Thursday, July 24, 2014

GRAVEYARD OF HONOR (1975) - Kinji Fukasaku & GRAVEYARD OF HONOR (2002) - Takashi Miike

Like Street Mobster three years prior, Kinji Fukasaku's Graveyard of Honor centers around another unhinged yakuza who you know from the very first minutes has a definite appointment with untimely death. He pisses on the street (and on people) whenever he wants, pisses off the wrong underbosses routinely, shoots off his mouth at the wrong time, shoot his gun at his own brothers, even ends up stabbing his own oyabun. This is a big no-no in this Yakuza world, one that shuffles him off to prison and earns him a ten-year ban from his own clan. Like Bunta Sugawara in Street, his attitude is definitely devil-may-care. But the difference here is there's no rise to Rikio's (Tetsuya Watari) career trajectory. It's all fall right from the beginning. A grave and a graveyard does factor in. But the film could just as easily been called The Loser Yakuza.

And that's what makes Graveyard a more daring, compelling character study than Fukasaku's other yakuza films. He goes all-in on the despair, letting the audience soak for a long stretch in Rikio's post-slammer heroin addiction (see above malaise). He initially acquires his lady love Chieko through an act of arguable rape (seems to be a running theme with Fukasaku) and later gets her strung out on the H, but when she dies before him there is legitimate remorse. When he goes to his boss to try and make amends and takes a cannister of her bones along with him, popping them in his mouth and crunching on them like so many funereal chiclets, it's an act not borne of disrespect but deep grief. If The Yakuza Papers is Fukasaku's flashier 20-year Godfather saga, then Graveyard is its more reigned-in, melancholy cousin. His Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. It's my favorite Fukasaku I've seen so far.

Takashi Miike's 2002 remake, on the other hand, is all about indulgence. It's Bad Lieutenant but set on the other side of the globe, on the other side of the law. His version of Graveyard runs forty minutes longer, is far more splattery, features twice as many drugged-out interludes (see two minute "heroin crawl" tracking shot below). It follows the same basic trajectory (down, down, down) as Fukasaku's true life yakuza story, but instead of melancholy Miike's primary operating mode here is nihilism. He adds a downbeat, effective jazz score into the mix, but the added sax can earn his Rikio so much gravitas. After all, dude sports a "punch perm."

Are they both good yakuza movies? Absolutely. Paired together, they're an interesting study in how two masters of the genre approach the same material. I'd probably opt for Fukasaku's leaner, meaner version, but then watching Goro Kishitani's kinky-headed junkie yakuza half-heartedly exhaust his arsenal onto a sea of cops from his balcony like Tony Montana...well, there's something to be said for that, too.

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