Graveyards Of Honour (Cert 18)
2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 94 minutes/131 minutes approx.
This is a rather different two-for-the-price-of-one release as it boasts two versions of the same film – sort of. The tale of notorious real-life Yakuza Rikio Ishikawa was first brought to the screen in 1975 by Kinji Fukasaku, and then everyone’s favourite maverick director Takashi Miike unleashed his interpretation – not a direct remake despite the same title – in 2002.
Fukasaku’s film is set in 1942 and stars Tetsuya Watari as Ishikawa, a violent, obnoxious Yakuza, serving the Kawada family in Shinjuku. The hulking Ishikawa throws his weight around with reckless abandon, usually to the ire of Yakuza Godfather Shuzo Kawada (Hajime Hana) for causing unnecessary trouble.
After being sent to prison and banned from joining any Tokyo families for 10 years, Ishikawa flees to Osaka where he becomes addicted to drugs. He returns to Shinjuku and tries to get back with his old boss, but unable to take no for an answer, Ishikawa goes on the rampage once again.
Granted this is a reductive synopsis but it serves as a primer for the basic thrust of the main plot, which is loosely carried over to Miike’s version. Set in the late 80s-early 90s in the post-boom period, Rikuo Ishimatsu (Goro Kishitani) is a barman who saves Yakuza boss Shinobu Sawada (Shingo Yamashiro) from a gunman and is rewarded with a spot in the family, in which he quickly rises up the ranks.
Both films follow the same basic story but the divergence in how it is told is not only immediate but also staggering in how two different perspectives can shine a new light on the one subject. This is why calling Miike’s a remake is spurious – it is almost like a complete overhaul, even changing the main characters name, making the compare and contrast analysis a fascinating prospect.
Since Fukasaku’s film is closer to the true story of Ishikawa, especially with the pre/post war period setting, it is more story driven than character driven, though Ishikawa remains a complex individual to follow. A pseudo-documentary voice over during the opening credits reveals Ishikawa’s childhood, growing up without a mother, being clever but also rambunctious; a brief stint in jail as a teen led him to join the Yakuza.
He may be an imposing and aggressive figure, but Ishikawa is easily chastened when admonished for the trouble he causes the family, pleading he was thinking of the family. Yet, like a petulant child, he goes out and makes the same mistake repeatedly, until he is expelled from the family, but refuses to accept responsibility for his actions. He is also too addled to notice when people are trying to help him, more so once the drugs become an issue.
Miike’s contemporary lead is far less conciliatory when he messes up, taking his brow beatings as an affront and lashing out in response. Completely remorseless and acting with an ill-judged sense of entitlement, nobody is safe when Ishimatsu is around. Like a Japanese Terminator. he is virtually unstoppable and even more dangerous when his back is against the wall.
One significant shared factor also handled very differently is the obligatory love interest, a woman named Chieko. In the first film, she is a prostitute played by Yumi Takigawa, whom Ishikawa rapes, then later stashes a gun and stolen money in her apartment, which he uses as a hideaway. She inexplicably falls for Ishikawa and despite constant time apart, Chieko becomes the only calming influence in Ishikawa’s life.
Narimi Arimori plays Chieko in Miike’s film, a timorous waitress at a restaurant Ishimatsu rapes and hinted to have taken her virginity too. Again, quite how this leads to romance I don’t know but I wouldn’t advise anyone try this. Over time, Chieko becomes a hostess in a bar essentially funding Ishimatsu’s lifestyle whilst on the run, the bond deepening in spite of their violent love life.
It is this relationship that is the backbone of Miike’s film, thus makes it a more tragic outing; Ishimatsu turns Chieko into a junkie which eventually kills her yet in an abstract way this is his way of declaring his love for her, and she accepts this because it helps her escape the loneliness. It is also the only time Ishimatsu is at his most vulnerable and dare I say, human.
Comparing the two lead performances is not easy as they may ostensibly be the same character yet they are nothing like each other. Tetsuya Watari is sometimes comical with his lurching swagger, trademark striped suit and sunglasses regardless of weather or time of day, but he is also palpably fearsome. His narcotic breakdown presents a darker, ironically sober side to Ishikawa but the serrated edges are still present, only manifest in a more nihilistic fashion.
As Ishimatsu, Goro Kishitani sports the same emotionless expression throughout, adding a level of unnerving intimidation to this intensely relentless violent sociopath, yet there is a nuance to this essaying of Ishimatsu brought out through the later interactions with Chieko, a superb turn by Arimori who in his writer’s opinion, was more impressive than Kishitani, whereas Yumi Takigawa has less to do in her secondary role.
Presentation wise, there is no contest as to which film is the most violent, graphic, and misogynistic but that is to be expected from Miike, although Fukasaku isn’t stingy with the bloodshed and brutality either. His is perhaps a more stylish film, with the occasional use of sepia footage and helpful notes to mark the passing of time which Miike ignores, but it has to be said, the western ricocheting bullet sound effects for every gun shot in the older film is cheesy.
Ultimately, one can take both Graveyards Of Honour films as different sides of the same coin, each providing something the other doesn’t, though we’ll probably never fully understand the real Rikio Ishikawa. They also show the power of artistic vision and in pitting old vs. new, the only winner is the audience.
Original Lossless Japanese PCM 1.0 Mono Soundtrack
Audio Commentary By Mark Schilling
Like A Balloon: The Life Of A Yakuza
A Portrait of Rage
On the Set with Fukasaku
Original Lossless Japanese PCM 2.0 Stereo Soundtrack
Audio Commentary By Tom Mes
Men Of Violence: The Male Driving Force In Takashi Miike’s Cinema
Making Of Featurette
Making Of Teaser
Limited Edition Packaging
Illustrated Collector’s Booklet
Rating – *****
Man In Black