Violent Streets, or Bôryoku Gai as it was originally titled, was released in 1974 and forms part of the Yakuza exploitation movies popular in the 1970s, making it – at least to western audiences – the very definition of niche genre.
Directed by Hideo Gosha, and starring some well known names of the time, this film has a pedigree that bodes well. In the late 60s Gosha had released Goyokin and Hitokiri, two of the most fantastic examples of the chanbara genre of movie.
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Chanbara are sword fighting films – or samurai movies – but in the 70s he shifted his efforts to Yakuza films. His first, The Wolves, very much carried across his aesthetic, but with Violent Streets he made a clear attempt to modernise or make the action more realistic. That means that, despite a few notable exceptions – including one fun scene with a receipt spike – there is a lot more gun play.
This change in direction leads to a lack of emotional impact; there is no real connection to or consequence from the inevitable violence. This is a film that lacks subtlety or any kind of real self-reflection. Instead we have swathes of 70s sleaze. From lesbian strippers to go-go dancers all gyrating away in tacky nightclubs of various hues, there is far too much focus on ambiance and world building that, ironically, causes this movie to feel like it could have been filmed anywhere.
That’s not to say that it’s all bad. Noboru Ando does a fine job as the night club owner with a more than murky past that inevitably catches up with him. Ando brings huge amounts of realism to the role, being a former Yakuza himself, and in his quiet moments is intensely watchable.
Eureka Entertainment’s special edition also features an interview with Jasper Sharp talking about the film and an introduction to the movie and the director by film critic Tony Rayns. The Blu-ray will also come with a limited edition slipcase and collector’s booklet, neither of which were available for review.
This movie is the perfect example of a great director trying something new, and falling rather short. With the grime and gratuity on screen throughout, this feels far more like one of the higher number Death Wish films than anything else, and the special features don’t do much more to recommend it. Definitely one for fans and completionists, and certainly not recommended as a first foray into the Yakuza movies of the 1970s.
Violent Streets is out now on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.