Better known in North America as Yakuza's Law: Lynching, director Teruo Ishii's 1969 film for Toei opens with what is basically an atrocity exhibition, showcasing what should happen to those either unlucky or foolish enough to cross the Yakuza. From there? We essentially journey through time as the film offers up three different short stories that showcase the cruelty and violence that the Yakuza has been known for throughout the ages.
The first story is set in feudal times, the Edo Period to be exact, where we learn the story of a man played by iconic Japanese film star Bunta Sugawara. The second story takes place in the Meiji Period and follows an exiled man named Ogata (Minoru Oki) as her returns after a stint in jail to his home town to face up to the punishment that he knows will be meted out to him because of what he's done in the past. The third story takes place in the present day of 1969 and shows what happens when a Yakuza clan decides to exact revenge on the man who stole one hundred thousand yen from them.
The concept here is ridiculously simple: those who break Yakuza law will be punished. This entry in the director's ‘joys of torture' series, a run that started with 1968's Shogun's Joy Of Torture, is light on plot but each of the three tales gives us enough background on the different characters that populate this world to work. The main focus of the film, however, if it wasn't made clear by the opening montage, is on the horrible acts of brutality that are inflicted on those who cross the Yakuza. It's here, in these scenes, that Ishii and company get creative. We won't spoil the set pieces here so as not to ruin things for those who haven't seen the film before, but there are some pretty outlandish ways displayed in the film in which the gangster do away with their foes, clearly intended to maximize pain and bloodshed.
While not all of the effects are completely convincing, and a lot of the blood is remarkably red, but most of what we see here works, despite a few clearly fake appendages. The effects work is more than solid for its day, and the production values here are decent overall. The score suits the tone of the stories and their different respective violent set pieces and the cinematography is solid. In terms of casting, Bunta Sugawara lends his inimitable screen presence to the first story, which is a highlight, but it's cool to see Minoru Oki from Shogun Assassin show up here as well.
Yakuza Law may be a bizarre, unsettling and deliriously violent picture but, like most of Ishii's work from the sixties and seventies, it's very well made and certainly unique and creative. His trademark ability to blend genres works in the film's favor, and it is well-paced, none of the stories feel overly long or padded. He made better movies than this and he made more accessible movies than this but overall, Yakuza Law is definitely a solid entry in Ishii's filmography and one that his ever-expanding fanbase should certainly appreciate.
Arrow brings Yakuza Law to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and generally speaking it looks quite nice. The picture is free of noticeable compression artifacts. Color reproduction looks quite good and we get decent black levels as well. Skin tones look fine and there's only minor print damage noticeable in a few occasional instances here and there. Overall, this is a nice transfer.
The only audio option on the disc is an LPCM Mono track in the film's native Japanese language. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. There is some minor sibilance in a couple of spots but otherwise the track is fine. The levels are balanced properly and there aren't any issues with any hiss or distortion. The subtitles are clean, clear and easy to read.
The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary track with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp. It's an excellent track that offers a lot of background information on the film, but that also provides some welcome social context as well. Sharp explains how and why Ishii would come to make this film, offers some historical information not just on the film and those who made it but also on the Yakuza itself, details the history of the cast members and quite a bit more.
Erotic Grotesque And Genre Hopping is a forty-eight-minute archival interview with the late director in which he covers a lot of ground. This isn't specific to this particular film as it sees him talking about many of his career highlights, offering his thoughts on the work he did in different genres as well as some of the people that he collaborated with over the years. It's very interesting and, for Ishii fans, quite a treat.
Rounding out the extras are a still gallery, menus and chapter selection options.
Yakuza Law might not be the best starting point for those new to Teruo Ishii's work but for those familiar with and accepting of his penchant for the bizarre and the way he combines art and violence, it's a very rewarding watch made all the better by the presence of the eternally cool Bunta Sugawara. Arrow's Blu-ray looks and sounds quite nice and features some good supplements too. Recommended.