Enlisted Yakuza
Director: Kiyoshi Saeki
Year: 1968
Rating: 7.5

Aka - Heitai gokudo

What a wonderful mashed up film. How to describe it? A Yakuza-War-Prison-Prostitute-Dirty Dozen hybrid of a film maybe. Oh, and partly a comedy. It is 90 minutes of chaos and violence and pretty much anything goes. I really enjoyed it just for its ambitions and the fun factor. This is the third film in the eleven film Gokudo series that follows Osaka gang leader Shimamura Seikichi all over the place - in this one to the war in China, in another to Hong Kong - but unfortunately this is the only one I have been able to lay my grubby hands on.

Shimamura is played by Tomisaburô Wakayama, famous for the Lone Wolf series as well as being the brother of Shintaro Katsu (Zatoichi). But both brothers were in loads of film outside of their most famous character - in fact Wakayama was in a few other series as well - The Wicked Priest, Silk Hat Boss, Bounty Hunter, Ningyô Sashichi torimonochô (from the 1950's in which I believe he is a detective) and a recurring character in the Red Peony Gambler films with Fuji Junko. He doesn't play subtle - all bluster and threats, killing on impulse, having sex with prostitutes, barking more than speaking - and yet he is the hero in many of his films - though certainly not always. He makes a good villain as well.

This movie initially fools you into thinking it is going to be a comedy - a fish out of water scenario as a head Yakuza is drafted into the army in 1937 and can't fit in - until about fifteen minutes in. Then the brutal killing begins as Shimamura has to teach another Yakuza gang a lesson before going off to war, then brutality in the prison as he is tortured and beaten and dumped in a desert and finally the Dirty Dozen section.  Enjoy the comedy while you can.

So Shimamura gets a big send off by the citizens of Osaka and his men as he goes away for training and pledging loyalty to the Emperor. His men feel a fierce loyalty to him and in the world of Yakuza bosses, he seems one of the nicer ones. But don't cross him. In the camp he has a very hard time adjusting and finds himself in and out of prison 36 times. He also has an issue with one of the other men - Killer Hiruma Sakamaki - who was the the enforcer in a rival gang. And is now a higher rank than Shimamura. Far down the line Shimamura is sentenced to three years of prison for being a sex pervert while on guard duty - Sakamaki ends up there as well (also for sex perversion) and a few others - one being Gocho or Knife - played by Bunta Sugawara. He isn't in it much - not yet a star but looking ahead in the series I see that he shows up as different characters a few times.

Then the top guys in the military decide they want to send men on a mission that are expendable - line up the prisoners. And off they go into a situation that isn't exactly as they were led to believe. The Dirty Dozen came out the year before this and no doubt was an inspiration. But that is only part of this film. Comfort women, betrayal, sacrifice are all woven into it. Also fighting the Chinese. Hmmm. I have not seen many films from Japan in which they fight the Chinese. There have been some very serious ones made - the trilogy from Kon Ichikawa comes to mind but these tend to be anti-war films. This isn't pro-war but it is pure pulp and you have to think about whether you should be rooting for the Dirty Dozen surrounded by a hundred Chinese trying to kill them. The director is Kiyoshi Saeki, who I am not too familiar with. I don't think I have seen any of his films but I recognize a few of the titles and see that he directed Hibari Misora a few times. After this, someone to keep an eye out for. With nearly 70 films to his credit, he must have been doing something right.