director with Fukasaku.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]