The Kanto Scarlet Cherry Gang

Year: 1972
Masahiro Makino
Rating: 7.5/10

A.K.A. Red Cherry Blossom Family of Kanto

After having watched Ken Takakura in two American films (Black Rain and The Yakuza). I thought I would watch him in a Japanese film that I had been sitting on for a while. It turns out that this was a last hurrah or commemoration for the actress Junko Fuji and they bring in the whole gang to bid her farewell in retirement (which she did but came back later to act again). Junko had been a huge star at Toei Studios in the 1960's often in period films and often in an action role. Her eight films in the Red Peony Gambler series were very popular. In many of her films she was often teamed up with one of three other action figures and they all show up in this one - Takakura, Koji Tsuruta and Tomisaburo Wakayama. Throw in Bunta Sugiwara as well though he doesn't really get into the fun here - but he starred in loads of Yakuza films - the series titled The Yakuza Papers being the best known.

This film is a bit confusing. As best as I can tell it takes place in the late 1800's as there are trams and pistols but no cars. There are lots of characters, lots of sub-plots, lot of cliques and it takes a while to figure out what the relationships of the people are to one another. Even with four action stars in it for much of its running time it is a "family" melodrama with sporadic instances of violence - till the end of course where it explodes into a rampage of killing. Like so many of the films of this period more is unsaid than said and honor, obligation, loyalty and status are what the society is driven by. When people break those rules there is hell to pay. I put "family" in quotes because I don't just mean those related to you - but your group - your clan - that you have joined becomes your family.

Junko is the daughter of the leader of the fire fighters group - all ready to die for one another though they are by definition part of the civil service. For a traditional and very polite Japanese woman she has some unusal skills as shown in the first scene when she battles three men in the street and sends them flying using a hair pin and the Hoshi Single Sword Style. She can also entertain as a geisha, wield a pistol, make men's hearts flutter and gamble like a professional. Trouble comes to town in the form of a gambler who runs a gang and are intent on spreading their power and not above murder to get it.

Takakura plays the former love of Junko who had to leave town years before after killing someone in a fight. He returns to pay homage to an old Boss. Tsuruta wanders into town and finds himself in the middle of this fight but he has obligations that puts him reluctantly opposite Junko and Takakura. Tomisaburo is a storyteller with an inclination to step in when things get out of hand. Takakura and Tsuruta played similar characters in many many films - honorable above all else - even though in this case they are both Yakuza. Both were immensely popular. A nice send-off for Junko as she gets to show many sides of her acting skills.