The latest release from Arrow Video is an interesting and intense double feature. This new set brings together both versions of Graveyard of Honor, the 1975 film by director Kinji Fukasaku, and the modernised re-imagining in the 2002 Takashi Miike version.
The Fukasaku version tells the true life story of Yakuza gangster Rikio Ishikawa (Tetsuya Watari). Set during the post World War Two years, the film follows Rikio as he and a number of his friends engage in fights against rival gangs. Rikio proves to be something of a loose cannon, and his actions eventually get the attention of those higher-up in his Yakuza family. Over the course of the film we see Rikio go from one extreme to another, attempting to kill his own godfather, getting addicted to drugs, and serving time in prison.
Rikio’s story is a shocking one, and at times it seems too crazy to be true, because you can’t believe that someone could be this violent and self destructive. The film doesn’t shy away from how brutal Rikio was either, and doesn’t attempt to paint him an a good light. There are some crime movies with protagonists that you can either empathise with, or enjoy watching, like Jordan Belfort in The Wolf Of Wall Street, or Michael Corleone in The Godfather. Rikio doesn’t come close to either of these two, however, and if anything you don’t want to spend any time with him, and watching the events of his life is a hard slog. Rikio is a killer, he rapes his wife, he brutally beats people. He’s an awful person, but you can’t help but be drawn into his story, his tale of self destruction and spiralling behaviour.
The 2002 remake by Takashi Miike is a very different film, though it does follow a similar narrative and themes. Updated to take place at the turn of the millennium, it follows Rikuo Imamura (Goro Kishitani), who comes to the attention of a Yakuza boss after saving his life. Brought into the crime family, Rikuo quickly rises through the ranks, despite spending time in prison. However, when Rikuo lets his anger get the better of him and mistakenly shoots his godfather his life begins to spiral out of control.
This film is easily much more violent than its predecessor, and Rikuo is a lot less sympathetic than Rikio (even though he generated little sympathy). Rikuo seems to revel in the violence that surrounds him, and gets genuine pleasure in killing and maiming. Whilst Rikio in the 1975 version used drugs, this version actively pushes them on others, and it leads to the destruction of his wife Chieko (Narimi Arimori).
This collection is an interesting thing, presenting what are two very similar films, but films that still feel very different. One is a true story of a man whose life falls apart because of his own anger and violence, a victim of his own upbringing and the world around him, whilst the other is a story about someone who can only be described as being a monster. The 1975 film often appears on top 50 lists of Japanese films, and it’s easy to see why. Yes, it’s unsettling, but it’s engaging, and it clearly went on to inspire other films in the genre. The 2002 version, in comparison, seems to push what should be done in this kind of story, wanting to make the viewer feel uncomfortable, and actively wanting Rikuo to be stopped, by whatever means.
The collection also comes with a number of great extras, including behind the scenes documentaries and information, and full length commentaries for both films. Each of these films and their extra features can easily stand on their own as great pieces of cinema, but together they make for an engaging and interesting set, allowing its audience to compare the two. A must have set for any fan of Japanese cinema, and crime dramas.
Graveyards of Honor is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.