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Due to ongoing police pressure, a few yakuza clans have decided to do the honorable thing, disband and seek their fortunes elsewhere. However, the small scale Onogi clan doesnt want to give up their turf and refuses to sign the pact. Second in command, Yuji (Akira Kobayashi- Kanto Wanderer, Black Tight Killers), loyaly supports his boss and continues business as usual until some thugs start showing up and giving the townspeople trouble. The thugs belong to the Kansai Association, a group fo yakuza who are moving in to swallow up the recently abandoned territories.
A scuffle with the insurgents leads to the death of one of the Onogi crew. Despite their thirst for vengeance, the Onogi boss insists that Yuji and his men don't make waves. The clan is on its own and cannot afford going to war, so they set up a truce mediation between the Onogi and the Kansai. However, during some ritual gambling as part of the peace process, the Onogi must borrow and sign over much of their belongings rather than lose face. The final twist is that the Kansai buy out the Onogi's debt from their loan shark and make it nearly impossible for the clan to pay off its debt. The trail of trickery and deceit can only lead to warfare, and soon the conflict leads to knives being drawn and lives put on the line for the families honor.
This was a bit of a surprise. In the handful of Hasebe films I've seen, all share a similar offbeat sense and style which is largely abandoned in this gangster film. The films shares more of the serious tone of a Kinji Fukasaku film than a psychedelic Seijun Suzuki flick. Unfortunately, while it has a lot of potential and familiar themes, the deadpan nature stifles this "honorable" yakuza tale. Gangster film staple Akira Kobayashi cannot help but look cool (if Charles Bronson had the squint, Peter Sellers had the mischievious glint in his eyes, and Veronica Lake had the hair- you could say that Kobayashi had the sneer), but while he and his cronies strut around town accompanied by a bebopping theme, the film never explodes like a good hard boiled crime film should. The film sticks to a low simmer, which makes it hard to care, and by the end, the tension isn't as high as it should be.
The DVD: Home Vision
Picture Anamorphic Widescreen. The print is pretty much spotless and free of any age damage. It is a bit on the softer/muted side. But, then again, perhaps I was just expecting it to contain the psychedelic visuals of Hasebe's other works. Grain is apparent, but in acceptable levers for a thirty+ year old film. Contrast is nice and deep. Very nice looking, even a step up from Home Vision's release of Hasebe's Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter.
Sound: Mono, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Keen ears may detect some minor hiss in a few scenes, but overall the dialogue and music score are crisp and clear.
Extras: Liner Notes— Yasuharu Hasebe Filmography— Trailer for the film plus Zatoichi collection promo trailer.
Conclusion: Well, it is a mediocre affair. Thankfully, the trasnfer is good and low priced. Casual fans may want to save it for a rental while yakuza/Jpn film freaks can consider it as a casual purchase.