Arrow has compiled a Blu-Ray box set with two films based on the exploits of post-war gangster Rikio Ishikawa, as documented by author Goro Fujitu in his novel Graveyard of Honor. There are similarities to The Godfather, with a story focused on conflicts within a gangland family.
The first film is directed by Kinji Fukasaku, who is best-known in the West for his second-to-last film, Battle Royale. Fukasaku started his career in the early ‘60s, including early films with action star Sonny Chiba and the cop/yakuza crime epic film series Battles Without Honor or Humanity. That series was super-violent for the time period and had a documentary feel, pioneering the jitsuroku eiga (‘actual record’) sub-genre of yakuza films that were often based on true stories.
Made in 1975, Graveyard of Honor follows that genre tradition. It covers the rise and fall of Ishikawa, who was one of the worst gangsters to ever live. It’s very violent, with one of the most insane suicide sequences ever seen, and moves at a quick pace across its 94 minutes. Fukasaku’s script even includes evokes the “as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a gangster” line from Goodfellas—Scorsese is known to be one of those people who watches everything, so I assume he had seen it.
One of the major supporting actors in the 1975 Graveyard of Honor, Noboru Ando, was actually a former yakuza and specialised in those roles, as one might imagine. Some years later, Japanese director Takashi Miike made a film about Ando, Deadly Outlaw: Rekko. But just before that, Miike directed his own version of Graveyard of Honor in 2002.
Known for being so prolific that he makes Rainer Werner Fassbinder look like Stanley Kubrick, Miike’s most popular films in the West are probably Audition and Dead or Alive Trilogy. His Graveyard of Honor is much more explicit than the original, and messier rather than streamlined. He recaps Fukasaku’s batshit suicide scene, but changes the time period to the millennium, and the link with the original novel is much looser. But then coherence is not what Miike is usually after…
Even though I like his work, I thought Miike’s film was a bit boring by comparison, especially after watching the two back to back. Fukasaku’s version is definitely the better of the two, a gritty gangster film that tells the story in a compact way and doesn’t pull any punches. There is good use of narration to help the story bridge across a time period of several years while remaining short and fast-paced. From what I gather, it’s also fairly accurate regarding the real character, while Miike starts with the film and adds his signature weird stuff on top—his movie is also much longer.
Both films are presented here in HD for the first time, in a two-disc set with multiple bonus items. For the Fukasaka film , there’s a new audio commentary by critic Mark Schilling, a Mike White visual essay on the film, an extensive archival appreciation of the director called Portrait of Rage, an archival interview with Fukusaka, theatrical trailer and image gallery, all packaged in a new reversable sleeve. The Miike film is accompanied by a new audio commentary from Tom Mes, who has written a biography of the director; a new visual essay from critic Kat Ellinger; an archival featurette and making-of; plus archival press-release interviews, theatrical trailer, image gallery and again a new reversable sleeve. Both have English subtitles as an option, and include the original soundtrack. The set also features an illustrated collector’s booklet with writing by Jasper Sharp on both movies.