Plot: Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) is a mostly retired private investigator, but when a close friend is in a desperate situation, he agrees to lend a hand. His friend’s daughter has been kidnapped by members of the yakuza, the organized crime syndicate in Japan, a group Kilmer knows all too well. After all, he spent a good amount of time there as a soldier and made some bonds there. When he saved the life of a woman and her young daughter, Kilmer found himself in an unexpected situation. His actions earned him the favor of one of her relatives, Ken (Ken Takakura), who begrudges his debt to a man he once fought against, but his honor requires him to do so. But that was decades ago and now, Kilmer returns to Japan to call in that favor, as Ken was once a yakuza and could provide some crucial information. But despite his past in the area, Kilmer is still an outsider and while that is often a disadvantage, it also means he is not bound to the same codes and customs, which allows him more freedom to pursue his goals. Even with some help however, Kilmer faces an uphill battle and risks not only his own life, but the lives of everyone around him. Can Kilmer somehow rescue the kidnapped girl and in the process, what will become of those in his path?
Entertainment Value: I miss the old school tough guys, so going back to movies like The Yakuza is a lot of fun. He was no spring chicken when he performed here, but Robert Mitchum still comes off like a bad ass. He is a driven man here, using his toughness and smarts to navigate countless dangers. I also like that while he isn’t afraid to fight back or engage in violence, he isn’t rushing into the chaos. So this isn’t some one dimensional action role, which helps elevate The Yakuza. At the time, this movie was considered quite violent, but of course, time has mellowed that viewpoint. This is still a thriller with some frequent action scenes, but it doesn’t come off as bloodthirsty or over the top in how it deals with violence. At the same time, it is indeed on the violent side, with swords and guns aplenty, but it never feels graphic or unnecessary. The pace is kind of a slow burn, with sudden bursts of action, but never dull in the least. Those deliberate stretches are used to develop the characters and set the stage for later events, which lends the movie effective tension and atmosphere. The scenes that explore the cultural differences of the characters, as well as the “inner workings” of the yakuza add a lot to the movie to as well, so this is by no means just a brisk action flick. I’d recommend this to fans of Mitchum and organized crime movies, but anyone who can appreciate a tense, well crafted thriller will find a lot to like here.
No nakedness. Some naked ladies appear in one scene, but they’re behind frosted glass, so its just a tease. The movie does have some blood, but not the buckets critics at the time wailed about. A severed hand flies across the screen in a splashy moment, some fingers are lopped off, and we have some gun and sword combat. None of these are shown in vivid or graphic detail, but there’s some red stuff involved. The finale ramps up the violence, as Mitchum and Takakura march through their enemies like bosses, in a wild and epic showdown. The movie does have violence and frequent action, but also has the slow burn elements of a thriller, so don’t expect constant action, instead measured doses throughout. The dialogue is well written, but this is a serious flick, so camp and outlandish lines don’t factor in. But we do have great tough guy talk and the code of honor aspect, which yield some memorable lines. So don’t misread the score, the writing here is good, its just not the crazy shit we award points for. In terms of craziness, the finale has to earn a point all by itself, then we have Mitchum just being his usual bad ass self. This one is a serious affair that doesn’t delve into madness, but its still an excellent movie all around.
Overall Insanity: 1/10