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The Wolves
The Wolves
Actors: Ky˘ko Enami, Hisashi Igawa, Komaki Kurihara, Tatsuya Nakadai, Isao Natsuyagi
Director: Hideo Gosha
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Mystery & Suspense
UR     2008     2hr 11min

At the dawn of the Showa Era, the new Emperor has granted amnesty to almost 400 prisoners. One of those men, Seiji (Nakadai), formally a henchmen for one of Japan's toughest gangs, must now cope with the fact that his form...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Ky˘ko Enami, Hisashi Igawa, Komaki Kurihara, Tatsuya Nakadai, Isao Natsuyagi
Director: Hideo Gosha
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Martial Arts, Indie & Art House, Mystery & Suspense
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 09/02/2008
Original Release Date: 01/01/1971
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1971
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 2hr 11min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 6
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: Japanese
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Two houses
Zack Davisson | Seattle, WA, USA | 09/03/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is an intensely cool movie. A dark and brutal power struggle between two rival gangsters, this is no slick action fest but more of a Shakespearean slow decimation of power. It is, quite simply, one of the best yakuza flicks I have every seen.

Directed by Gosha Hideo (Sword of the Beast, Three Outlaw Samurai), the movie trudges through the underworld of Japan's gangster society, the yakuza. Unlike many Japanese genre films, this one starts with a quick bang and then switches gears to a more personal battle. Filmed two years before the seminal yakuza epic Battles Without Honor & Humanity, you can see some of the groundwork being laid here for the film that would transform the genre forever. Although "The Wolves" is not nearly as groundbreaking as some that would follow it, it is genre done to absolute perfection.

"The Wolves" ("Shussho Iwai" or "Prison Release Celebration") is set at the dawn of the Showa Era, when the new Emperor granted amnesty to over 400 prisoners in celebration of his ascension. One of these men is Iwahashi Seji, played by master actor Nakadai Tatsuya (Harakiri, Ran, Yojimbo). Iwahashi must deal with the fact that his former master is now dead, and the power structure has swung in balance to a rival ganglord. Moreover, Iwahashi's best friend, Tsutomu, has disappeared following the pardon and Tsutomu's girl Aya is about to marry the rival ganglord. All his time in prison has been for nothing, and now he must determine his course as one of absorption or revenge, of accepting things the new status quo or striking out like a wolf.

Much of the power of this film is visual. Gosha has taken some interesting risks, going away from the splashy and fantastic and into the gritty and realistic. A fight scene is not one man leaping and slashing with a blazing sword against countless foes, but two guys struggling desperately for one knife, rolling in the dirt and putting everything they have into it knowing only one will walk away. The colors are muted, and there is something about the entire film that seems like it has been soaked in mud. But in a good way.

The use of music is also outstanding. Decades before the release of Hero, we have two men battling in intense action with no sound other than the mournful twang of a shamisen. "The Wolves" features a powerful score, with contrast of "speed of music" and "speed of scene" being a prominent theme.

The Animeigo DVD release did a fantastic job restoring this beautiful and important film. The picture and sound are great, and the subtitled track is done in the unique Animeigo style, where cultural "footnotes" and projected as well, providing a basis for some aspects that may be confusing to Western viewers. I have seen this format before in Wakeful Nights, and it really adds to the enjoyment of the film as well as being a study guide to the Japanese language and culture."
Superb Gosha Yakuza
K. Okimoto | Pahoa, HI | 02/24/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Having gone thru most of the available samurai movies, investigating the historically more recent yakuza genre has been surprisingly satisfying. Similar Nihonjin values of manhood demonstrated by proficiency with violent skills and fighting spirit. Tatsuya Nakadai is of course one of the masters of displaying this and the supporting cast is excellent and noteworthy. The plot includes rival gangs(of course), released cons going straight(yeah,sure), creepy female assassins, extreme man on man combat, and a seaside country town setting. I prefer Gosha's character developed treatment of yakuza to Fukusaku's inner city shooting assassination merry-go-rounds. This is one of Gosha's best IMO."
Not bad for Yakuza Fans
Rudeboi Junglist | ATL | 01/05/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Not going to go into the synopsis of the movie, as the other reviewers have covered that quite well, but I must say I was rather pleased with this movie despite the lack of reviews all over the internet. Nothing new in terms of making cinematic history but Gosha does a fantastic job in illustrating the cause and effect of the yakuza code of honor, respect, & loyalty. Shot on the Shimokita peninsula, Gosha captures some beautiful scenery while at the same time illustrating a rather dark tone to the film. You hardly get a sense of a potential "happy ending" despite some promising moments. The characters are defined well enough in that you know which ones will clearly fall due to either their greed, stubbornness,pride, thirst for revenge, or trying to maintain the yakuza code. The fighting is simple but to the point. There is a good sense of realism to them which I can appreciate versus those horrible HK type frame cuts(I know, not a fair comparison but you what I mean). For those that may feel the pacing is slow in some parts, I think the final scene(s) make up for it.

Spoilers/questions ahead:

Can anybody explain why the 2 female assasins killed a woman referred to as Aki? Also, why didn't Iwahashi kill the character played by Tetsuro Tanba?

Fans of the Yakuza genre should pick this up. I think you will be pleased with it overall. Great presentation by Animeigo."
Well-crafted samurai/yakuza melodrama, with two delicate kil
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 12/03/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Some critics recently have said that Hideo Gosha's samurai movies are to Kurosawa's samurai movies what Bud Boetticher's westerns are to John Ford's westerns. Maybe all that means is that Ford at the top of his game made some great movies that happened to be westerns while Boetticher at the top of his game made some first-class westerns. Shussho Iwai (The Wolves) is as well-crafted a sword-slasher as you'll hope to see, full of angst, conflict, sex and blood, with just enough artiness -- lovemaking reflected in rainwater, two silent, unexpected knife killers, a puppy on the beach, the plaintive plucking of a lonely samisen -- to keep the auteur-lovers happy. The film is an accomplished tale of tricky betrayal and fate that moves briskly along. For those who think they'll find a few flakes of gold among the pyrite, they won't be disappointed.

The Kan'non-gumi and Enoki-ya are competing yakuza gangs in northern Honshu. Four years ago Seji Iwahashi (Tatsuya Nakadai) and several others were imprisoned when they took part in a bloody fight between the gangs over control of a railway being built. While he was in prison his old gang leader died. He would have been named boss, but in his absence another was chosen. They were pledged "brothers." In an amnesty at the beginning of the Showa era, he and the others have been pardoned. He rejoins his gang, makes no fuss about who is boss...and discovers that not only have the two gangs joined in an alliance, but that the young daughter of the old Enoki-ya gang leader who a good friend loves and who also was released but seems to have disappeared is just about to marry the co-gang leader from Kan'non-gumi and that, yes, his "brother," the new gang leader for Enoki-ya, is the other co-gang leader for the alliance. That's not all. There are major business interests, this being the late Twenties, that want Honshu's timber for building railways in Manchuria. Got all that? With complicated melodrama like this, it's vital how well the director keeps things moving so that we don't dwell too much on the details.

So we have a tale of violent yakuza gangs in an unstable alliance, of a couple who love each other and add to the sparks of violence, and of betrayal, of power, of business interests, and of Seji Iwahashi...a brave man filled with sadness and resignation, who still is a creature of the yakuza code. "We swore to be brothers," he says. "If I can't believe in such a yakuza oath, what else is there to believe in?"

In the first hour of Shussho Iwai you'll be thoroughly confused if you don't keep a chart of the various players, who is doing what and which gang they're in. The last hour, however, is quite a show of trickery, fatalism and betrayal. The climax of the movie, at what would have been the wedding ceremony, is memorable. The swordplay doesn't dominate, but there's enough to remind us how slippery all that slashing can make things. The predominate theme, however, is plain old betrayal. And those two delicate killers, by the way, add a lot of urp to the oden. If their killing of Matsu, a member of the Enoki-ya gang, doesn't do it for you, you just don't know how to enjoy a good, lengthy murder.

The audio and video of this color DVD are just fine. There are a few extras, including a good deal of material in "Notes." We can read up on the yakuza, the samisen, Manchuria and the Japanese rail system. The basic subtitles are yellow with edging that makes them easy to read. When two people are talking and both lines of dialogue show up, one person's words are in yellow and the other's in green. A nice extra is that you can call up on the screen brief explanatory sentences in white when something is referenced that we might not know about."