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Friday, July 30, 2010

SHUSSHO IWAI / THE WOLVES (1971)


This stunningly well-made Yakuza pic should have opened Stateside doors for Japanese helmer, Hideo Gosha, but its violence turned off the art house crowd while its over-lapping storylines & multiple Points-of-View were inscrutable to action mavens. Forty years on, it’s not a problem. In mid-1920s Japan, a new Emperor means early prison releases for almost 400 hard-core gangsters, including Tatsuya Nakadai in a typically powerful perf. (Look quick to see the eternally dour Nakadai briefly smile. Dimples! Who knew?) Gosha handles the introductory segments like an Asian Sergio Leone, and the comparison holds as the sweeping narrative works itself out among two rival gangs; a forced wedding between the warring crime families; a couple of murderous, free-lancing Geishas; and the futile efforts of a few honorable ex-Yakuzas to stave off the inevitable bloody catharsis. Gosha may or may not have had Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns in mind, but the wildly colorful carnival atmosphere of the climax is surely an intentional homage to Minnelli’s SOME CAME RUNNING/’58, a film Gosha matches in general cinematographic gorgeousness. Don’t fret the odd Miles Davis-inspired ‘cool’ jazz soundtrack or occasionally losing track of the story, you’ll pick it up soon enough and the film is worth the effort.

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