Kinji Fukasaku (Battles without Honor and Humanity, Battle Royale) adapted Goro Fujita’s gangster novel of the rise and fall of real-life gangster Rikio Ishikawa, a man who lives up to the lack of honor or humanity references by Fukasaku’s other film.
How horrible of a person is Ishikawa? Within minutes of the opening credits, he steals money from the Aoki gang, robs a Sangokujin gambling den with Imai, stashes his gun with a geisha named Cheiko, gets arrested and returns for his gun and to assault the girl.
Meanwhile, the leader of his gang is running for Japanese parliament and the out of control antics of the film’s protagonist are too much for them. Despite a talking to by the family boss, he blows up the leader’s car. This unpardonable crime leads to the gang telling him to slice his fingers off in the ritual of yubitsume. He refuses and goes to the cops before leaving Tokyo for 18 months, drifting to Osaka and a drug-filled haze.
Of course, the first thing he does when he heads back to Japan — ten-year exile or not — he comes back for a whole other round of mayhem, which includes battling two Yazuka families and the police all at the same time, followed by driving Cheiko to suicide and, inevitably, cannibalism, a sword battle in a graveyard and suicide.
Noboru Ando, who appears in this movie, was an actual mob figure for some time, saying “In Japanese, the only difference between yakuza and yakusha (actor) is one hiragana character.” Very noticeable by the knife scar on his cheek, he appeared in plenty of mob-related movies, including movies directly based on his life, such as his sexual experiences while hiding from the police (Ando Noboru no Waga Tobou to Sex no Kiroku) and life of crime in Takashi Miike’s Deadly Outlaw: Rekka.
You can get this movie as part of the Graveyards of Honor set recently released by Arrow Video. It comes with Takeshi Miike’s 2002 version of the movie, as well as new audio commentary by author and critic Mark Schilling, a new visual essay by critic and Projection Booth podcast host Mike White and an appreciation of the director. Like everything Arrow releases, this is a great set.