Ken Takakura, Japanese yakuza icon (he starred in Paul Schrader's [technically Sydney Pollack's] The Yakuza), stars as a middle brother in a family who convinces his younger brother, who lives in their filthy small town (the only commercial enterprise there is taking care of pigs), to use his loosely organized gang of thugs (more like a group of drinking buddies who rob people every now and then) to help him rob their older brother's gang in a big drug deal. The younger brother makes a huge mistake by trying to double-cross Takakura by hiding the money: Takakura knows that he needs to get out of the country as soon as possible or else the gang from which he stole will kill him, and he also knows he can't do that without the money. Locking himself up with his fellow thug in the gang's operating base, he tortures them one by one, hoping to get his brother to spill the locatin of the money.
The film begins with a swift two-minute sequence that crams what normally takes a 10-minute flashback into a small space of time, sketching out the backgrounds of the three brothers. In addition to the torture in the barn sequences, which take up much of the film, there's a briskly paced build-up to the heist, and the actual job itself, a stylish (for its time) jumble of fast-moving cameras and deliberately assymetrical cameras; the film is deliberately ugly. The jazzy score (the film is filmed with shots of Miles Davis records) also links it to its time, as does the West Side Story-ish musical number performed by the younger brother and his friends (it's only slightly less bizarre than you think). Nevertheless, the film is mostly all of one mindset, and a dour, downbeat it is. Aided by the fine, loud but powerful performances of its cast, this film grips until the bitter, absurd end. Fukasaku makes clear what a blight yakuza are to poor small towns, and briefly gets some revenge. Not fun, but gripping.
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