There are more than enough corpses to fill a cemetery once the smoke clears in Yakuza Graveyard, but in Kinji Fukasaku’s caustic thriller national honor is the central casualty. With Japan’s severe economical crisis spreading across both sides of the law, a shooting can become a transaction—“If you kill someone, you owe damages” is how a drug-addicted prostitute justifies detective Kuroiwa’s (Tetsuya Watari) responsibility for her after he’s killed her pimp, just one of the movie’s many relationships defined in business as opposed to moral terms. Assigned to the local crime beat to cool his rogue-cop jets, Kuroiwa quickly finds himself wedged between the Nishida and Ushin families, warring yakuza groups with unsavory links to the police department; his allies include Iwata (Tetsuo Umemiya), a bellicose underworld torpedo with whom the detective bonds over bruises, booze, and Yankee hookers, and Lady Snowblood herself, Meiko Kaji as the wife of an imprisoned Nishida member. The godfather of the yakuza genre on which Takeshi Kitano and Takashi Miike would later feed upon, Fukasaku may be a less artistic mayhem-purveyor than his heirs; the director’s handheld frenzies have little of the formalist elegance of Kitano, while Miike digs much deeper into the freaky zones of gangland macho codes (imagine what Miike would have done with the suggestions of “jerk-off brothers” between Kuroiwa and Iwata). What Fukasaku has is firsthand knowledge of postwar institutional degradation, and the anger to paint it in ferocious strokes and jagged compositions that burn through the trappings of the genre. (Fukasaku’s contempt is the visceral counterpart of fellow agitator Nagisa Oshima’s cerebral anarchy, and, indeed, Oshima ironically cameos here as a shady figure of authority.) Cramped with shootouts, betrayal, and grudges, the screen (and, by extension, society) has no room for the outdated honor the characters yearn for—when the hero and Kaji’s half-Korean moll (an outsider by birth) have desperate sex by the beach, the pounding sea becomes a marvelous reflection not only of the filmmaker’s stylistic fury, but also of the characters’ desire for purification. And this being one of Fukasaku’s darkest macho critiques, it’s no surprise that such cleansing can only occur through the barrel of a pistol.
A robust, enhanced transfer heightens Fukasaku's use of the widescreen for a sense of continuous frenzy, with an admirable sharpness of color and line. Some of the gun battles sport an oddly tinny quality, but overall the sound is similarly solid.
Though Yakuza Graveyard looks and sounds fine, the extras are slim pickings. Take your pick between unsubtitled trailers for the film and Cops Vs Thugs, and a bunch of publicity stills.
Still no honor or humanity in Fukasaku's battles-a scalding entry in the director's gallery of raw yakuza bulletfests.