Sunday, May 15, 2022

Visions of Okinawa: Terror of Yakuza

Being in a Yakuza clan is sort of like the licensing business. Your territories are everything. Seigou Kunigami thought his gang had their Okinawa territories sown up when they made a pact with their main rival. However, after the handover of Okinawa back to Japan, the so-called “Yamato” gangs assume they can expand their business there. Inevitably, gang war breaks out in Sadao Nakajima’s Terror of Yakuza (a.k.a. Okinawa Yakuza War) which screens during the Japan Society’s Visions of Okinawa film series.

Hideo Nakazato went to prison for killing to secure the gang’s prominence. Now that he is out, he just wants to make some money. However, he finds his old comrade Kunigami, the clan leader in his absence, is spoiling for a fight, especially with the Japanese, but also with their more accommodating rivals. His temper is so violently unstable, the various clan leaders might be wiling to make Nakazato a deal. He also might have two new recruits, islanders like Nakazato, who would be perfect for the dirty work.

Nakajima shot
Terror on the streets of Okinawa City, at a time when much of the local industry either supported the U.S. military base or catered to their vices. It is easy to imagine Manila looked a lot like this during the early wild and wooly Marcos years. This distinctive backdrop adds something extra to the Yakuza beatdowns, but it still has the classic genre elements fans enjoy, like a massively funky soundtrack and Sonny Chiba at his most ferocious, as Kunigami.

Technically, the ultra-steely Hiroki Matsukata is the star, hard-staring his way through the picture as grizzled Nakazato. Yet, Chiba is so crazy jumping on tables and literally tearing up the town, he still imprints his brand all over
Terror—even though Matsuka is still really terrific, in the lead. This is definitely a testosterone-driven film, with men often behaving quite horribly, but Emi Shindo adds a note of tragic grace as Nakazato’s long-suffering wife, Terumi.

Cinematographer Shigeru Akatsuka makes it all look wonderfully garish and sleazy. Nevertheless, the real standout is Kanjiro Hirose’s instrumental funk score, which often veers into jazz-rock territory. To this day, there are probably DJs who would pay a pretty penny for an original vinyl pressing. It would even sound good on CD or digital.

is short, but brutally violent. You never have to wait around for Nakajima to get things going. One thing is for sure, it definitely offers a “vision of Okinawa.” Highly recommended for fans of Yakuza movies, Terror of Yakuza screens this Friday (5/20), at the Japan Society.