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Fukasaku, Kinji


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#1 Izo

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 05:27 PM

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Kinji Fukasaku
Kinji Fukasaku seems to me to be one of the most interesting and anonymous directors of post-1960 Japanese cinema. Whereas filmmakers like Nagisa Oshima and Shohei Imamura, among others, amassed large critical and cult followings outside of Japan in their time, Fukasaku never accomplished this, even though he directed the Japanese half of the trans-Pacific war film Tora! Tora! Tora!. I ask for your recommendations of his films. Long ago I watched Battle Royale and didn't care for it at all. I need to see it again at some point, as it keeps popping up again and again on lists. Perhaps I missed something or was simply in the wrong mood at the time. It's happened before. Since then, however, I've watched the really exceptional Battles Without Honor or Humanity series, which are possibly the best Yakuza movies ever made, and absolutely stand up favorably to any other gangster movie I've seen. Other than that, though, I'm completely ignorant of his works. Hopefully someone can point me in the right direction. I've got a Sonny Chiba box set lying around somewhere that includes Shogun's Samurai, and Swords of Vengeance: Fall of Ako Castle, so maybe I'll start there.

Anyone know more about this guy than me?

Recommended films:
(2) Yakuza Papers
(2) Tora! Tora! Tora!
(1) Battle Royale
(1) The Yagyu Conspiracy

#2 Izo

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 06:56 PM

Huh. Fair enough. Last time there was a less-than-informative thread like this over here there was a bit of a hullabaloo.

#3 Duke Togo

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 07:45 PM

Nah, you started off a fair bit of discussion here, and then asked for some further guidance on this director, which is pretty much exactly what the Director's Database is for. I apologize if that has become unclear and muddled. We only really step in if it seems the poster started the thread just to have the director represented in our 'master list', and without any real discussion on their part. Yours met all the guidelines. We don't want to be mean here. As the guidelines state, we only wish to avoid some sort of quintessential list of empty director threads, and focus on threads people intend to discuss. ;)

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The Yakuza Papers:
I have seen everything you have from Fukasaku. I LOVED LOVED LOVED The Yakuza Papers, I consider it an incredible piece of work. I've only gone through the series once, so I think I need to give it another go just to get all the families and killings sorted out, this time with the help of that clever timeline that came with the set. This film got me quite impressed with Bunta Sugawara, the man has one of the strongest personalities I've ever seen in an actor. Of special note are Sonny Chiba and Jo Shishido both making an appearance in the series, and I bet there will be a few others I recognize since I've seen it last.

Tora! Tora! Tora!:
I really liked Tora! Tora! Tora!, and it is an interesting film in how they approached it. Fukasaku directed the Japanese portions with Toshio Masuda, and Richard Fleischer the American portion. I have to wonder it the attempt to remain historically unbiased and accurate in this American/Japanese co-production might in some way have restricted some of the truth for the sake of unity and face. Both sides are presented with a high level of respect, which may have a filtering effect on the real passion seen in the actual events. Hmmm.

Battle Royale:
A fairly disturbing concept film with 3-4 very strange scenes and an ending post-boat ride that I didn't find necessary, though I don't know how close Fukasaku is sticking to the source manga. I've been really wanting to see the director's cut of this one, just need to pull the trigger on that. I didn't find much to talk about in the casting outside of Kitano Takeshi, though Chiaki Kuriyama who played Gogo in Kill Bill gets a lot of people excited. I don't blame anyone for not liking it, though you being a fan of Miike I have to say I'm surprised. This film is extremely entertaining, and has a clever sense of humor and interesting concept. I mean one of the kids is given a karate headband as his weapon, I'm still laughing about that. The sequel which was co-directed with his son, and which he didn't live to see completed, was pretty bad. I actually didn't finish it yet, and I don't intend to any time soon.

The Yagyu Conspiracy:
A fairly good period film featuring Sonny Chiba, Toshirô Mifune, and Tetsurô Tanba. It has a rather complex political plot, and is presented in such a way that a fairly detailed plot synopsis would be very helpful. There is plenty of Samurai/Ninja skill on display here, some impossible, some close enough to believable, and I don't remember any magical elements. The Yagyu Clan is the same clan that hunted down Lone Wolf & Cub, it is fun to see them as a recurring clan in films like these.

I am most interested in Swords of Vengeance: Fall of Ako Castle because that is Fukasaku's take on the infamous 47 Ronin story. I expect it to be mush more action-packed than Mizoguchi's splendid effort, though I have yet to see Kon Ichikawa's version. I suppose I should watch Fall of Ako Castle tonight since I have it. I will post my thoughts once I have.

#4 Izo

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 04:28 PM

You're not the first person to say something along the lines of "I'm surprised you didn't like Battle Royale since you like Takashi Miike so much.", and it's been so long since I first saw the film that I can't be very specific about the Fukasaku. I'll revisit it sometime soon. Frequently, when I dislike a well-regarded film upon first viewing, it'll work better for me the second time. It's entirely possible that I simply wasn't in the right mood for a film like Battle Royale.

I'm revisiting the Yakuza Papers series, and I plan on writing a fairly lengthy review once I've finished.

Is the New Yakuza Papers series available anywhere?

#5 Izo

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 04:32 PM

Thanks for formatting the thread, by the way. I'll look for reading materials.

My recommendation of Tora! Tora! Tora! isn't without reservations, either. I think that both directors produced far better work, and frankly I dream of the original lineup of John Ford and Akira Kurosawa. What a movie that'd be.

#6 Izo

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Posted 14 September 2010 - 03:37 PM

The Yakuza Papers Volume 1: Battles Without Honor or Humanity

While I am no scholar on the genre - which is quite possibly the coolest ever made - I have no problems with saying that Battles Without Honor or Humanity is the best film the genre has produced. It's also, at the very least to western eyes, a very difficult film to follow at times. There are so many names, so many faces that come and go with alarming frequency, so much going on in every shot that it can be more than a little overwhelming. I say without shame that I find the flow-chart included with the very nice box set of the films extremely useful. This first film of the Yakuza Papers series is quite simply astounding. The film is very stylized, and very violent. Director Kenji Fukasaku grabs us by the throat in the very first scene and does not let up. If the half hour of the film seems calmer and less intense than the preceding hour or so, it's also nastier with the backstabbing and infighting reaching a boiling point. These scenes keep you glued to your seat, since at any moment there could be an explosion of violence and literally every character could die. Not many films can achieve this kind of tone, it's a tightrope walk that somehow Fukasaku manages. Nihilism was never cooler than this.

#7 Duke Togo

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Posted 14 September 2010 - 08:45 PM

Haha, I would like to think even Easterners would have a hard time following the massive torrent of characters/families seen in these stories. I can't think of very many Eastern or Western films that would really need such a flow chart like this one does. I am convinced it was so rich in characters/families because it is based on factual memoirs provided by Bunta Sugawara's character's real-life counterpart, and I doubt many fictional projects would get off the ground with such an unforgiving web of relationships. While I don't think the strength of this series is making such complexities easy to view/understand, I do greatly appreciate something being out there for film fans looking for something a little more meaty. If you like your cinema as deep as a novel, or prefer to not fully understand after the first viewing, this is the film series for you. It will not hold your hand, it will not sell out to the masses, and it is an absolute blast to watch and rewatch.

My old capsule reviews from 2008:

The Yakuza Papers Vol. 1: Battles Without Honor & Humanity - Kenji Fukasaku (1973): 5/5
This was a grabbing first installment in this important series of films depicting a different view of Yakuza life. Romance and chivalry of old is thrown out the window in this brave new direction, where honor is negotiable both from boss and underling alike. A new wave of sorts, this new style can thank reality for its rejuvenating take on the genre thanks to being based on actual memoirs of Yakuza members. The director even interviews those involved so he can include stories not found in the original text.

The Yakuza Papers: Vol. 2 The Deadly Fight in Hiroshima - Kenji Fukasaku (1973): 5/5
The saga continues with even more families thrown into the mix with the survivors from Vol 1. Shozo stays in the background this time, and the plot centers more on the rivalry between Yamanaka (Fukumoto) and Katsutoshi (Chiba). Things get rather unstable with Katsutoshi wanting more power than he deserves, an easily forgiven offence when you consider the lack of honor in the higher ranks. This isn’t the least bit important to Yamanaka, who aims to get his honor back no matter the cost, stealing the show in the process.

The rest I've seen but never reviewed. They all got a 5/5, but I consider them all one large film. It really was a massive production, but it feels consistent like they just couldn't fit it all in one film.

#8 Izo

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Posted 14 September 2010 - 09:16 PM

If you like your cinema as deep as a novel, or prefer to not fully understand after the first viewing, this is the film series for you. It will not hold your hand, it will not sell out to the masses, and it is an absolute blast to watch and rewatch.

I consider them all one large film. It really was a massive production, but it feels consistent like they just couldn't fit it all in one film.


I couldn't agree more with these comments. This is a series that blows by, and if you don't pay attention it will pass you up, and yet it's not a "difficult" work. It's instantly accessible and always entertaining.

The final comment you made there is why I think it's so major. It's consistent in every possible way, even if there are more or less pretty straightforward narrative arcs throughout each film, it is five parts of one larger story. And it's a masterpiece.

#9 Izo

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Posted 17 September 2010 - 02:44 PM

Yakuza Papers Vol. 2: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima

When compared to the first film in the Yakuza Papers series, this one seems less hard-hitting, but paradoxically, it's also angrier. There doesn't, however, seem to be a clear target of the fury with which Fukasaku fills this installment. The hero of the series, Shozo Hirono, stands on the sidelines for much of this film as a frustrated, helpless onlooker. He hasn't quite been able to determine what his role is in this underworld yet, and he and his few men make ends meet by guarding a scrap yard, but it doesn't pay much and the Hirono eventually has to swallow his pride (and a little bit of dog) to see this. Even when he does become active in the film, though, it's as a relatively minor character. Fukasaku instead focuses on one of the best characters that you'll find in the entire series, Yamanaka, played brilliantly by Seizo Fukumoto, in a performance of barely-bottled rage and desperation. It's a really fantastic piece of acting, and in the end we care more about this character and his fate than we have any other thus far. Another excellent entry in the series.

#10 Izo

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Posted 18 September 2010 - 04:21 PM

Here's a Fukasaku oddity, Message From Space:



This looks right up my alley. What a strange-looking film.

#11 Duke Togo

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Posted 18 September 2010 - 06:26 PM

Whew, looks worth checking out for both good and bad reasons. Some of the space ship battles looked slightly above-average, but the plot and dialogue seems painful. The costumes are all over the place, especially for the duel with pistols.

#12 Izo

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Posted 19 September 2010 - 10:45 AM

Whew, looks worth checking out for both good and bad reasons. Some of the space ship battles looked slightly above-average, but the plot and dialogue seems painful. The costumes are all over the place, especially for the duel with pistols.


Oh yeah, it definitely doesn't look like a "good" film, but then it's always a possibility. It's obviously a Star Wars knockoff, but I'm not big on Star Wars so that doesn't bother me all that much.

#13 Izo

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 12:43 PM

I was watching The Yakuza Papers Vol. 3: Proxy Wars last night (I did not finish it, as I started nodding off, an unfortunate habit of mine that is a combined result of early starts, long work days, and starting a movie after 11 pm, but I digress), and something occurred to me. Fukasaku's use of the multitude of characters, the way they blend into crowds, appear and disappear with alarming frequency, the way that big, emotional moments are either grazed over or avoided altogether, and how things can generally become somewhat confusing out of their sheer number, is absolutely similar to what Robert Altman was doing in America at the very same time with movies like Nashville. Even the color palettes of the two films are similar. I'm not suggesting that this one intentional by either man, but it is an interesting parallel and I think it helps people who haven't seen the series understand the way that characters are handled.

#14 Izo

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Posted 27 September 2010 - 04:03 PM

Restarted and finished The Yakuza Papers Volume 3: Proxy Wars last night, and it's just another knockout, if also the most politically confusing of the films yet.

#15 Izo

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Posted 15 December 2010 - 02:55 PM

Fall Guy

Excellent movie, and I found a lot to love in it. Apparently, it dominated in the 1982 Japanese Academy Awards, winning best picture, director, actor, and actress, and it's plain to see why. It's just a movie that makes you smile throughout and feel good, and anyone who has seen even a handful of Japanese movies will recognize how lovingly the extended movie-sequences are filmed. Really, the movie is just a beautiful and poignant and very funny love letter to the movies, and what's not to like about that? As the film's leads, Mitsuro Hirata and especially Keiko Matsuzaka, who has the more demanding role, are both excellent. Well worth any movie fan's time, and if you're at all familiar with director Kenji Fukasaku, this one may be quite the surprise to you.

#16 Izo

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 03:50 PM

The Green Slime

This is an awful, awful, awful movie in all of the best ways, and I enjoyed it a great deal. It features a brilliant psychedelic theme song by Charles Fox. The movie is completely inept in virtually every way, from the hilarious rubber-suit monster to the even hilarious-er dance sequence. I swear to God, the people in the movie are doing Charlie Brown dances! It's a wonder to behold. Kinji Fukasaku directed the movie, though you'd never know it. Actually, there are some quite nice and unexpectedly graceful camera movements scattered throughout the film, but they don't really call attention to themselves and they don't do much for the movie's quality. Interestingly, the first half of the film is extremely similar to Michael Bay's Armageddon. I'd rather watch this goofball sci-fi movie a dozen times over than have to endure the animal cracker scene from that film ever again.

The acting is abysmal. The special effects are laughable. The writing is atrocious. I recommend this film if you embrace the kind of Troll 2-style incompetence that you will find herein. Good fun if you're into that sort of thing. I happen to be, so I liked the film. Even so, I predict that I won't be discussing the film at length when I discuss Fukasaku's career with others.



#17 Duke Togo

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 05:11 PM

That is kind of what I expect from Message From Space. I have the Green Slime poster on my desktop at work, looks like my kind of fun. Still...Troll 2?

I don't remember, did you ever watch beyond the 3rd Yakuza Papers?

#18 Izo

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 05:14 PM

I haven't on my recent re-watchings, no. But I have seen them all years ago.

It's about Troll 2 level bad, I think.

#19 Izo

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 12:16 AM

Here's a Fukasaku oddity, Message From Space:



This looks right up my alley. What a strange-looking film.


Message From Space is actually on Netflix to view instantly, so I couldn't resist. An oddity it is, and it's really bizarre. The film does feature some really nice visual inventiveness and costumes, but the script and special effects is just so awful that there's really not much to recommend. It's really just an atrocious Star Wars knock off, and Fukasaku's hand-held camerawork really doesn't lend itself to that genre. I enjoyed it on a bad-movie level, though it's twenty minutes too long. For fans of Fukasaku only, but there is some really neat stuff here if you look for it hard enough.

#20 Duke Togo

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 10:03 AM

All this bad scifi. I've almost pulled the Netflix trigger on this one several times, but it continues to elude me somehow. Even as a fan of his, those 'so bad they're good' movie moods are a bit rare for me (unless Joel and the bots are involved).




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