Prison Boss

Year: 1968
Yasuo Furuhata
Rating: 6.0/10

Gokuchu no kaoyaku

As the theme song goes "A man has to do what a man has to do". That is especially true if he is a Yakuza who follows the code. Not all of them do and in a territorial dispute between two rival Yakuza factions the Tajima family follows traditions while the Honma family feels free to break all the rules of honor. Like so many of these Yakuza films in the 1960s the need to fulfill obligations is the driving theme that forces the narrative. The Tajima family have won the right to be the security at a cycling race track and the Honma's want that concession very badly, Clearly, cycling is a much more popular gambling sport in Japan than in the USA and there is big money in it. Worth killing for.

Hayami (Ken Takakura) is sort of a wandering Ronin in the modern world - a Yakuza but belonging to no family. He is just out of a nine year stretch for killing Tetsuo the Viper in a street knife fight. But he feels obligated to the Tajima family because they took him in and tended his wounds under the tender loving eyes of the Boss's daughter (Junko Fuji) before he turned himself in. When the Honma family kills one of the Tajima's he feels it is his duty to get revenge but fails and is back in prison again for a year. In prison he meets an old childhood friend (Ryo Ikebe) who is now part of the Honma family and who has orders to kill Hayami.

This is primarily drama with only a few exclamation marks of violence - even the inevitable final bloodletting is brief - the film is much more concerned about the Yakuza code, life in prison and the love between Hayami and the daughter. So it drags a bit at times and the noble Yakuza are almost too noble to be believable - more like a civic family business. I was also a bit disappointed with the role given to Fuji Junko, one of my favorite Japanese actresses.

She and Takakura paired up in loads of Yakuza films usually of the ninkyo eiga sub-genre - i.e. period chivalry films. In many of these she is an action figure taking care of herself at the end of a sharp blade and I kept waiting for her to take justice into her own hands but instead they stuck her with a flower vase role. Her father was a major producer at the Tōei studios and helped make her a star but he did her wrong here! This is directed by Yasuo Furuhata who was to direct Takakura in a number of his Abashiri Prison series after this film for Toei.