Written by: Michael Den Boer on April 16th, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1976
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Kazuo Kasahara
Cast: Seizo Fukumoto, Meiko Kaji, Hideo Murota, Tatsuo Umemiya, Tetsuya Watari
DVD released: June 27th, 2006
Approximate running time: 92 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Japanese
DVD Release: Kino Video
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $14.95
Synopsis: The lack of incoming income has put a strain on most of the organized crime families. Financial instability leads to gangs trespass on other gangs territories to make ends meat. The police try to infiltrate these gangs in hope to subdue the tension that has been building. The Yamashiro clan is one of the underworld biggest and most brutal gangs. They have set their sights on the Nishida organizations gambling operations. The city is in chaos as the Yamashiro and Nishida organizations face off in an all out war. Detective Kuro a cop with a short tempter is the city’s only hope to defuse the situation.
Kinji Fukasaku’s Yakuza Graveyard was one of his final films to explore the yakuza underworld. Having become bored with this genre as his thematic ideas had come circle. Kazuo Kasahara who wrote Yakuza Graveyard’s screenplay also wrote the screenplay for Fukasaku’s Cops vs Thugs released a year before. The characters are more defined this time around and that action is not as chaotic. Fukasaku’s direction is in top form as he every trick in his arsenal. The action scenes shot primarily with a hand held camera have a documentary feel to them that adds to there gritty realism. Music is always an important part of any film and one of my favorite moments in the film is when Kuroiwa is tying one off playing his music too load. The neighbors have called the police because he is disturbing the peace. Kuroiwa resolves the situation by showing the beat cop his badge before knocking him out.
Tetsuya Watari plays Kuroiwa a cop with a violent streak that at times prevents him from seeing things clearly. Through the friendships he forms with the Yakuza and tendency to lose it at any moment Kuroiwa is prone to make the wrong decisions. Another excellent edition to the cast is Meiko Kaji who plays the bosses wife Keiko. Her performances are drastically different from her roles in Lady Snowblood and the Female Scorpion series. Instead of being a protagonist she is a victim in Yakuza Graveyard were she is pimped by her husband and a drug addict. One theme that runs through several of Fukasaku’s films that is present in Yakuza Graveyard is Japan’s ill feelings towards half breeds. The lead characters Kuroiwa and Keiko form a bound because of their mixed nationalities which also makes them outsiders. Fukasaku’s films are filled with anti heroes and Yakuza Graveyard has one of his most compelling ones in Kuroiwa.
Yakuza Graveyard was released on DVD in the UK by Eureka in 2002. This DVD release was far from reference material as colors look washed out and the image looked hazy /smeared (the quality is reminiscent of transfers for VCD’s. In 2006 Kino Video gave Yakuza Graveyard its first U.S. DVD release which presents the film in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Kino’s release boasts nicely saturated colors, healthy looking flesh tones, strong black levels and details look sharp throughout. The only misstep for the Kino DVD release is that it is not flagged for progressive playback (The Eureka DVD release is also interlaced).
The Kino DVD release comes with one audio option a Dolby Digital mono mix in Japanese and removable English subtitles have been included. The audio is clear, evenly balanced and at times robust. The subtitles are easy to read and error free. Just like the transfer the audio on Kino release is a substantial improvement over the Eureka DVD release.
Extras for the Kino DVD release include trailers for Yakuza Graveyard (3 minutes 5 seconds) and Cops vs. Thugs (3 minutes 13 seconds), one promotional still and a DVD insert with replica poster. The only extra include with the Eureka DVD release is a brief overview of Kinji Fukasku’s career is presented in text form. Overall Kino’s DVD release soundly beats Eureka’s DVD in every way.