Notable Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Mitsuo Hamada, Tamio Kawachi, Kyosuke Machida, Kayo Matsuo, Yasuko Sanjo, Sanae Kitabayashi, Michitaro Mizushima, Hiroshisa Toda
“You’re not really yakuza. You are yakuza, but in your heart you’re not yakuza.”
When Arrow Video announced the Outlaw: Gangster VIP series to be released in a box set, I was stoked. Firstly, the deal that Arrow Video has made with Nikkatsu films is a godsend for fans of cult Japanese film making. The films that they have released together for us in the US and UK have been pretty consistently awesome. Secondly, most of the writers here at Blood Brothers are franchise whores and we are always up for a new series to explore. Seeing as this series has six films, it only exponentially lifted the expectations for us. However, considering that this series seems to be far more underground than expected, there was also some hesitation about just how good it would be considering it remained a bit more obscure. If the rest of the series is nearly as good as the first entry though, every one of the films is going to be in for a fantastic cinematic treat. Outlaw: Gangster VIP, the first of the six films in this set, is a remarkably fun, heartfelt, and absorbing film that runs on charismatic performances and director Masuda’s knack for dynamic pacing. While the combination of Arrow Video and Nikkatsu have already shown us some overlooked gems, this one might be one of the best releases that they have dropped thus far and Japanese cinephiles are going to want this set if only for this film.
Goro (Tetsuya Watari) has always had a tough life, run through the wringer of always being on the sharp end of the stick as a kid, he takes his cold demeanor with him into his life as a yakuza. When he kills a would be assassin attempting to erase his boss, he immediately earns a reputation…and three years in prison. When he finally gets released, he finds the world is even more dangerous and vicious than before and all he wants to do is find some sense of normality.
|Original poster artwork|
At first, the film seems simplistic enough when it comes to its plotting. Goro is released from prison, his clan gives him some money, and he is paired up with two young yakuza men to help him acclimate back into the real world. Soon we see smaller characters pop up in reoccurring roles and the plot, even in it’s rather stripped down formulaic revenge tactics, adds in a lot of depth through those character interactions. Powered by the previously mentioned role and performance of the lead, it drives an energy into the film that keeps the plot moving. The film hits a lot of rather cliché yakuza beats, including betrayals, traps, and big knife fight action set pieces, but Masuda handles it impressively with an artful approach. Perhaps the ace up the sleeve though is how much the film criticizes the yakuza lifestyle through its character work and plotting. Not even 48 hours out of prison and Goro finds himself at odds with another group and he sees potential in his two new friends that gives the audience hope for their own lives in such a ruthless world – including a fantastically built and executed character arc for one of Goro’s friends Takeo. It’s a damn near perfectly paced film that only builds on the emotional impact of the characters.
|It's not a yakuza film until someone loses a finger.|
If the rest of this series is nearly as good as Outlaw: Gangster VIP then this might end up being one of the more compelling yakuza series that I’ve seen thus far. The combination of brilliant character work, cynical and complex plotting, and iconic action set pieces make this film a must see for any fan of cult cinema. Other Japanese directors like Kinji Fukasaku and Seijun Suzuki might take a lot of the spot light when it comes to this time period and genre, but it’s hard to deny that Masuda and this film don’t deserve to be part of the discussion. Gangster VIP is the kind of film that still resonates decades down the line and it deserves the awesome treatment that Arrow Video and Nikkatsu have given it. It does beg the question though, why did a brilliant film take this long to get here?
ARROW VIDEO FEATURES:
ARROW VIDEO FEATURES:
- Limited Edition Box Set (3000 copies) containing all six films in the Outlaw series, available with English subtitles for the first time on any home video format
- High Definition digital transfers of all six films, from original film elements by Nikkatsu Corporation
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original uncompressed mono audio
- Newly translated English subtitles
- Audio commentary on Outlaw: Gangster VIP by Jasper Sharp
- Visual essay covering the entire series by Kevin Gilvear
- Original trailers for all six films
- Extensive promotional image galleries for all six films
- Exclusive gatefold packaging featuring brand new artwork by Tonci Zonjic
- Booklet featuring an interview with director Toshio Masuda by Mark Schilling, plus new writing by Schilling, Chris D and Kevin Gilvear