BR: Brutal Tales of Chivalry / Shôwa zankyô-den (1965)

June 30, 2017 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: A

Released: May 16, 2017

Genre:  Set on post-WWII Japan, a reformed yakuza leader attempts to bring his clan into more legit operations but must ultimately use his sword to settle mounting humiliations.

Synopsis: The leader of a yakuza clan swallows pride and avoids violence as he tries to follow the orders of his late father, transitioning the clan from a gang to a legit operation in postwar Japan.

Special Features:  Interview: “Brutal Tales of Filmmaking – Toei Producer Toru Yoshida” (15:28).




Although classified as a yakuza film, Brutal tales of Chivalry is more drama than action, almost de-emphasizing violence through the aching conflict of the Kamizu Group as Seiji (Ken Takakura), the newly appointed fifth generation boss, tells his clan to avoid any form of violent reflex against the more profit-driven Iwasa Group. This proves especially tough when both gangs are vying for power in local economics and government as the town rebuilds itself after the end of WWII.

It’s almost a tale of a reformed pacifist driven by loyalty to his late father’s non-violence decree, with Seiji suppressing his fine-honed instinct to make precisions strikes as the clan’s business and areas of control are whittled down by a once-respectful nemesis. Seen from another angle, Tales shares aspects of a classic western in which decent landowners stand their ground without resorting to the violence and duplicitous schemes inflicted with increased brutality by a greedy land baron.

Director Kiyoshi Saeki may well have been influenced by American westerns; his film’s pacing may flatter dramatic, character-building scenes, but the no-nonsense editing trims away any ounce of fat and trivial story thread to keep piling on the stressors that will push self-reformed killers to defend honor and exact revenge in a suicidal finale. When Tales does conclude, the bloodbath is moderate, but it’s the cathartic eruption both characters and audiences need after seeing two noble yakuza characters suffer ongoing loss of honor.

Not atypical to the genre, the two seemingly unrelated characters – Seiji and wanderer Kazama (Ryo Ikebe) become allies, especially when a missing figure’s identity cements two causes into one, unleashing Hell on the film’s chief villain and scumbags, but there’s also a simplicity to the conflicts between the two gangs: each vies for the favour of local vendors to whom they’ll supply fresh products from American troops – canned food, fabrics – but what cements the turf war is luring the merchants by offering them something rare and vital within a town still strewn with mangled rebar protruding from shattered hunks of obliterated buildings: a covered market.

Not unlike a western town where a new technology (steam engine, rail lines, electricity) pits a behind-the-times family against a modernizing cartel, the control and implementation of an important technology becomes an empire-building tool. The town’s main market is the key asset, and the technology is a weatherproof roof which is vital to the town’s economic growth and stepping stone to independence from the U.S. occupation. It’s also a rare opportunity for Seiji to not only fulfill his father’s conflict-free decree, but transform a gang into a legit operation, the next phase after avoiding any conflicts that will be punishable by the local legit law.

Saeki’s budget may not have been massive, but it’s the characters as portrayed by the film’s massively charismatic cast that almost forces tears when the finale has the two heroes defending their collective and shared honor with their lives. A very young Takakura (Bullet Train, The Yakuza) may lack the age lines of a compelling reluctant hero and anti-hero, but those eyes and demeanor ensure Seiji is a man under constant pressure – bringing his family & gang to the 21st postwar century, ready for a capitalist market with old world honor; and wanderer Kazama, played by stoic and ludicrously handsome Ikebe, a character who arrives like the Man with No Name, carrying a secret, and ultimately pushed to violence when that secret is exposed.

Folded into the mix is Seiji’s love for Kiyo (Shinjiro Ebara), a fiancée he would’ve married if he’d returned from the war a mere six months earlier. There’s great poetry in what’s said and silently conveyed through withheld reactions among the troubled characters, whereas the Iwasa gang are headed by a cold profiteer and sleazy henchmen – common thugs lacking honor, and perhaps appropriately portrayed broadly by the actors. The film’s finale is satisfying, but the last scene has an abruptness, feeling like a tacked-on reshoot.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a nice transfer from a decent print, and includes a lengthy interview with co-producer Toru Yoshida who describes the evolution of the planned series, cast changes, various directors, and a few details on star Takakura.

Nine installments make up the Brutal Tales of Chivalry series that were produced between 1965-1972, so here’s hoping this is the first in bringing the entire run to genre fans in North America.



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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