• Graveyards Of Honor (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: September 8th, 2020.
    Director: Kinji Fukasaku/Takeshi Miike
    Cast: Tatsuo Umemiya, Tetsuya Watari, Yumi Takigawa, Noburo Ando, Hajime Hana, Gorō Kishitani, Shingo Yamashiro, Narumi Arimori, Ryōsuke Miki
    Year: 1975/2002
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    Graveyards Of Honor – Movie Review:

    Arrow Video pairs together Kinji Fukasaku’s 1975 Yakuza classic Graveyard Of Honor with its 2002 remake, helmed by Takashi Miike. Both films are based on Fujita Goro's novel of the same name, which tells the story of real life Yakuza Rikio Ishikawa.

    Graveyard Of Honor (1975):

    In Kinji Fukasaku’s Graveyard of Honor, Tetsuya Watari (of Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter) plays Rikio Ishikawa, an up and coming street thug of sorts who inadvertently ends up joining the Kawada Yakuza gang who operate out of Tokyo in the 1940s.

    He’s too rebellious for his own good though, and after angering the established Yakuza a few too many times, he leaves so that he can start his own gang. In order to shoot straight to the top of the underworld food chain, what he does is go straight for the boss of the Kawadas. He stages a brutal assault on the boss, which brings a huge amount of disrespect to him, ultimately not only disgracing himself, but his entire Yakuza family as well.

    With his old family after him for revenge, Ishikawa allows himself to be arrested and he’s sent off to prison for a year or so, but he’ll soon find that he’s not even safe behind bars and in police custody, as his actions have brought down the wrath of the entire Kawada family and all of the resources that they have available to them. Add to that the fact that even the lowliest of thugs would gain instant acceptance by putting a bullet in Ishikawa’s head and you can see how things might get a little bit complicated for our (anti) hero.

    In order to save his life, he flees Tokyo and hides out in Osaka for another year, where the Kawada group has little to no presence. But once his self-imposed exile is up, he plans his return to Tokyo so that he can finish what he started.

    Graveyard Of Honor is Fukasaku at the height of his cinematic prowess. He deftly blends many of the themes he touched on in his other Yakuza films and injects them with hyper-kinetic doses of stark violence and brutal realism. His common theme of one man fighting against the system has never been so well explored as it is in this film and his experimental camera work brings it all to the forefront and leaves nothing to your imagination.

    We’re pulled into Ishikawa’s sick world and we find ourselves cheering for him. Despite the fact that he is nothing but a criminal and a murderer we want him to succeed because the characters are realistic enough that we can relate to them even if we can’t always relate to their actions.

    Graveyard Of Honor (2002):

    One of eight films directed by Takashi Miike in 2002, this “remake” of Graveyard Of Honor takes things in a decidedly different direction than Fukasaku did while still exploring some of the same things and retaining a gritty feel.

    The story a bartender named Rikuo Ishimatsu (Gorō Kishitani) who has successfully climbed the ranks within a Yakuza clan after defending its leader, Shinobu Sawada (Shingo Yamashiro) and saving his life. This earns him not only his respect but his appreciation as well. In return for his service, Ishimatsu is given control of a neighborhood, much to the jealousy of his fellow Yakuza soldiers. Ishimatsu takes the role very seriously and rules the territory with an iron fist, his tactics becoming increasingly violent and aggressive to the point where his relationship with lady friend Chieko (Narumi Arimori) starts to show some cracks. When Ishimatsu gets busted for murder, he’s sent behind bars but he manages to form an alliance with Kōzō Imamura (Ryōsuke Miki), the head of a rival clan.

    However, when Ishimatsu once again finds himself a free man and needs to ask Sawada for a loan to get back on his feet, it sets into motion a rapid downward spiral as his increasingly self-destructive lifestyle ultimately begins to catch up with him.

    Those expecting the cartoonish antics of other Miike Yakuza pictures like Ichi The Killer or the Dead Alive Trilogy may be taken aback by just how hard-hitting and dark this one gets. Miike is playing this material completely straight, presenting a gritty, violent character study about a man who’s lifestyle turns against him after making a few minor missteps. It’s a really well-made picture, directed with enough style to make you take notice but not so glossy that it doesn’t retain an appropriately realistic tone. The same sort of documentary style that Fukasaku employed in his original film is used frequently in this picture as well, and to similarly good effect. The picture is paced well, the locations work really nicely and the tone just feels right.

    Performances are also very strong. Shingo Yamashiro is very good as the elder Yakuza statesman and Narumi Arimori is perfectly cast as Ishimatsu’s fragile female companion. Gorō Kishitani, who played the lead in The Returner, is excellent as Ishimatsu, playing up the character’s paranoia and bad behavior to the hilt, without overdoing it.

    Graveyards Of Honor – Blu-ray Review:

    Both films are presented on their own 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, the first framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and the second at 1.85.1 widescreen. The first film takes up 24.5GBs of space and it looks really good, nice and gritty in the way that it should look, the natural amount of film grain seemingly right at home in this world. Colors are handled nicely and look quite natural, black levels are good and we get strong detail and texture as well. The second film takes up 35.5GBs of space and it also looks very good, nice and filmic. Colors are very realistic, skin tones look just fine and blacks are solid. Neither transfer demonstrates any compression issues and both pictures are free of any noise reduction or edge enhancement problems.

    The first film is presented in Japanese language 24-bit DTS-HD Mono and it sounds fine. Range is, of course, a little limited but the track is clean and properly balanced. The second film gets a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track, and it also sounds very good. Balance is fine, there’s good depth to the mix and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note. Optional subtitles are provided for both films in English only.

    Extras are spread across the two discs in the set as follows:

    Graveyard Of Honor (1975):

    First up is a new audio commentary by author and critic Mark Schilling that starts off with a brief overview of the neighborhood that the film starts in before then going on to give some specifics about why it's portrayed the way it is, based on his own interview with the late director. He gives all sorts of information about the cast members featured in the picture, notes where Fukasaku got his inspiration from for this picture - mainly the life of real life Yakuza Rikio Ishikawa - and research that was done by the director before the movie was made. There's talk of the morality of the characters in the film, how and why the film was cast the way that it was, the politics featured in the film and how they tie into Japan's history, differences between the finished film and the original script, the possible symbolism of certain scenes and how specific characters are dressed (one possibly standing in for the 'God Of Death') and quite a bit more. Lots of food for thought here, and some welcome analysis and historical context.

    From there, we dig into the featurettes starting with Like A Balloon: The Life Of A Yakuza, a new thirteen-minute visual essay by critic and Projection Booth podcast host Mike White. This piece covers the history of Yakuza films and their place in Japanese history, how the portrayal of Yakuza characters has changed over the years, the explosion in popularity of the genre in the 60s and 70s, Fukasaku's important contributions to the genre and what set his films apart from those that came before it. White also covers the importance of Graveyard Of Honor and how it told the story of an actual person, the differences between Graveyard Of Honor And The Battles without Honor And Humanity series, the use of documentary style in Fukasaku's movies, ties to the films of Jean-Pierre Melville (particularly Le Circle Rouge), the use of symbolism in Graveyard Of Honor and how all of this ties into the narrative, the use of sepia tone in the film and lots more. It's a very insightful piece that does a great job of dissecting the different elements of the feature.

    Up next is A Portrait of Rage, an “archival appreciation of Fukasaku and his films, featuring interviews with filmmakers, scholars, and friends of the director.” This twenty-minute piece is mainly made up of interviews with Graveyard Of Honor's assistant director Kenichi Oguri, the director's son (and a filmmaker in his own right) Kenta Fukasaku, Japanese film expert Linda Hoaglund, filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa and film scholar and biographer Sadao Yamane. Along the way they explore the recurring themes of Fukasaku's work, his love of tellign stories about the 'losers' in society, the use of violence in his films, the effect that his personal life nad upbringing had on his picture, the effect of the Second World War on his personality and his art, how to respond to parents upset by the violence in his pictures, how the politics of his teenage years shaped his world view and his cinematic sense, the importance of realism to the director no matter how unpleasant it may be and quite a bit more. There are plenty of clips and archival photographs used from throughout the director's career to give some visual context.

    On the Set With Fukasaku is an archival interview with assistant director Kenichi Oguri that runs just under six-minutes and sees him speaking about what it was like working with Fukasaku for Toei around the time that this movie was made. He discusses how Toei kept going when other studios like Nikkatsu and Daei did not, how he came on board to work on this project when shooting had already started and how he and the other assistant director's hadn't read the script and needed to learn everything from Fukasaku. He also talks about the realism in the film, his thoughts on the eneding and the stunts needed to pull that off.

    A theatrical trailer and a still gallery finish off the extras on disc one.

    Graveyard Of Honor (2002):

    Extras on the second disc include a new audio commentary by Miike biographer Tom Mes, the author of Agitator: The Cinema Of Takashi Miike. He speaks quite candidly about how the film isn't really a remake so much as it is a re-adaptation of the novel that Fukasaku's original movie was also based on. We get lots of detail on the author of that book, his influence on the Outlaw Gangster VIP series, where Miike was at as a filmmaker during this period of his career, how Miike's films can compare to Ozu (and how this works!), who did what in front of and behind the camera and how the use of a 'hidden camera' in this film parallels a scene in his earlier Ley Lines. Mes also talks about how this picture is not a morality play at all, the portrayal of family in the picture, the budgetary restraints that affected the Yakuza film as its popularity waned, what Miike has gone on to do since this movie by bouncing back and forth between commercial and artistic films, Miike's work in the chanbara genre and the vision he brings to those films and a lot more. It’s a very detailed track that offers a lot of information and Mes’ laid back delivery makes it easy to listen to.

    From there, we get a new visual essay by author and critic Kat Ellinger entitled Man Of Violence: The Male Driving Forces In Takashi Miike’s Cinema that runs twenty-four-minutes. Here she speaks about Miike's origins in V-cinema and his ability to hop from genre to genre and in doing so how he found a 'strong singular voice.' This leads into a deeper dive into how this film compares to Miike's more outlandish pictures, where Miike's take on the original story differs from Fukasaku's and the thematic traits that can be found throughout his work. She then cites Mes' book quite a bit (which really is the most in-depth piece out there on Miike) as she discusses the way that his films portray the different themes that Miike tends to come back to over and again - the ruthless individual, the outcast, the portray of family and male bonding (often of the unconventional sort).

    As far as archival materials go, we get an interview special featuring Miike and cast members Goro Kishitani and Narimi Arimori. This eighteen-minute covers the characters portrayed in the film, the performers thoughts on working with Miike, thoughts on the original Fukasaku film, thoughts on the Japanes film industry of the time, Miike's intentions of not presenting a watered down version of the story, what it was like for Miike directing these cast members and the importance of body language in a few key scenes, how Goro Kishitani and Narimi Arimori worked together and got along in the scenes they shared and how Miike affords his cast the opportunity to be spontaneous on set.

    An eight-minute archival making-of featurette is made up of a bunch of footage shot on set during the production that shows Miike directing his cast, the cast members getting into character, the crew setting up for specific scenes and more. It's all done fly-on-the-wall style, there are no interviews here or anything, it's just BTS footage, but it's interesting enough to see. The archival making-of teaser is a quick two-minute promotional piece that hypes the movie as a re-envisioning of Fukasaku's film before then showing off the cast and crew and some behind the scenes footage.

    Arrow has also supplied an archival press conference that includes interviews with Miike, Kishitani and Arimori and which runs just over four-minutes. Shot on February 22nd, 2002 at an HMV in Shibuya, this quick press conference sees Miike noting that Fukasaku's film is the big brother to his good for nothing younger brother version, how it differs from the earlier film, thoughts on the characters that the two performers played, trying to stay in character throughout the production, trying to make one another comfortable on set and how the movie is an anti-drug film.

    The last archival piece is premiere special featuring Miike, Kishitani and Arimori that runs four-minutes. Here we get a chance to check out the film's premiere at Tokuma Hall on June 3rd, 2002. Miike and the two performers give a quick introduction to the movie and express to the audience how much they hope they'll enjoy it and tell a few amusing stories about what it was like workign together on the project.

    A theatrical trailer and a still gallery finish off the extras on disc two.

    As Arrow has only sent test discs for review we can’t comment on any packaging or insert booklets as they were not supplied.

    Graveyards Of Honor – The Final Word:

    Arrow’s release of Graveyards Of Honor presents two very different but equally rewarding takes on Rikio Ishikawa’s story made by two incredibly different filmmakers. Both of these pictures, which are very well-made, are presented in excellent shape and with fine audio and loads of supplements accompanying them to provide historical context and critical analysis. All in all, a strong release for two excellent films.

    Click on the images below for full sized Graveyards Of Honor Blu-ray screen caps!