Japanese Gangster Movies

Thursday, March 31 by C.T. Wright

Japanese gangster movies are fun, exciting, and full of action. They combine traditional movie elements with moralistic characters that struggle to survive in a corrupt underworld. After you’ve seen all the mob dramas, ‘hood films and feel like you just can’t take another superhero flick, check out this list:

  1. “Ichi The Killer”(2001). Based on a popular Japanese manga and directed by Takasi Miike, this warped and violent thriller is one of the best Japanese gangster moves ever made. It is certainly one of the most disturbing due to its themes of murder, betrayal, and psychological and sexual manipulation.
  2. “Brother”(2000). This Japanese gangster movie is about a Yakuza member who flees to Los Angeles after being defeated by enemies in his native country. It’s the setting of this film that makes it unique. Filmed in both English and Japanese, it feels very much like a Hollywood film. It’s different from most in the genre but entertaining to watch.
  3. “Gozu”(2000) Legendary Japanese director Takashi Miike directs this cult film. A mash-up of the Yakuza genre with the horror genre, it is one of the most interesting Japanese gangster movies ever made. A simple plot and Takashi Miike’s signature bizarro style make this film one to watch.
  4. “Boiling Point”(1990). There are similarities in this film to American gangster films such as "Goodfellas" or "Menace II Society." All of the movies feature a psychotic character that enjoys crime for crime’s sake. Directed by Takashi Kitano, it helped solidify his place in the Japanese gangster movie genre.
  5. “The Yakuza”(1975). This is Hollywood’s take on the Japanese gangster movie genre. Directed by heavyweight director Sydney Pollack and co-written by the writers of "Chinatown" and "Taxi Driver" respectively, it packs action expected of a ‘70’s American crime film.
  6. “Black Rain”(1989). In another Hollywood take on the Yakuza topic, Michael Douglas stars as a cop who teams up with a Japanese detective to stop an organized crime war after his partner, played by Andy Garcia, is murdered. It was ignored by audiences when it was released, but it is a great Japanese gangster movie in its own right.
  7. “Tokyo Drifter”(1966). One of earliest of the modern Japanese gangster movies, it has the avant-garde feel of those films coming out of France in the late ‘60’s. There is something just plain cool about the look of it and the action is easy to follow. Director Seijun Suzuki delivers a style that is timelessly visually appealing.
  8. “Full Metal Yakuza”(1997). This might be one of the few Japanese gangster movie satires ever made. Director Takasi Miike mocks his own work in this entertaining film. The story brings to min the American movie, “The Crow,” due it’s plot about a guy killed by gang violence and revived to wreak revenge on others.
  9. “Branded to Kill”(1967). Director Seijun Suzuki continues in form as a visually arresting filmmaker. Imagine James Bond and a Yakuza hitman and you’ll have some ideas off what this film feels like. It remains an entertaining cult favorite in the Japanese gangster movie genre.
  10. “Pistol Opera”(2001). One of director Seijun Suzuki’s last films, it is a loose sequel to “Branded to Kill.” With a woman in the lead, it is reminiscent of Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” series even though this movie predates it. It is not as surreal as Suzuki’s previous films but interesting just the same.
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