The Yakuza

The Yakuza

Infobox Film
name = The Yakuza

caption = Film poster for The Yakuza
imdb_id = 0073918
director = Sydney Pollack
producer = Michael Hamilburg
Sydney Pollack
Koji Shundo
writer = Leonard Schrader
Paul Schrader
Robert Towne
starring = Robert Mitchum
Ken Takakura
Kishi Keiko
Richard Jordan
cinematographer = Kozo Okazaki
Duke Callaghan
music = Dave Grusin
distributor = Warner Brothers
released = Flagicon|Japan 1974-12-28
Flagicon|USA 1975-03-15
runtime = Flagicon|Japan 123 min
Flagicon|USA 112 minimdb title|id=0070917|title=The Yakuza]
country = USA / Japan
amg_id = 1:55677
language = English / Japanese|

"The Yakuza" is a 1975 post–film noir gangster film directed by Sydney Pollack, written by Leonard Schrader, Paul Schrader, and Robert Towne.

"The Yakuza" portrays the clash of traditional Japanese values during Japan's transition from the US occupation to economic success in the early 1970s. The story's themes are concepts of moral indebtedness and obligation, loyalty to family and friends, and sacrifice; Eastern and Western cultural values are contrasted, and Classical Japanese tradition versus the modern, Westernized, tradition of contemporary Japan.

Following a lacklustre initial release, the film gained a cult following.


Retired detective Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) is called by an old friend, George Tanner (Brian Keith). Tanner has been doing business with a "yakuza" gangster, Tono, who has taken Tanner's daughter and her boyfriend hostage to apply pressure in a business deal. Tanner hopes that through Kilmer's Japanese contacts, he can locate and rescue the girl.

Tanner and Kilmer had been Marine MPs and friends in Tokyo during the post-war occupation. Kilmer had fallen in love with a local woman, Eiko (Kishi Keiko), who was involved in the black market. When her young daughter fell ill, Kilmer helped Eiko find penicillin for the child, saving her life. After they'd been living with each other, Eiko's brother Ken (Takakura Ken) returned from an island where he'd been stranded as an Imperial Japanese soldier. Both outraged that his sister was living with his former enemy, and deeply indebted to Kilmer for saving the lives of his (apparently) only remaining family, he disappeared into the yakuza criminal underground, and refused to see or speak to his sister. Kilmer repeatedly asked Eiko to marry him, but she consistently refused. Then and since, Eiko has been cautious to do nothing to offend her brother further. As a parting gift, Kilmer had bought Eiko the bar which she operates to this day, and they parted, neither of them falling in love or marrying since.

Tanner hopes that Kilmer can contact Ken and use his connections to help him. Ken's debt to Kilmer, "giri," is a lifelong debt that traditionally can never be repaid. Ken would, Tanner insists, do anything for Kilmer. Traveling to Tokyo, Kilmer visits Eiko at her coffeehouse; seeing her once again, it is clear Kilmer still loves her deeply and again proposes. Asked about Ken, Eiko says that Ken is no longer a yakuza, but Kilmer visits him at his Kendo school. Ken's animosity towards Kilmer is clear, but together they find and free the girl and her beau. In so doing, Ken injures one of Tono's men and is discovered by one of the gangster's lieutenants, an inexcusable intrusion by Ken in yakuza affairs. Contracts on both Ken and Kilmer's lives are issued. Kilmer resists leaving until the danger to Ken can be resolved. Eiko suggests that he talk to Ken's brother, a high level legal counselor to the yakuza chiefs, whom Kilmer hadn't known about. Goro (James Shigeta) is unable to intercede due to his impartial role in yakuza society, but suggests that Ken can remove the death threat by killing Tono ... or "Kilmer can kill Tono."

Guilt-ridden that once again he's interfered with Eiko's family, and endangered Ken, Kilmer stays in Tokyo. After a failed attempt on Kilmer's life, he learns that his old friend Tanner had taken out the contract on him. Despite appearances, Tanner and Tono are well-acquainted and successful business partners. During an attack on Ken and Kilmer in the house they are staying in, a stray bullet kills Eiko's daughter, Hanako. Both men are crushed by the tragedy.

Seeking advice again from Ken's brother, Goro advises them that they have no choice but to assassinate Tanner and Tono. This will embarrass the partners in the eyes of the yakuza, and clear Ken's honor. Goro discloses that he has a son who has joined Tono's clan, and asks that Ken spare him should he be caught in the battle. Goro then discloses a shocking family secret to Kilmer in private. Eiko is not Ken's sister but his wife, and Hanako their only daughter. Hearing this, Kilmer realizes the true meaning of Eiko and Ken's rift, and Ken's anguish at the death of Hanako, all brought about by his presence in their lives.

Kilmer finds and kills Tanner, then joins Ken for a near-suicide attack on Tono's residence. During a tense, prolonged battle, in which Ken kills Tono in the traditional way with a "katana," Goro's son attacks them and Ken instinctively kills him. Bearing the news to his brother, Ken moves to commit "hari-kiri," but his brother forbids it. Instead, Ken performs "yubitsume" (the ceremonial yakuza apology by cutting off one's little finger). After Ken excuses himself, Goro talks with Kilmer, and compliments him on his adherence to Japanese traditions, surprising for a "gaijin."

Before leaving Japan, a visibly troubled Kilmer visits Ken, and asks to speak to him formally. While Ken prepares tea, Kilmer quietly commits "yubitsume," and when Ken enters the room, waits for him to be seated. Presenting his finger to Ken, he apologizes for "bringing great pain into your life, both in the past and in the present." He humbly asks that "if you can forgive me, then you can forgive Eiko." Accepting the apology, Ken professes that "no man has a greater friend than Kilmer-san," and Kilmer reciprocates. Parting at the airport, both men bow deeply to each other.


Warner Bros. paid Paul and Leonard Schrader the then-record sum of US$325,000.00cite web |url= |title=The Question of Authorship: "The Yakuza" |accessdate=2006-12-17 |last=Lemmon |first=Elaine ] for their début story, which proved Paul's opportunity into Hollywood, where he then wrote the Scorsese classics "Taxi Driver" (1976) and "Raging Bull" (1980). Originally, Robert Aldrich was the film's director, but Robert Mitchum, who had worked with Aldrich on the "The Angry Hills" (1959), had Sydney Pollack replace him.


* Robert Mitchum .... Harry Kilmer
* Ken Takakura .... Ken Tanaka
* Brian Keith .... George Tanner
* Herb Edelman .... Oliver Wheat
* Richard Jordan .... Dusty
* Keiko Kishi .... Eiko Tanaka
* Eiji Okada .... Toshiro Tono
* James Shigeta .... Goro
* Kyosuke Mashida .... Jiro Kato
* Christina Kokubo .... Hanako
* Eiji Go .... Spider
* Lee Chirillo .... Louise
* M. Hisaka .... Boyfriend
* William Ross .... Tanner's guard
* Akiyama .... Tono's guard
* Harada .... Goro's doorman

Memorable quotations

Harry Kilmer: "Everywhere I look, I can't recognize a thing".
Oliver Wheat: "It's still there. Farmers in the countryside may watch TV from their tatami mats and you can't see Mt. Fuji through the smog, but don't let it fool you. It's still Japan and the Japanese are still Japanese".

Goro (speaking of his brother): "Ken is a relic, a leftover of another age, of another country".


The Region One DVD of "The Yakuza" was released by Warner Bros. on 2007-01-23.

Notes and references

* [ Leonard Schrader site] - About the novelization of the film
* [ Dave Grusin site] - Insight into the soundtrack
* [ Senses of Cinema] - an article on the development of the screenplay

ee also

*"Black Rain" (1989)
*"Brother" (2001)
*"Kill Bill" (2004)
*"Into the Sun" (2005)


External links

* [ Film Score Monthly] - recently released soundtrack on CD

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