A Yakuza In Love (1997) – By Duane L. Martin

Just how many Japanese yakuza movies are there? There seems to be a neverending stream of them, and so many of them have similar scenes and similar endings, it all becomes kind of a mish mash of the same thing over and over again. I guess in many ways, this trend in yakuza films resembles a similar trend in many of the Hollywood films, especially those of the last several years, as Hollywood seems to have run out of ideas and keeps churning out the same movies over and over again. Thankfully, in some ways, A Yakuza in Love broke out of that mold, and as equally as disappointing was the fact that in a lot of ways, it didn’t.

For about the first hour, the film is a finely crafted mix of love and intrigue about a yakuza named Kinichi who’s been in the Ohkuma sect for a long time, and has grown tired of all the fighting, feeling that it was all for no good reason. Still, he was fiercely loyal to his sect, and continued to serve his boss whom he thought of as a father. A fellow yakuza named Matsui had been in the sect with Kinichi since they were young, and they had served together for a long time as friends. Now Matsui had a deal in the works where the Ohkuma sect would merge with the larger and more powerful Uzaki sect.

It got a little confusing here because at first, Matsui is working with Kinichi to arrange a hit on the leader of the Uzaki sect. I will admit that I’m not sure why they were planning this when Matsui was in Yamamoto’s pocket, but basically it fell to Kinichi and his brother Hamaoka to pull off the hit. Well, a long story short, the hit never happened, and things didn’t turn out well for Kinichi and his brother. There’s not much point to getting into all the details. You should watch the movie if you want to get the whole story.

Now while all this other yakuza business was going on, there was a whole separate thing about Kinichi and his love for a girl named Yoko who worked at a restaraunt in Tokyo near where he was staking out Yamamoto. A love affair developed between the two that was as intense as it was irrational. She was a country girl who had come to the big city to work, and he was a yakuza hit man. There’s a match made in heaven huh? If I got wrapped up in the details, this review would be more like a book, so I won’t bother. Instead I’ll get into what worked and what was wrong with this film.

What really worked in this film was the humor. There were many humorous scenes that really made you feel like these were good people and that they were human and had human feelings and frailties. It was nice to see because that’s one element that seems to be missing in so many other Japanese gangster films. There’s humanity and thoughtfulness in these people, and it makes you actually hope that things will work out for them. I can’t even begin to tell you how many of these movies I’ve seen where I couldn’t care less about the characters and if they died at some point, not only would they be put out of their misery, but it would put me out of my misery, after having to have sat there watching them for ninety minutes or whatever. The head of the Ohkuma sect is also quite an amusing character, and it was nice to see that the director and the cast really made these people a pleasure to watch.

Now I have mixed feelings about what was wrong with this movie. The film wasn’t bad at all, but it had two major problems. #1 it was cliche`, falling into the same traps so many other of these movies have. And #2, it was way too long. Starting with #1, there were so many things in this film that I had seen before. A yakuza hitman who’s tired of all the fighting and violence and who just wants to settle down, constantly being sabotaged by his own gang ties and his own human weaknesses. His biggest weakness being that he was a heroin addict. I’ve seen that theme so many times I basically knew what was coming in this movie before it actually happened. It also had an expected ending where no one gets to be happy and one of the characters dies a horrible death at the hands of the rival yakuza leader.

That brings us to #2. This movie wasn’t just way too long. It was WAY too long! The way this movie played out, it could have been over and had a nice conclusion after about an hour or so. Then it kind of switches gears completely and takes us into a 48 minute jaunt of incohesive mish mash where things really fell apart. Had the movie kept to the way it was written and played out during the first hour, another 48 minutes of that would have been a pleasure to watch. Unfortunately, it didn’t. The last maybe 40 minutes almost looked and felt as though they had been written by a different writer who had been brought in to finish the picture and was only given an outline as to what had happened earlier and what the characters were like as people. Progressively, as time passed and the movie ambled misguidedly down a crooked path that took it to a stock conclusion, I found myself just wanting it to be over. And then when it was over, I wanted to reach through the screen and strangle the filmmaker for having such a rotten and poorly thought out ending that seemingly came out of nowhere.

While this was not a bad movie, it was certainly not original either. The actors all did a wonderful job in making their characters people you actually enjoyed watching on the screen, and that alone is the best reason to watch this film. You’ll enjoy the humor and you’ll enjoy the characters, and even the more serious scenes are quite intense and entertaining. I would hazzard to say that people who haven’t seen a lot of yakuza films will enjoy this particular film a lot more than people who have, simply because they won’t have that "seen it before" feeling as they watch it. Even those who have seen a lot of them will probably find it enjoyable on many levels even though much of it will be familiar to them.

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