While streaming is the dominant media delivery method for the masses, physical media is still prevalent. Many boutique labels like Criterion and Arrow have shown their dedication to releasing films on disc, especially those not necessarily available on Netflix and co. A new label called Radiance has popped up. They’ve started with two impressive titles, the Japanese thriller Big Time Gambling Boss and the Italian political drama The Working Class Go To Heaven.
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Directed by Kôsaku Yamashita, 1968’s Big Time Gambling Boss is part of the “Bakuchi-uchi” series of Yakuza films released by Toei. Set in the 1930s, Big Time Gambling Boss is about several Yakuza clans coming together to pick a new boss after the old one has a stroke. They quickly decide upon a boss, but this does not sit well with Ishido (Hiroshi Nawa), who was in prison while the clans made the decision. Now out of jail, he objects, leaving it to his friend Nakai (Kôji Tsuruta) to calm his fierce temper down.
Cue many speeches about loyalty and the Yakuza code, punctuated by people being punctured with katanas. Big Time Gambling Boss is a terrific film, an action film with minimal action where the schism in male brotherhood is at the forefront. Interestingly one of the most important scenes is based on a woman’s agency. Nawa and Tsuruta are both fantastic, and it’s refreshing to see a film that plays out a betrayal in so many words rather than action sequences.
1971’s The Working Class Goes To Heaven is another fascinating film. Directed by Elio Petri (The 10th Victim, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion). It stars Gian Maria Volonté (who was so excellent as El Indio in For A Few Dollars More) as Lulu, a factory worker who deals in piecework. Lulu is the factory’s best worker, but his colleagues dislike him because the bosses use his timings as markers for the other workers to reach. However, this changes when he loses a finger in an accident while trying to improve timing. He joins up with the local student activists and begins to think about how his life is dictated by his work, although, of course, it’s never that simple.
The Working Class Goes To Heaven is not the easiest film to watch, but it is rewarding. It can be meandering but also thrilling, just down to the rhythmic shots of the machines working, which are treated like the stars of a war film. Volonté gives a bravura performance as Lulu, forever on the edge of madness, and he is always magnetic and charismatic, even when he’s an absolute pig of a man.
Radiance has brought Big Time Gambling Boss and The Working Class Goes To Heaven to life in their original theatrical aspect ratios of 2.35:1 and 1.85:1, respectively. Both films look spectacularly good, especially The Working Class Goes To Heaven, and there are very few flaws to be found which aren’t part of the source material. Likewise, audio is excellent, both presented in Japanese and Italian language tracks with English subtitles.
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Radiance has also curated an interesting set of bonus features for both films. For Big Time Gambling Boss, there are two fascinating video essays on the film, the larger context of Toei’s yakuza films, and the genre’s legacy with filmmakers like Kinji Fukasaku. Also present is the film’s trailer. With The Working Class Goes To Heaven, there are archival interviews with Petri and Volonté, a video appreciation by Alex Cox with his usual effervescence, and a feature-length documentary about the production and the factory where it was filmed. Both discs also have booklets featuring essays, but these were not provided for review.
Despite being the new kid on the block, Radiance has immediately impressed. Both Big Time Gambling Boss and The Working Class Go To Heaven are excellent titles to kick off with, and the extras provided are thoughtful and informative. So much so that I can’t wait to get their next discs.