Recently Arrow Video released 1969’s Yakuza Law. I am a big fan of exploitation films and while there are some exceptions, I have not seen many Yakuza movies. Director Teruo Ishii combines the two genres in an anthology that gruesomely explains some of the governing rules of the infamous organization in a surprisingly tightly woven narrative.
Yakuza Law tells three separate stories that focus on (surprise!) some of the laws Yakuza are expected to follow. Each tales is tied to together by a common theme instead of characters. The movie is about the importance of following rules and the consequences of breaking them. Ishii’s film is fast and even chaotic and does not need to get any deeper than that.
The film is incredibly violent. From eyes being gouged out in graphic fashion to hands being chopped off to people being set on fire, each segment makes it very clear what the results are for those who do not follow the letter of the law. The audience learns very quickly that the punishments are cruel and unforgiving. The opening credits give a taste of what is come, but even that does not adequately prepare anyone watching.
One thing that stands out is in each tale there is at least one person that thinks the savagery has gone too far. This is not your typical, “I’m tired of all the violence and will put a stop to it” stance that is the center of many of these types of stories. There is simply someone who thinks the the extreme punishments must be dealt out, but not necessarily in the way it is being done.
This is seen most in the first story. Two warring crime families are fighting over territory. After one of the gangs emerges victorious, the head of the clan checks the swords of surviving members to get an idea of how many people each individual has killed. This sets off a chain of events that leads to someone cutting off their own fingers and a person taking out one of their own eyes. This gets across that it is not just a matter of the rules being followed, but punishments must also be fair.
The way the the three stories take place over differing eras is also a great idea. The first two take place hundreds of years ago while the last part takes place in a more modern era. The film makes it clear that in any era, the Yakuza lived by a strict set of laws that if broken can lead to awful punishments. A possibly unintentional theme of the film is centuries later people are still willing to commit extreme acts of sadism against each other to prove a point. Yakuza’s Law is an exploitation film, so whether that was Ishii’s intent is certainly questionable, but the idea is definitely there.
This does lead to a question about the film: does Yakuza’s Law have too much gratuitous violence? Obviously, this will depends on the person, but it is impossible to argue that there is not a lot. The opening alone shows some head turning scenes from the film. And while the three stories do tie together the code Yakuza follow, there are times when the movie is just catching its breath before the next bloody moment.
Yakuza Law never tries to lead its audience done the wrong path. This is a violent exploitation movie about the rules violent men choose to follow. A person can argue there are themes of honor and equality, but even then, they are not ideas the movie lingers too much on. If you are looking for a hyper violent movie that is ugly and in your face, then watch Yakuza Law.