The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
The Yakuza follows retired detective and World War II vet Harry Kilmer (that badass of badasses, Robert Mitchum) as he travels to Tokyo to help a friend whose daughter has been taken hostage by a yakuza boss after a business deal gone awry. Harry slowly works his way deeper into a complicated web of deception and crime, and he comes to terms with a past he left behind long ago: Eiko (Keiko Kishi), a woman Harry loved, and her brother and former yakuza, Ken (Ken Takakura), who owes Harry a debt that he cannot help but repay.
What makes The Yakuza interesting is that it deftly mixes the highest and lowest of cinema. On the surface, it is a grimy crime thriller with no shortage of blood (though somewhat tame by today’s standards, for good or ill) and dismemberment (not quite as tame!). Ken has abandoned the sword for a decade, but he takes to it again quite quickly, and Harry does not hesitate to let his guns do the talking when all else fails.
However, the movie is also an interesting culture clash about the fading of old, rigid customs (Ken is a devoted follower of the yakuza code, despite no longer being a gangster, and approaches the resolution of his debts with the utmost seriousness) giving way to a more fluid, modern (i.e. Western) way of life. A refreshing aspect to the movie is that it does not advocate either side except to dismiss the extremes. If anything, The Yakuza favors a cosmopolitan mix of the two — keeping the values of honor and friendship is important but must be tempered, and one must also view change with a discerning eye since the new society is imperfect.
The Yakuza is unique among movies at the time for (necessarily) having several Japanese actors in prominent roles. Takakura is as important to the movie as Mitchum; he brings a steely, intense quality that matches up well with the weariness and cynicism for which Mitchum was well known. Kishi and Japanese American actress Christina Kokubo (as Eiko’s adult daughter, Hanako) are both good, too, and avoid being typecast into the delicate Japanese flower type of woman they surely would have been in the hands of writers other than the sibling duo of Paul and Leonard Schrader (who also wrote the fantastic biopic of Japanese author Yukio Mishima, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters).
The Yakuza is a good, unique take on gangster pictures, with as many interesting, introspective, melancholic moments as intense fight sequences. Good watch if you want a different sort of crime flick.