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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

THE YAKUZA (1974)

‘Great color film processing!,’ sounds like a backhanded compliment, but Sydney Pollack’s East-meets-West mob story, made in Japan with a largely local crew, is worth a look . . . just for the look. In the original 35mm prints, the film had the neon-worthy color density of your Grandmother’s Japanoiserie cabinet. And the rest's not bad, either . . . for Pollack. Robert Mitchum, in his last role as a traditional romantic lead, is just great as a seen-it-all American dick, off to Japan when the daughter of his pal Brian Keith gets kidnapped by Yakuza after a gun deal goes bad. Richard Jordan tags along as ‘protection’ while Bob tries to reconnect with some underworld types he knew back in his WWII service days. But the kidnapped girl turns out to be a mere distraction from the real story; and by the time Mitchum figures it out, he’s put his ad-hoc team in real danger. Debts of honor are one thing, but shot guns, samurai swords and twenty-to-one odds are another. The story seems to take place in a vacuum, but within its strict limits, the characters are lively and fun to figure out. (Jordan & Mitchum, just off the downbeat & brilliant FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE/’73, are equally good playing genre stuff together.) If only Pollack had a bit more flair for pulp material or would trust the editing rhythms dictated by Japan interior design. And the big showdown, where Eastern swordplay joins Western shot guns, blasts & slices away in a generalized fashion that never convinces. Sydney ain’t got the action chops to do it justice. Still, it’s one of the few Pollack pics that’s seems to gain, rather than lose, interest over the years.

DOUBLE-BILL: To see what a staggering film stylist does with this sort of story, try Seijun Suzuki’s riotous YOUTH OF THE BEAST/’63, which looks thirty years ahead of its time.

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