Sunday, April 10, 2016

Outlaw: Heartless (1968)

Director: Mio Ezaki

Notable Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Koji Wada, Miroshi Nawa, Isao Tamagawa, Eiji Go, Ryoji Hayama, Fumio Watanabe, Kaku Takashina, Asao Uchida

The initial worries that plagued my expectations for the third Outlaw film, Heartless, is that it the franchise would have already found and adhered to a very specific formula established by the first one. The second film already suffered a bit from trying to recreate the formula which undermined a lot of its greater elements and it wasn’t a huge leap of imagination to see this six film series already hitting a rut of expressive style. Fortunately, Heartless does not necessary stick to the blue print pointers of the franchise like the previous entry did. You will certainly see some familiar themes and even structures, a smart move overall that comes with formulating a franchise. However, it’s also a film that can be weirdly confusing because it’s supposed to be a prequel (I think) to the original film with no reference to the previous two films. Without this knowledge prior to going into the film (information about the film seems relatively sparse on the internet even in 2016) Heartless is a bit rocky at first, but the film is ultimately an entertaining and effective little action thriller.

Goro the Assassin (Tetsuya Watari) is sent to collect some money from a man and his wife for a gambling debt, but when he realizes that the man is being framed for fraud he promises to take the dying man’s sick wife to get treatment instead. However, this seemingly small promise may become a much more dangerous task than intended.

While I spent the first 20 minutes of Outlaw: Heartless just trying to determine how it connected to the rest of the franchise, the film still remained a remarkably entertaining and fun little yakuza film. This enjoyment is attached to the episodic approach that was brought to the table by the film. It’s not inherently connected to the previous films, but the themes and character concepts remain fairly strong. Goro remains a fascinating force to be reckoned with, both as a cold calculating killing machine and as a heartfelt sympathetic character played with finesse by Watari, and director Ezaki has a knack for keeping the pace of the film moving with a ton of exciting fight sequences and lightning quick plot progressions. There are knife fights aplenty to be found here, although their emotional relevance is a bit watered down due to the quantity at hand, and the inclusion of “teams” in the film helps to keep things fresh overall when compared to the rest of the series. Oddly enough, the addition of Goro’s competent henchman Kubo is a fun piece, even if the character has the simplest of motivations and no character arc, and it’s things like this that add to the fun of the film overall.

Original poster art.
This new more entertaining focus doesn’t quite allow a lot of a the great character development that the previous entries had, but it does keep things light and furiously paced – an approach that appeals to the B-movie film fanatic in me. However, it’s obviously of a lesser quality overall than the original films. While seeing a ‘younger’ and less experienced Goro can be intriguing in a lot of ways, it’s a less dynamic character arc and if the film is truly a prequel then we already know how things are going to turn out with many of the various plot points. To make matters more complicated, the chemistry between Watari and Matsubara doesn’t seem nearly as effective, due mostly to the fact that she plays a different character. The themes of loyalty and family are the key to the depth in this one and it’s here that Heartless really does shine. An additional plot concerning Goro’s blood brother and his wife’s connection to local yakuza makes for the most effective writing in the film and by the end I was wishing that it was expanded to replace the romantic subplot. The wife and husband dynamic works though and it might actually add to the previous films (when Goro decides to give up his yakuza life for his love) and the theme makes for an overly enjoyable film – even if the character arcs only feed into the theme to keep it moving in some unique ways.

Heartless is not quite up to the standards set by the original yakuza film in an artistic sense, but that doesn’t stop it from being a strong film with plenty of aspects to grab. The themes of marriage and loyalty keep the film thoughtful and Ezaki keeps the pace brisk with some strong action set pieces and fun secondary characters. The more I think about it, the more I actually enjoy it over the second film though as the plot resonates nicely even if the character arcs seem a bit shallow and it works in a lot of surprising ways.

Heartless did leave me with one lingering question though…when does Goro get his leather jacket?


  • 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

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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