Written by: Michael Den Boer on May 5th, 2016
Theatrical Release Dates: Japan, 1968 (Gangster VIP, Gangster VIP 2, Heartless, Goro the Assassin, Black Dagger), Japan, 1969 (Kill!)
Directors: Toshio Masuda (Gangster VIP), Mio Ezaki (Heartless), Keiichi Ozawa (Gangster VIP 2, Goro the Assassin, Black Dagger, Kill!),
Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Tatsuya Fuji, Meiko Kaji, Eiji Gô
BluRay released: April 18th, 2016 (UK) / April 19th, 2016 (USA)
Approximate running times: 93 minutes (Gangster VIP), 97 minutes (Gangster VIP 2), 92 minutes (Heartless), 87 minutes (Goro the Assassin), 86 minutes (Black Dagger), 86 minutes (Kill!)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (All Films)
Rating: 15 (UK), NR (USA)
Sound: LPCM Mono Japanese (All Films)
Subtitles: English (All Films)
BluRay Release: Arrow Video USA
Region Coding: Region A,B / Region 1,2 NTSC
Retail Price: $79.95 (USA) / £34.99 (UK)
This series of films revolves around protagonist named Goro Fujikawa a tough as nails character who has lived his entire life on the wrong side of the tracks. And over the course of these six films he tries to leave the only life that he has ever known behind, only to be drawn back in when someone he cares about is in danger.
Gangster VIP was directed by Toshio Masuda whose other notable films include, Rusty Knife, Red Pier, Shadow Hunters and Shadow Hunters II: Echo of Destiny. Other key collaborators include cinematographer Kuratarô Takamura (The Rambling Guitarist, Tattooed Life) for Gangster VIP and Gangster VIP 2 cinematographer Yoshihiro Yamazaki (Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal, Rape!) for Heartless and composer Naozumi Yamamoto (Branded to Kill, Black Tight Killers) for Gangster VIP and composer Harumi Ibe (Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards, Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon) for Gangster VIP 2 and Heartless.
Gangster VIP: After spending three years in prison Goro quickly discovers that the clan he once ran with is on verge of extinction. To make matters worse the man he stabbed and went to prison for is still alive and wants revenge.
The series opener Gangster VIP does a great job establishing who the protagonist is and what his motivations are! He was a child from an abusive household who youthful indiscretions set in motion his life of crime. Also this film does a superb job setting the tone for the rest of the series.
Gangster VIP 2: Determined to leave his former life behind, Goro gets manual labor job in the northern wilderness. At first things go smoothing for Goro and the two women he is taking care off. Then one day a former associate makes him an offer he can’t refuse and from there he once again returns to life he tried to escape.
Though there was a love story subplot in the first film, it is more fleshed out for this sequel. Also this time around there is a secondary woman character who plays a large role in Goro’s life. And when he was prison he promised another yakuza that he would take care of his woman. Shortly there after she becomes ill and Goro is forced to go back to his old ways. Also cult movie fans are sure to recognize Meiko Kaji who portrays the daughter of yakuza and her character is secretly having a relationship with one of her fathers’ enemies.
Heartless: Unable to get away from his pat and now a wanderer Goro once again finds himself in the middle of a gang war.
Throughout this series there are many times when one might feel like they are experiencing déjà vu. And plot wise this third installment suffers to much from retreading familiar territory.
Goro the Assassin: After another stint in prison Goro sets out for a normal life that is far removed from his violent past.
The plot follows that same arch established by its predecessors. Unable to break free from his past Goro agrees to help someone from his Yakuza past. And when it comes to love he finds himself having to once again make a sacrifice to keep her out of harm’s way.
Black Dagger: Two rival gangs fight over territory and Goro once again finds himself in the middle of feud.
Just like its predecessor Goro the Assassin, this film proves that this series is not yet on its last legs. With recurring theme of love playing a role in the story at hand.
Kill!: Goro finds himself in the middle of another yakuza war over territory.
This film is moment where the series finally hits the wall and this is mostly due to its to much by the numbers to the story at hand.
From a production stand point there are no areas where these films are lacking and don’t delivers the goods. With their only minor flaw being that over the course of six films there is bound to be some repetitiveness. Visually all of the films have a tremendous amount of atmosphere and when it comes to the fight scenes they are well executed and sufficiently bloody. Performance wise all the actors throughout this series are all very good in their respective roles. With this series two anchors being Tetsuya Watari (Tokyo Drifter) in the role of Goro Fujikawa and Chieko Matsubara (Black Tight Killers, Tokyo Drifter) in the role of Goro’s doppelganger love interest.
The six films included as part of this collection are spread over six 50 GB dual layer BluRay’s and all six films are presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. There are two films on each disc. The HD transfers used for this release have been sourced from original film elements supplied by Nikkatsu Corporation. There are no issues with DNR or compression and print debris / damage is minimal. Quality wise these transfers are on par with Arrow Video’s other Nikkatsu’s releases.
Extras for this release are spread over three Blu-Ray discs.
Extras of disc one include, image galleries and trailers for Outlaw Gangster VIP and Outlaw Gangster VIP 2, a video essay about the series titled, An Outlaw’s Odyssey (37 minutes 57 seconds) and an audio commentary for Outlaw Gangster VIP with Jasper Sharp.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary include, an in-depth analysis of Gangster VIP, information about cast & crew, how this film series was based on real life events and other production related topics.
Extras of disc two include, image galleries and trailers for Outlaw: Heartless and Outlaw: Goro the Assassin.
Rounding out the extras is a forty-two-page booklet with cast & crew information, two essays – the first essay titled Outlaw Gangster VIP: Evolution of a Sub -genre written by Chris D. and the second essay titled Goro Fujita: Romantic Loner, Real Gangster written by Mark Schilling, three bios – the first bio for Toshio Masuda written by Mark Schilling, the second bio for Mio Ezaki written by Kevin Gilvear and the third bio for Keiichi Ozawa written by Kevin Gilvear, an interview with Toshio Masuda conducted by Mark Schilling and information about the transfers.
Also included with this release are DVD’s that have the same content that is included on their Blu-Ray counterparts included as part of this combo release. Overall another exceptional release from Arrow Video, highly recommended.
Note: This is a limited edition release, the UK is limited to 3000 units and the US is limited to 3000 units.