Written by: Michael Den Boer on April 28th, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1968
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Writers: Yoshihiro Ishimatsu, Keiji Kubota
Cast: Akira Kobayashi, Jô Shishido, Hideaki Nitani, Tamio Kawachi, Eiji Gô, Tatsuya Fuji, Jirô Okazaki, Meiko Kaji, Shôki Fukae, Ryôji Hayama, Kaku Takashina
BluRay released: May 11th, 2015 (UK), May 12th, 2015 (USA)
Approximate running times: 94 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.44:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: NR (USA), 15 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono Japanese
BluRay Release: Arrow Video USA
Region Coding: Region Free / Region Free NTSC
Retail Price: $39.95 (USA) / £17.99 (UK)
Synopsis: After spending eight years in prison an ex-convict named Jiro quickly discovers that his once prominent gang has all but disbanded and that his former boss is ailing. Still loyal to his former boss and knowing that several rival gangs will want his services. He agrees to joins forces with the Hasama family, since they have been taking care of his former boss for the last eight years. For his first task with his new gang they want him to put two rival gangs against each other who are trying to gain control of a farm land that is about to be turned into factories. Should Jiro trust his new allies or will they double cross him in the end?
Yasuharu Hasebe started his career as an assistant director under the guidance of the legendary Seijun Suzuki. He worked his way into the director’s chair in 1966 with the film Black Tight Killers. He would direct three films in the highly influential series Stray Cat Rock (Delinquent Girl Boss, Sex Hunter and Machine Animal) and the last Female Prisoner Scorpion film (#701’s Grudge Song) for Toei. In the mid and later parts of the 1970’s Yasuharu Hasebe would go on to become one of the prominent director’s making Pinku Eiga films for Nikkatsu. Yasuharu Hasebe’s first three Pinku Eiga films Rape!, Assault! Jack the Ripper and Rape! 13th Hour where all box office hits for Nikkatsu.
The thing that immediately draws you in while watching Retaliation is that this film features a different kind of protagonist. Not someone who is driven redemption and / or revenge, two themes that are all too common in Japanese Gangster films. With loyalty being the one staple of this genre that binds this film’s protagonist to the type protagonist that has since become synonymous with Japanese gangster films. His loyalty is to a boss who has since lost everything to a rival gang. And though there is always the option of walking away from a world of crime. It is said loyalty that motivates this film’s protagonist towards his ultimate goal. To gain a new territory and bring back to prominence his once dominate gang.
Fortunately for this film’s protagonist he has a very generous benefactor who has given several key assets to help him achieve his goal. And one of these keys assets is a fearless gangster with nothing to lose named Hino and perfectly portrayed by Jô Shishido (Branded to Kill, Youth of the Beast). This character also has a subplot which makes his relation with this film’s protagonist all the more intriguing. Years before the protagonist killed Hino’s brother and since the day he was released from prison he has vowed to avenge his brother’s death by killing the protagonist. The growth in these two characters and their relationship makes are without a doubt this film’s greatest asset.
From a production stand point this film’s inventive visuals are rock solid. And though this film see’s Yasuharu Hasebe return to cinema in color. Though the color palette is not as overtly robust, there are handful of key moments when the colors are accentuated to heighten to events which have just unfolded onscreen. And when it comes to fight scenes, most notably this film’s bloody soaked finale. These moments are well executed and filled with inventiveness.
Performance wise everyone is very good in their respective roles especially Akira Kobayashi (Kanto Wanderer, The Flower and the Angry Waves) in the role of this film’s protagonist Jiro. He gives a well-balanced performance that effortlessly contrasts everyone Else’s need to rush into the moment. Other recognizable faces include Eiji Gô (Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs, The Executioner II: Karate Inferno), Tatsuya Fuji (Stray Cat Rock Films, In the Realm of the Senses) and Mieko Kaji in one of her early roles as an actress. In this film she portrays Saeko the daughter of a farmer and her character is also Jiro’s love interest. For those who are more familiar with her latter work, this role showcases a different softer side of her.
Retaliation comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. On Blu-ray for the first time in the world! Colors and flesh tones look accurate, black levels and contrast levels look consistently strong and details look crisp throughout. There are no issues with DNR or compression and grain look natural throughout.
This release comes with one audio option, a LPCM Mono mix in Japanese and removable English subtitles have been included with this release. There are no issues with background noise or distortion and dialog always comes through clearly and everything sounds balanced. Range wise things can sound limited due to this film’s mono source. With that being said, the more ambient aspects of the soundtrack shootouts and other sound effects they always sound very good and when it comes to film’s score its sounds appropriately robust.
Extras for this release include a stills gallery, a trailer for the film (2 minutes 44 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, in Japanese with English subtitles), an interview with actor Jô Shishido (13 minutes 33 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, in Japanese with English subtitles) and an interview with film critic and historian Tony Rayns (31 minutes 25 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen).
Topics discussed in the interview with Jô Shishido include, the differences between the character that he portrayed in Massacre Gun and the one he portrayed in Retaliation, Seijun Suzuki and Yasuharu Hasebe and their similarities as filmmakers, whose films were more violent Suzuki or Hasebe, who is his favorite director to work with, Akira Kobayashi, what does his future hold for him as an actor?
Topics discussed by Tony Rayns include, Akira Kobayashi and how he was one of four actors that made up Nikkatsu diamond line and the script writing process at Nikkatsu. Also he spends the bulk of this extra recapping the careers of Yasuharu Hasebe and Jô Shishido and the films they worked on.
Rounding out the extras is a reversible cover art option and twenty four page booklet with cast & crew information, a lengthy essay about the film titled ‘No Man’s Land: The Rise and Fall of the Diamond Guys’ written by Jasper Sharp and information about the transfer. Also included with this release is a DVD that has the same content included on the Blu-Ray included as part of this combo release.
Overall Retaliation makes its worldwide Blu-Ray debut via an exceptional release from Arrow Video, highly recommended
Note: Limited Edition Blu-ray (3000 copies only)