The Yakuza Blu-ray Review
Robert Mitchum vs. The Yakuza!
The Yakuza sees Robert Mitchum taking on gangsters in Japan in Sydney Pollack's flawed but atmospheric thriller.Although Hollywood's interest in creating an East/West fusion feature didn't peak until a couple of decades later, with Michael Crichton's 1992 novel Rising Sun being adapted into the 1993 Connery/Snipes thriller of the same name, there had been plenty of attempts before including an atmospheric Ridley Scott outing with Michael Douglas teaming up with Ken Takakura to take on the Yakuza in 1989's Black Rain. Long before that, Takakura was drafted for duty opposite Mitchum for Sydney "Three Days of the Condor" Pollack's The Yakuza, a 1974 flick based on a debut screenplay by Paul "Taxi Driver" Schrader (and his late, lesser-known brother Leonard, who had actually spent time with the Yakuza in Japan) with further rewrites by Chinatown's own acclaimed screenwriter Robert Towne. The end result is far from the sum of its admittedly impressive parts - with Mitchum, Pollack, Schrader and Towne on board, it should have been an absolute classic, instead of the curiously flawed cult favourite it ended up being.Mitchum's retired detective Harry Kilmer - having spent years as an MP in post-war Tokyo - is called upon to return to Japan to find an old MP friend's daughter who has been kidnapped by Yakuza thugs. Approaching Ken Tanaka, an ex-Yakuza acquaintance who reluctantly owes him an eternal debt, the two trawl the Yakuza-infested underworld to get the girl back. Curiously attempting to blend classic noir vibes (which both Mitchum and Towne must have championed) with a more culturally refined look at Japanese tradition and honour (courtesy of the time Schrader spent with the Yakuza), as well as some rather visceral action-violence, The Yakuza can't quite bring its conflicting components to coalesce into a satisfactory whole. Mitchum and Tanaka make an appealing pair, and the shotgun and samurai sword conclusion is something that would make Peckinpah proud, with the flawed fish-out-of-water detective plotting along the way still providing atmospheric, gritty thrills made unusual by the setting and themes.
Picture QualityThe Warner Premium Collection - which is, effectively, the HMV Premium Collection in the UK, since they have an exclusivity deal - offers up impressive packaging, but not always impressive packages, in part because the titles released, whilst only now making their UK debut, are largely titles which have been available in the US for some time (often years) and, in the case of the older titles, haven't received any kind of upgrade.
Thankfully Warner's US Region Free Blu-ray release of The Yakuza was a fairly recent effort, from early this year, and based upon a newly-commissioned 2K remaster which not only offers up the film better than ever before, but likely in the best condition we'll ever see it. It's this same 2K remaster which makes it to UK shores on this release, which essentially sports the exact same disc, promoting the movie with an excellent 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen.
An unlikely cult candidate for a 2K remaster but the results are excellent
Detail is very impressive for a film of this vintage, and especially considering the production restrictions (language barriers between the US and Japanese crew, including a Japanese DOP), with a wonderfully rich and textured image that, with this new 2K remaster, is given every opportunity to shine. Mitchum looks suitably weathered, and the Toyko locales are given a depth of inspection that had hitherto been lost on presentations of this feature. The colour scheme is natural and authentic for the era of film, subject to colour correction as a part of the remastering process, and rounded out by deep and solid blacks which provide for decent shadow detail with no signs of crush. Defects are largely non-existent - again, the remaster came with removal of anything obvious - and grain is prevalent but stable, giving the movie that suitably filmic look. It's an unlikely cult candidate for a 2K remaster but the results are excellent, and The Yakuza looks better than it has ever done.
Sound QualitySimilarly on the aural front we get the same impressive track that the US disc had, another remaster effort taken from the original magnetic print tracks, delivered in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Obviously there are limitations associated with the source material, which doesn't promote a particularly dynamic array, but it's an authentic, faithful presentation and likely the best we'll ever hear from the film either.
There's an impressive remaster effort on the audio as well
Dialogue remains firmly prioritised over what is, by its very nature, a fairly frontally-dominated track, offered clearly and coherently. Effects are fairly limited, understandably given the production's own limitations and vintage, but we do get some nice thunderous, booming, echoing gunshots - in particular shotgun blasts - as well as some screeching tyres, and appropriate hack-and-slash sounds, with the pachinko palace getting suitably ripped apart. The score blends contemporary design with traditional Japanese instruments with suitable - if somewhat predictably flavoured - results, affording the array yet more to disseminate adeptly. As stated, the sound design isn't exactly defining, but does a very good job with the source material.
ExtrasThe HMV-exclusive UK Region Free Blu-ray release of The Yakuza offers the same solid selection of extra features as the US predecessor, but promotes the whole release with a much more lavish overall package, including the Premium Collection's trademark artwork, hardened slipcover and art cards, complete with a DVD copy of the film and a digital code for UV download.
The same solid selection of extras as the US release but with a more lavish package
The extras themselves are headlined by a strong Audio Commentary from late Director Sydney Pollack, recorded over 30 years after he made this film, with the acclaimed filmmaker - who is a little more quiet and contemplative than you'd ideally like over the duration - offering up some interesting background tidbits, anecdotes and production information. There's also a 20 minute Vintage Featurette: Promises to Keep, which has some onset footage and interview snippets with the crew, and the disc is rounded off by the film's Theatrical Trailer.
Blu-ray VerdictIt should have been an absolute classic, instead of the curiously flawed cult favourite it ended up being
Added to HMV's exclusive Premium Collection, The Yakuza's UK Region Free Blu-ray debut is a mirror image of the US Region Free release from earlier this year, only in a prettier package. The film has never looked and sounded this good and there's a decent set of features to go with the nice packaging. Obviously fans of the film would have likely already picked up the earlier US release, but for those who haven't, this is a must-have.
You can buy The Yakuza on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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