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The Yakuza

USA/Japan 1974. Dir: Sydney Pollack. 112 min. 35mm

GREG GIRARD

INTRODUCED BY THE ARTIST / There is an early scene in The Yakuza in which Robert Mitchum’s character, Kilmer, and his young sidekick, Dusty, ride into town from the airport. It’s Tokyo, 1974. Kilmer, stationed in Japan after the war, looks out at the modern cityscape and says, “I hardly recognize the place.” Dusty, unimpressed, replies, “Looks like just another big city.” (You won’t see this scene. I’m remembering it from my first viewing in Tokyo in 1976, and it appears to have been cut from all subsequent versions of the film). Dusty’s throwaway comment was, for me, a kind of landmark moment: the first acknowledgment of Tokyo as a modern city in a Hollywood film, a refreshing corrective to outdated readings of the time. It also demonstrates that particularly American indifference to “the foreign,” a hallmark of post-war American hubris and entitlement. Later, Kilmer’s old army buddy tells them: “It’s still there. Farmers in the countryside may watch TV from their tatami mats and you can’t see Fuji through the smog, but don’t let it fool you. It’s still Japan and the Japanese are still Japanese.” A good enough introduction to modernity in Japan. And a good enough departure point for exploring the forms it would take in the years ahead. (GG)


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Greg Girard is a Canadian photographer who has spent much of his career in Asia. His work has examined the social and physical transformations in Asia, especially in its largest cities, for more than three decades. He is the author of several photographic books including City of Darkness Revisited, a revival and update of the influential book with co-author Ian Lambot, City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City (Watermark, 1993). His work is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

 

REVIEWS

"Mitchum has always been one of my favorite movie actors ... No other actor I can think of could inhabit such a violent movie with such an affecting combination of toughness, tenderness, weariness, and cynicism."

Roger Ebert | full review

"The formalised violence is rivetingly choreographed. The final show-down is one not to be missed."

Time Out | full review