The Yakuza has long been a household name in Japan. It has certainly had an impact on the country’s culture, traditions, and even entertainment, albeit not on every area of it.
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In Japan, the yakuza has become the subject of numerous works, both in paper and on the big screen. As a result, in Japanese cinema, Yakuza films have established a distinct subgenre.
11. Like a Dragon – 2007
Everyone is entitled to a second chance, but it’s not always easy to acquire one. It’s a tale of a person’s desire to begin a fresh chapter in his or her life.
As a former Yakuza member, Kiryu Kazuma served his time and is now free. He refuses to be drawn back into the past. After that, he meets Haruka, who is searching for her missing mother.
Kauma had a crush on Haruka’s mother, Mizuki, as a child. Majima, a psychopath who has been seeking for him with a vengeance, is also on the scene. The events of Kazuma’s past appear to follow him around and prevent him from moving on to a new way of life.
Like a Dragon was inspired by Yakuza, a PlayStation 2 video game released in 2005.
10. Battles Without Honor and Humanity Volume 1 – 1973
This is a series of movies about battles without honor and humanity. The five Japanese Yakuza films were all box office successes.
The Yakuza struggled for power in Hiroshima following the end of the Second World War. Everyone went through a rough time at this period. Boss Yamamori’s new gang is formed by Shozo Hirono. When Hiroshi, Shozo’s prison buddy, decides to side with him, there are issues. Hiroshi betrays Shozo in the future.
In Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Yakuza Kozo Mino’s life is depicted as a fictional character. Popularizing the Jitsuroku Eiga genre, which depicts the transactions of the Yakuza, is the goal of the film series.
Toei Company, Ltd. and famed director Kinji Fukasaku collaborated on all five films. They are reported to have been made between 1973 and 1974.
9. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? – 2013
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness section.
A non-traditional film crew aspires to make a big-budget action epic. A connection is made with Muto, who is seeking vengeance for an attack that occurred ten years ago. In order to develop a film featuring his daughter as the protagonist, Muto plans to cast her in the lead role. The film team seizes this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture a real-life Yakuza gang shootout on video.
Critics in Japan and throughout the world were divided on how they felt about the picture. See it for yourself in the film Why Don’t You Play in Hell?
8. The Graveyard Honor – 1975
Rikio Ishikawa’s tale is the inspiration for Graveyard of Honor. A self-destructive Japanese gang member is introduced in the novel.
Yakuza Rikio Ishikawa is well-known for his destructive tendencies in addition to his status as a member of the organization. Kawada, his own family’s clan, finds him in hot water.
Chieko lends a hand to him. When he is exiled to Osaka, his life goes on. Rikio may face a powerful Yakuza clan, but he is his worst enemy.
A Blue Ribbon Award for Best Director was granted to Graveyard of Honor’s Kinji Fukasaku for the film. The original film was released in 1975, and a new version was produced in 2002.
7. Sonatine – 1993
This Yakuza existence of Murakawa’s hasn’t been very fun. In Okinawa, he’s been dispatched to settle a rift among the family members. He’s wary, but he goes anyhow.
He was shocked to discover the bodies of numerous of his soldiers. Finally, he’s convinced that everything is in place. So that someone else can rule over his domain, he’s been banished to Okinawa.
It’s hard not to include Sonatine in your list of Japanese Yakuza movies to see, given its illustrious awards and accolades.
6. Youth of the Beast – 1963
A Yakuza chief seeks out Joe Shishido and has him join his organization. A role in the Yakuza is saved from him because of his violent temperament. Because of his new circumstances, he has access to a wider network of influential people.
It all begins with an agreement between two Yakuza factions, which leads to an outbreak of violence. He has a secret goal, one that only he is privy to.
5. Ichi the Killer – 2001
The manga version of Ichi the Killer is a striking one. The film is claimed to depict brutality in a gruesome manner.
300 million yen is stolen by the Yakuza chief Anjo. His gang mates begin their search for him. Kakihara, another one of his devoted followers, also sets out to track him down. A man named Jijii can be contacted for information, and Kaikahara discovers this.
Because of Kaikahara’s success, Ichi, a young lunatic with incredible martial arts talents, is now Kaikahara’s next adversary. Ichi and Kakihara face off in a bloody duel, and Kakihara has no idea how much suffering Ichi inflicts.
4. Branded to Kill – 1967
Two high-ranking hitmen from the Japanese underworld are on the run again after resigning from their duties. Branded to Kill has an IMDb rating of 7.4/10, which indicates that it is a high-octane film.
Goro Hanada, a third-ranking hitman, meets Kasuga in Tokyo. Mami, Goro’s wife, accompanied him. However, Kasuga is a former hitman himself. They’ve both had normal lives, but now they’re hitmen again.
They’ve been contracted to take a client to Nagano, where they’ll stay. It’s clear to Hanada and Nagano that an ambush is about to occur.
In spite of the fact that Branded to Kill had been widely panned in Japan, some of the biggest names in foreign cinema had embraced it.
Filmmakers from South Korea, Hong Kong, and the United States are claimed to have drawn inspiration from the film’s plot. Branded to Kill is one of the most popular Yakuza films, and it’s clear why.
3. Graveyard of Honor – 2002
Graveyard of Honor, a remake of the original film of the same name, is a bloody and brutal thriller. Kinji Fukasaku, better known as the “godfather of Yakuza flicks,” directed the original film, which was remade by Takeshi Miike.
A Yakuza boss is saved by Ishimatsu, a bartender and dishwasher. He quickly rises through the ranks of the Yakuza and attains a high level without even realizing it.
Other gang members are enraged as a result. Newly-acquired authority makes Ishimatsu arrogant and he begins to recklessly murder, sexually assault and drug himself to excess. Is he going to suffer a rapid downfall as a result of his sudden promotion?
Despite Graveyard of Honor’s depiction of a violent and gruesome world, this film also shows the facts of existence.
2. Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima – 1973
At number one on our list of best Japanese Yakuza films are Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima. This picture, directed by Kiji Fukasaku, is unquestionably one of the best.
During a card game in Hiroshima, Shoji Yamanaka cheats and stabs many individuals. He gets arrested and sentenced to two years in prison. He befriends Shozo Hirono, whom he meets behind closed doors.
In the end, he was freed and became a member of a new Yakuza family. The niece of his boss is the object of his affections while he devotes himself to his new family’s needs. Shoji’s interest in the lesson becomes more and more intense.
This leads him to the discovery of an elaborate plot. He’s come to terms with the genuine issue, but his life is in jeopardy due to the fact that the police have already cornered him.
“Deadly Fight in Hiroshima” was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed Yakuza films of 1973.
Director Kinji has crafted a five-film Yakuza series in the span of two years. Fukasaku’s reputation has been elevated to greatness thanks to this blockbuster five-movie series.
1. Sympathy for the Underdog – 1971
A Samurai and a Yakuza are two very different types of warriors. There are many Yakuza films in Japanese cinema, but Sympathy for the Underdog is one of the best.
Gunji was expelled from Yokohama by a well-known gang from Tokyo. In his own Yakuza clan, Gunji is the leader. Gunji wants to re-establish his gang in Okinawa after being freed from prison.
As he completes his group, he is confronted by the same Tokyo gang that defeated him once before. Gunji is hoping for a different outcome this time around. Following this, a gang war erupts.
Although the violence in Japanese Yakuza films is graphic, they also show the particular circumstances that the Japanese have had to deal with. The stories and situations depicted in these films may be fictional, yet they were true to life for the Japanese.
We will continue to witness the Yakuza’s effect in the future because they are a part of Japanese culture and heritage.
Check out our selection of the best Japanese action films if you’re a fan of the genre.