GANGSTER VIP (1968)
Directed by Toshio Masuda
Part of Arrow Video Outlaw Gangster VIP Boxset
After stabbing his brother, a member of the opposing Ueno yakuza clan, Goro of the Mizuhara clan is sentenced to three years in prison. After his release, Goro returns to Tokyo to re-establish his role within the clan with Suzuki and Takeo at his side but Goro quickly discovers he is the number one target of the Aoki clan putting everyone’s lives around him into jeopardy.
GANGSTER VIP is the first of the six films in Arrow Video’s limited edition Outlaw Gangster VIP collection boxset which are based on the novels by real-life former gangster Goro Fujita. Tetsuya Watari stars as Goro Fujikawa, a no-nonsense yakuza member who seems to have had one long life of hardship. From losing his younger sister and mother to running away from a youth detention centre, it’s no wonder that Goro has ended up being a part of the Mizuhara clan. Although handy with a tanto and not afraid to defend himself, Goro appears to be a softy at heart especially when it comes to women. His disappointment when he discovers his girlfriend has gone on to marry someone else whilst he was serving his prison sentence is written all over his face though his attitude to new love interest Yukiko (Chieko Matsubara) attempts to disguise his caring side. As those around him come under threat, Goro realises that as long as he is in the yakuza, he has a target on his back and anyone he associates with are fair play in the eyes of the dirty Ueno clan.
Toshio Masuda’s GANGSTER VIP is an enthralling watch thanks to the menacing acting chops of Tetsuya Watari, with his bushy-browed stare and blunt attitude, backed up by a stellar supporting cast. The film itself seems to place an importance on love and family with two of the yakuza members, Goro and Takeo, having siblings who align with a rival gang which causes friction in their relationship. Whilst they serve their yakuza bosses, isn’t the link between brothers that much stronger? As the film unfolds, we discover whether blood is indeed thicker than water in a place where loyalty seems to belong to the clans.
With this being a gangster film, expect to see lots of brawls, most of which involve knives and a heck of a lot of mud! With the gang members slipping and sliding everywhere, it’s not always clear to see who’s who but with Goro never seen without his black leather jacket, it’s pretty easy at least to keep an eye on him. Despite the film’s title, it isn’t the fight scenes or the gang rivalry which take precedence. Instead, the film spends a lot of time exploring the effect being a yakuza member has on a person and how it affects them and those they care for. As Goro explains, you can’t just leave the yakuza but you could if you disappear. Being a gang member is a serious game and behind each corner could be a rival member waiting to stab you and ruin those plans, dreams and aspirations for the future.
The Arrow Video transfer is rather impressive with beautiful clear, colourful shots. An odd bit of noise occurs twice but only for a split second and nothing to be concerned about. The audio too is clear with English subtitles provided for the Japanese dialogue. The disc comes with a featurette on all six movies as well as audio commentary, trailer and gallery for Gangster VIP.
GANGSTER VIP is a fascinating, engaging start to the series.