The Yakuza (1974)
Director: Sydney Pollack
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Takakura Ken & Brian Keith
Released by: Warner Archive
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Bringing the honored and dangerous underbelly of gang war traditions to the screen, The Yakuza finds former private eye Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum, The Night of the Hunter) traveling to Tokyo in order to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of a trusted friend whose business ties to a powerful crime boss have soured. Relying on his Japanese connections and reuniting with an estranged former flame, his post-war lover’s yakuza connected brother Ken (Takakura Ken, The Yellow Handkerchief), cold to Kilmer yet forever indebted to him for saving his sister’s life years previously, aids the American in his journey that embroils them much deeper into the criminal world’s activities than expected. Gorgeously shot on location predominately in Japan, The Yakuza rewards viewers with a trifecta of powerhouse talent unanimous with the 70s movie revolution including, Screenwriters Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) & Robert Towne (Chinatown) whose noirish mood gives the film its unique tone and Sydney Pollack’s (Three on the Condor) guided direction that handles the sometimes complex narrative with poise. As Kilmer and Ken’s investigation puts them directly in the crosshairs of the yakuza organization, guns and blades take precedence over negotiations, testing the very limits of honor and exposing the corruptive truths of those once trusted. Featuring an evocatively cultural East meets West score by Academy Award winning Composer Dave Grusin (The Goonies, The Milagro Beanfield War), The Yakuza is a decently constructed crime-mystery of hardboiled investigation and katana-wielding mobsters that has appreciatively widened its appeal in later years for its unique setup and handsome photography.
Warner Archive presents The Yakuza with a pristine 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Notably filmic-looking throughout, skin tones are natural with details in sweat beads and battle scars well observed. Furthermore, the beautiful Japanese exteriors are exceptionally captured while, the gaudy coloring of interior rooms and offices pop nicely. Meanwhile, Mitchum’s earth tone jackets and turtlenecks are impressively textured with black levels found in the darker suits of the male characters appearing solidly with no traces of digital crush. Joined by an equally satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers dialogue with no pops standing in its way, Grusin’s excellent score benefits the most with gunfire and the clicking of sword blades making striking effects during fight sequences. Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Sydney Pollack, the vintage Promises to Keep (19:26) featurette and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (3:01). Honor, revenge and tradition all converge in this increasingly appreciated albeit, imperfect neo-noir armed with swords and bullets. Bowing its head in deserved recognition, Warner Archive awards The Yakuza with a stunning hi-def presentation that will obligate viewers to offer a few fingers in exchange for its exceptional quality.