Yokohama Underworld: The Machine Gun Dragon

Director: Akihisa Okamoto
Year: 1978
Rating: 6.0

By the time of this film, the days of the chivalrous Yakuza of the 1960's was long gone and Japanese films had embraced a tougher, crueler, more realistic Yakuza who lived by no code of honor or obligations. It is dog eat dog time. One of the main stars of these films was Bunta Sugawara, who had been around since the 1950's but found his place in the new harder edged style of Yakuza film (his most famous being the five-part Yakuza Papers). He was tall and thin - gaunt even with his skeletal frame showing not an inch of comfort or an inch of mercy. He is all wound up jittery instinct ready to lash out. And he is the protagonist of this film. You would not even define him as an anti-hero - he is a stone cold psycho killer with a mother complex - but the thing is, everyone else in the film is just as bad or worse. So having no good feelings for anyone you end up rooting for his character by default.

This very violent film bounces back and forth between feeling like a gangster film from the 1930's with Cagney yelling out "Look at me Ma, at the top of the world" or Bogart in a high Capone styled hat spitting out bullets and menace - and feeling like a Black Exploitation film with its funky soundtrack, sex, nudity and a lone gunman who takes on the Man. There is even a scene right out of The St. Valentine's Massacre. I noticed that there are videos on YouTube that edit the kill count together - a lot of people are killed often with blood being the co-star. This is not a thinking film. This is as subtle as dropping people from a high building to the ground below with a big splotch. It is built for violence.

The film begins like a string of firecrackers going off. Three people in monster masks are waiting at night in the pouring rain for a boat to come in. The men on the boat seem to expect them and are easily lulled into relaxing their guard. The three take out machine guns and blow them all away and steal the drugs on the boat. Drugs owned by the Yakuza. Then back in the car they take off their masks - to reveal Yabuki (Bunta), his partner and . . . his mother (Aiko Mimasu). Back at their place he kills the partner and he and the mother stash the drugs in the sewer. Then they of course take a bath together and you are feeling a little uneasy about where this is going. He tells his mother that he killed their partner because he can only trust her.

They think they are home free and easy - no one knows they are the thieves - Yabuki hangs out with all his buddies in a bar where topless women are dancing on table tops while other respectable women are dancing below, a man in the background is beating the crap out of a woman and no one intervenes (as the hero would have in a ninkyo eiga film of the 60's) and Bunta smashes a bottle over the head of someone to steal away his working girl (Yutaka Nakajima) from him in order to bed her. Of course, when you steal from the Yakuza you are never home free and they are looking everywhere and killing everyone. They even bring over two killers from America to help in the brutality.  Sonny Chiba shows up for a quick cameo but it is still enough time for him to kill someone. It is that kind of film. Nothing fancy or stylish here - just straight ahead blasting. In the role as his old girlfriend that he visits near the end of the film is Kyôko Enami, who was the star in some of those female gambler films of the 1960s.

From Toei at 94 minutes. Directed by Akihisa Okamoto who also directed the pretty bad Lady Battle Cop.