The Yakuza (1974)

Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller
Robert Mitchum, Brian Keith, Christina Kokubo, Ken Takakura
Harry Kilmer (along with friend George Tanner) were in Japan after the war in the Pacific ended. During this time Kilmer met and fell in love with a beautiful Japanese woman named Eiko Tanaka. But for some reason Kilmer cannot fathom and which Eiko will not tell him, she will not marry him. Finally he leaves Japan and returns home to the USA where he does some police and detective work to earn a living.Tanner continues a business relationship with some very shady underworld figures in Japan (the Yakuza) and in particular with the local boss Tono. In fact he is selling guns to this mafia like organization, but on one transaction he fails to deliver. As a consequence the Yakuza kidnap Tanner's daughter and Tanner turns to Kilmer to help him try to recover his daughter safely.So Kilmer returns to Japan to do what he can for his then friend. He visits Eiko of which their mutual love is quite apparent but who will still not marry him. We also meet her brother, Ken Tanaka who once was a Yakuza himself but resigned and became a respectable swordsman instructor in the ancient tradition of Japanese warfare by the sword. Ken is a master swordsman.Ken is a strange man ("he who never smiles"), and only reluctantly helps Kilmer to rescue Tanner's daughter. He does so because of the totally Japanese concept of obligation or rather burden called "giri", a social tradition of the old world of Japan.It is by this tradition, in fact, that Ken is bound to assist Kilmer since Kilmer did in fact, save Eikos life during those terrible days after the war. It is then that Ken takes up the sword once again to actually fight (rather than teach), and joins Kilmer in the rescue.The result is a bloody battle to (successfully) rescue Tanners daughter. Unfortunately two of the Yakuza men guarding the captive are killed in the fight, so now the Yakuza, and in particular the boss Tono put a price on heads of both Kilmer and Ken. And while Kilmer can just get on a plane and fly home where the Yakuza will not bother him, Ken is a different story and will definitely die at Tonos bidding.Kilmer decides he cannot do this after what Ken has done for him. He seems to feel the "giri" himself and, in fact, feels he is obligated to Ken. They talk it over and decide there is no choice but to try to kill Tono. It is either Ken or Tono, they figure.Kilmer and Ken then undertake the most dangerous venture, to break into and attack the secure Yakuza compound where Tono hangs out along his henchmen. This could be a form of suicide especially since Japanese (and Yakuza) tradition require that Tono die by the sword and not by a gunshot (Kilmer has two or three guns but Ken only his sword). As a Yakuza Ken can only use a sword.They break in and hold the mob at bay briefly. Ken says I come (only) for Tono, but this makes little difference to the mob and a battle ensues where between Ken's master swordsmanship and Kilmer's threatening (and sometimes deadly) gunfire they succeed in wiping out this mob. (Note that the Yakuza gangsters have only swords, no guns.)At some point earlier in the movie we learn of another strange Yakuza custom concerning the custom of "giri". If the person who is obligated cannot repay his burden he may make a symbolic offering by severing the one of his small fingers (his pinkie) at the joint and giving it to the person to whom he is indebted. If the person accepts the token of forgiveness of burden then the matter is resolved. We see this ritual twice as Ken offers this "giri" to his older brother (who is actually only a brother in the Yakuza sense), but who is socially a prominent businessman and one of enough influence to have covered up the massacres.(NOTE: The following is a serious spoiler-do not read it if you plan to see the movie): Ken (much against) his Yakuza brothers will, performs this ritual and is unhappily forgiven his burden by this brother. Kilmer on the other hand learns something from the brother he could never have imagined. It turns out that the reason Eiko could never marry Kilmer is that she is married to Ken. Ken is actually her husband, not her brother. He had hid in a cave after the war and only several years later found his wife, now comfortably set up with a small tea house business bought for her by Kilmer. Thus when Ken returns this totally torn man must honor Kilmer for saving and then helping his wife because of his "giri" and so tells Kilmer that he is her brother.In the end Kilmer takes a taxi to the airport but is himself torn by his "giri" to Ken. He tells the cab driver to turn around and goes back to see Ken. Kilmer tells him he came back because there is something important he must talk to him about. This is true, but while Ken goes for tea Kilmer himself performs the ritual of severing his pinky and in the tradition, putting it in a handkerchief, offers it to a shocked, but an emotionless Ken when he returns. Kilmer asks Ken to accept his token of apology for what HE HAS DONE (to Kens life however unwittingly), and asks him to please forgive Eiko as well. Ken, of course accepts, and says the words which seem to be the traditional response "no man has a greater friend."Finally the two men with bandaged pinkies go to the airport for a final goodbye and Kilmer leaves, very emotionally, for home.
  • 1974-12-21 Released:
  • N/A DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • N/A Writer:
  • Sydney Pollack Director:
  • N/A Website:

All subtitles: