Those Swell Yakuza


Last year, I watched Chi-n-pi-ra, an 1980's yakuza movie that portrayed the organized crime of bubble-era Japan in beautiful detail. Over the last year I began searching out for more films with the same mix of action, comedy, and wonderful 80's production. Of the movies I found, my favorite was Yakuza tosei no sutekina menmen, or Those Swell Yakuza, released in 1988.

We follow Ryo, a former banker and record store owner, as he begins to train under a senior yakuza boss and becomes indoctrinated into the family. As he rises the ranks and brings yakuza of his own under his wing, he falls in love with a beautiful civilian girl. We see his relationships with both his lover and his rival yakuza come to a climax, where his own marriage is sided to fight for his yakuza family.

Ryo is a fantastic protagonist, just oozing with charm and energy. There are multiple scenes of him overeacting to simple yakuza tasks, such as reopening a stab wound to feign an attack, or climbing up on a desk and screaming the name of a debtor at his place of employment. He often wears gold-rimmed sunglasses to hide his eyes, only showing his sly smile. As he gains more esteem, he fills the role of the yakuza boss himself, with a harsh confidence and an attiude fitting of his position.


One of the coolest aspects of the movie is the portrayl of a new generation of yakuza leaving the old one behind. We see the boss Ryo trained under succumb to old age and alcoholism, and Ryo soon passing him in the family. It's an important aspect of a criminal organization that is shown very well here. As it is seen in other classic crime films such as The Godfather, the passing of the torch is inevitable, and sometimes it's not always pretty.


And, in what might be my favorite aspect of the film, the score and atmosphere are fantastic. The score, done by legendary anime composter Joe Hisaishi, has a great 1980's punch, with an excellent recurring motif that really heightens the drama every time there is a yakuza encounter. It's probably some of my favorite synthesizer scoring in a movie from this era. Alongside some excellent casting and costume design, I will forever love the stylish location shots of 1980's Japan.

screengrab  screengrab 

I pretty much can't reccommend this film enough, it's a hidden classic. It's a simple plot being driven by a great lead, with excellent music and atmosphere. With almost no english language traction and no official english release, I hope it eventually makes its way across the sea. In any regard, I hope everyone can find it!

Nov 28 2023

Madville Neocities

Madville. I don't own jack!