A different kind of yakuza film
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 08/15/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Unlike the yakuza films of Fukasaku (70s), and Miike (90s--in fact, Miike paid homage to Fukasaku with his remake of Graveyard of Honor), crammed with ultra-violence, Seijun Suzuki's 1963 Kanto Wanderer eschews this approach in favor of a penetrating look at the traditional yakuza way--that of honor, regardless of consequences.
When violence does occur, it is swift and not even important, and it is meted out primarily by Katsuta, a young yakuza whose allegiance is to his boss and who unfortunately falls in love with the wife of an older yakuza, infamous for cheating at cards. Meanwhile, one of his fellow yakuzas makes the mistake of falling for a teenage girl who is supremely flaky, and another colleague enrages his boss by beating up a yakuza in a rival gang, inciting the wrath of the rival boss.
This 1963 film is a far cry from contemporary crime films--Japanese or otherwise--and is all the more intriguing because of that. Starting in 1966, Suzuki was known as a rebel filmmaker because he broke a lot of rules of the major Japanese studios (Toho being the principal one), and in this interesting film, one can see why he likely took that route. He was committed to breaking the mold, to flying in the face of convention for the purpose of presenting a viewpoint on the underside of Japanese society no one else prior to that time had done.
In this film he is saying primarily that there are thinking, feeling human beings underneath what can certainly be a violent exterior. True, they are rare--Katsuta and his lover the married woman are the only ones, really--but they do exist. And as is so often true, they are surrounded by those who shoot first and never ask questions at all--later or otherwise. Katsuta has to deal with the clownish Tetsu and the overly impulsive Diamond Fuyu, and with his boss Izu, all of an ilk.
But the real passion of Katsuta's married lover is clearly shown, and the just-as-abvious callousness of her older husband is as well. It is a testament to Suzuki's great cinematic intelligence that he can and does present these characters as sympathetically as he does. When we see Katsuta go up against the older callous card cheating yakuza, the suspense is palpable because we know the older man will cheat, no matter what Katsuta does, and we really do want to find out how he will cheat, and what Katsuta's reaction will be.
Suzuki has continued to make films into the current millenium; his Pistol Opera came out about three years ago. Here is a Japanese filmmaker whose work should definitely be seen, and Kanto Wanderer is a fine example of that work."