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Yakuza Wolf 1 & 2

Yakuza Wolf 1 & 2

Written by Richard Durrance on 28 Mar 2024


Distributor Eureka • Certificate 18 • Price £26.99


Time again to get together with another Eureka release starring the man himself, Sonny Chiba, this time with the early 1970's films Yakuza Wolf: I Perform Murder (dir. Ryuichi Takamori), and Yakuza Wolf: Extend my Condolences (dir. Buichi Saito).  

In our first film, Sonny Chiba is the son of a murdered Yakuza boss who returns to take revenge, playing two Yakuza clans against each other to get to the true power.  

Our second feature has gunrunner Sonny Chiba set up and sent to prison, only to be released and take his vengeance against those that set him up.

I Perform Murder was for me the best film of the set and also one that was unusual in how Chiba plays his character. Chiba is unusually understated but this perhaps is no surprise as the film is clearly visually, narratively and even musically influenced by the spaghetti western. Even his attire, hat and all, feels like it’s been lifted from the west but made to fit Japan. This is no bad thing, if anything it works to the benefit of the film. I enjoyed Chiba playing a version of Clint Eastwood’s cool, calm and violently capable Man With No Name quite a lot, though realistically he most reflects Franco Nero, as Django, even down the ending of the film, which borrows heavily from Django, even down to one very specific plot-device and a particular act of violence that seems aimed at giving a duplicate Django ending. The western influences are so legion they even seem to copy how Lee Van Cleef in For a Few Dollars More has a tricksy pistol he has to coolly construct each time he uses it. In a similar fashion to Eureka’s prior Samurai Wolf, there is also more than a hint of Yojimbo in the act of playing both sides against the middle, even if Chiba’s character is given a reason to take revenge against those that killed his father and, as he finds out, have taken his sister and sold her for sex in a trippy brothel. The police, admittedly, while not cowards are equally as self-obsessed as the yakuza, interested only in their own advancement.  

And the trippy brothel scenes are perhaps some of the best in the film, even if a short sequence, where it seems to aim at a kind of, albeit brief, Teruo Ishii tableau of colour and ero guro nansensu. True it never quite manages to get to Ishii’s levels of perverse oddness but it’s visually a great sequence, and totally unlike anything in the rest of the film. No wonder many of the images promoting the film uses them.

Arguably, watching the film I remember thinking, this could also have been titled: Yakuza Wolf: Sex and Death. There’s a somewhat unnecessary one-sided romance that is an excuse for a bit of nudity, though certainly not the only nudity, though it never gets in the way of the film.  

For the most part though it’s a solid genre film. Not Chiba’s best but an intriguing genre mashup, where I particularly like Chiba’s impassiveness. He can be a bit too theatrical at times, but when he's quiet, he has enough screen-presence to keep up the tension and come across as genuinely disturbing.

And so on to our second feature, Yakuza Wolf: Extend my Condolences, which I originally assumed would be a continuation with the same character, but no, we get a new story with a new protagonist played by Sonny Chiba. And like The Executioner set Arrow released, where the second film there tonally shifted, so to an extent does Extend my Condolences, which has some early comedy sequences that I was not entirely sure fit the film. Thankfully they were far more short-lived and less crude than the quite bizarre second Executioner film that went full tilt with its crude humour far too often.

In this new setting, Chiba is a gunrunner who has been double-crossed, gets embroiled in a story that includes not his sister this time but his ex-girl, Mari (Reiko Ike) who is now the girlfriend of an ex-cop turned yakuza, and a lot of shifting loyalties, with Chiba learning who his friends are. The film really centres around an assault on an island against apparently impossible odds. Naturally, Chiba is entirely at home leading an attack on an island only accessible via a single bridge and so this is handled mainly with aplomb, but as a film compared to the first, it’s certainly the weaker of the two.

For all that I Perform Murder steals from other films with almost breathless openness it nevertheless provides Chiba with one of his best parts in the sense of it allowing him to underplay the character. I’ve said this already but feel I need to underscore just how much I liked him as the silent roiling act of violence. It’s easy to be silent but you can also look like a silent idiot, but Chiba looks coolly composed, and I wish he’d taken this approach more often.

Still, there is something pleasing in the convolutions of the story in Extend my Condolences, where Chiba sometimes finds friends where he might least expect them. And though the film is clearly working towards its action-packed ending there is enough characterisation leading to the climax to keep things interesting. For those that are after the more exploitative aspects, well that Ike is in the film usually indicates some nudity for whatever reason, though it’s certainly not her best role by any stretch of the imagination.  

That said it’s an entertaining set. Neither film is a classic nor essential, but both films are solidly crafted. The trippy brothel sequence is perhaps the highlight of it all, certainly in terms of visual audacity, but the real treat is Chiba's under-stated performance. I wish there was more of Chiba available as he is in the first film, quietly, coolly commanding the screen, allowing his physical presence to work alone - there is more menace in his silent visage than most can hope to approach at full volume.

6
A solid set bouyed by the first film, where Sonny Chiba gives an unusual but quietly commanding vision of vengeance

Richard Durrance
About Richard Durrance

Long-time anime dilettante and general lover of cinema. Obsessive re-watcher of 'stuff'. Has issues with dubs. Will go off on tangents about other things that no one else cares about but is sadly passionate about. (Also, parentheses come as standard.) Looks curiously like Jo Shishido, hamster cheeks and all.


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