Based upon the writings of real like Yakuza Goro Fujita, the Outlaw: Gangster VIP Collection stars Tetsuya Watari as Goro as it follows his life from the moment that has him sent from jail for stabbing someone he considers his brother who was trying to kill his Yakuza boss.
Following one man’s life as a Yakuza the series is similar in style to the Battles Without Honour and Humanity series and may have been an influence for those films.
If you haven’t already you can read my review here: Battles Without Honour Review
Gangster VIP (1968)
The first in the series was directed by Toshio Masuda who western audiences might know for directing Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) while he worked for the Nikkatsu Company.
Here we are introduced to many of the characters when they were children. Each at a pivotal moment in their childhood setting up their relationships and motivations and showing how joining the Yakuza was probably inevitable.
This also shows how far some were willing to go to look after their siblings and makes the inevitable tragedy and betrayals which follow all the more impactful.
The first night after his release from jail Goro slips back into Yazuza life and meets the lovely but very naive, and very clingy Yukiko.
Trying to push her away for her own good as well as seeking revenge we see Goro isn’t your normal gangster but deep down, and very deep down there is a good person inside him.
Sadly your past as a gangster will always affect your present as it does here.
I loved this film. I’ve only recently started watching Japanese gangster films but this is another fantastic watch. Some beautiful locations, that might seem mundane to Japanese viewers, plus lots of interesting and distinct characters to root for or want dead.
They’re gangsters so nothing wrong with that.
With an ending that is wonderfully filmed but also sad the series is of to a high start but can it last?
Gangster VIP 2 (1968)
Released in the same year Gangster VIP 2 continues Goro’s story and starts with him on his way back to Yukiko where he helps some dancers that are being extorted by Yakuza.
After helping them one of the dancers immediately becomes smitten with him.
I don’t know his secret but all it takes is one meeting with him and women will fall madly in love.
He finds out a friend is seriously ill and they need money to care for her so despite him leaving the Yakuza and trying to become an honest man he ends up joining a new clan.
The new location works well for the film and the new characters are different enough to the first that includes Kunie Tanaka from the Battles without Honour series who is out for revenge against Goro.
With a strong first half the second sort of falls into familiar territory and starts to become a retelling of the first film.
This isn’t so bad but the parallels are there though not on the same scale as The Force Awakens (2015) for example when retelling the same story from previous films and not as off-putting as made out.
Overall a good strong sequel with Tetsuya Watari and Chieko Matsubara (Yukiko) giving more fine performances this is a great watch too.
Directed by Mio Ezaki with Tetsuya Watari and Chieko Matsubara returning this entry into the series doesn’t follow on from the last 2 films.
Instead this is a stand alone film that some say is a prequel though I didn’t get that impression has Goro sent to kill a Yakuza member that is refusing to pay his debts.
Goro quickly learns that the clan he is working for deliberately cheated this man in a Mahjong parlour but he is unable to save him from being killed.
He promises to help the dying mans wife escape to another city so she can receive medical help and en-route ends up helping a stall owner who is being extorted by local Yakuza gang.
Here he meets the mans daughter Keiko played by Chieko Matsubara. From this point in the series Chieko always plays a different character in each film something I believe happened quite often in Japanese cinema.
Continuing a winning formula that will be repeated throughout each film, Heartless is a good addition and has a wonderfully filmed fight scene that plays out during the opening credits.
Another one I enjoyed a lot.
Goro the Assassin (1968)
With the directing credit returning to Keiichi Ozawa who will continue on for the rest of the series; Goro the Assassin finds Goro being released from prison and promising to deliver a message to a dying friends sister.
While searching for her he gets a job at a hotel where he steps in to help Chieko Matsubara’s character which results in them both being fired as well as hunted by the Yakuza.
This time Chieko Matsubara doesn’t play the same childish, naive character we’ve come to expect. She’s more grown up and her and Goro’s romantic story is handled much better.
It isn’t she sees him and falls immediately in love. It is handled much better than that just like the rest of the story compared to the last film. She is still a bit naive and falls in love too quickly but nice to see her grow up a little.
Most of the same formula is back but thanks to a deeper story and script Goro the Assassin is another fine entry.
Black Dagger (1968)
Black Dagger starts with Goro fighting a gang of men to the opening credits. Like before this is nicely done but someone close to Goro ends up being killed by the son of a Yakuza leader.
Goro leaves town and takes up a job at a friends gravel firm but as always he is thrown back into the gangster life he is trying to leave behind him when his past catches up with him.
Whilst the same formula that people watching will be used to is here the film takes on a darker tone. You start to see the games played by these clans and how powerless being a Yakuza leader is if your clan is weak.
Black Dagger also goes up a notch with the make up effects in the torture and fight scenes and does it nicely.
Everything in this film seems more serious right down to the handling of the relationship between Tetsuya Watari and Chieko Matsubara’s characters with Chieko’s character again growing in maturity.
Fantastic film that leaves me disappointed that there is only one left to watch in this collection.
In the finale film of the series Goro drifts into another city and immediately runs into one of the local Yazuka clans. After helping Yumi played as always by Chieko Matsubara he gets involved into a fight but inadvertently offends Yumi.
He runs into an old friend who is still in the Yazuka that offers him a place to stay.
Of course trouble ensues and the formula we know, Goro drifts into a new town, runs afoul of a local gang, is stopped when on the gangs chiefs turns up who happens to know Goro.
Goro tries to stay out of Yakuza affairs but is pulled into them by helping one of the younger members and trying to get him to leave the gangster life. Goro’s mere presence and his attempts to help cause all sorts of strife for everyone he becomes friends with and Goro meets Chieko’s character and they fall in love.
Well the last two only sort of happen in this film. In fact this time all the problems happen and are escalated without any interference by him plus Goro and Yumi only seem to strike up a friendship and very little more.
Both changes that are welcomed. They show the series becoming even more mature with the portrayal of violence in the fights being more graphic too.
There is a fantastically shot fight scene in a club that cuts between a live band playing as well as the fight below. It is in a club that has a glass floor for the dance floor and underneath hospitality rooms that include a bathing pool (very sleazy) where the fight happens, so you have lots of shots of people fighting and being stabbed to death but taken from an angle above where you can see the people partying and dancing above them completely unaware but with a full view of what is happening below.
A great way to end this series.
The picture quality for this set is fantastic. Very sharp with vivid colours and sound quality is top notch as well. Pretty much what you would expect from Arrow and including new subtitles that use American spellings for some odd reason as I don’t believe Battles without Honour did.
With actors and a formula you will not only expect but want to see in later films and very nicely shot this is a must for fans of Japanese gangster films.
It is such a shame that these gems are largely forgotten or more likely never heard of in the west.
We need a different style of film to what is given to us by predominately Hollywood and to an extent from Britain. I doubt these films will be shown on TV and with a limited release like this boxset Japanese films like this will continue to remain unknown but hopefully there might be a larger Blu-ray release one day and companies like Arrow will continue to release these hidden gems to the western market.
A damn sight better viewing than films like Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising that we get flooded with.
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:
- Limited Edition Box Set (3000 copies) containing all six films in the Outlaw series, available with English subtitles for the first time on any home video format
- High Definition digital transfers of all six films, from original film elements by Nikkatsu Corporation
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original uncompressed mono audio
- Newly translated English subtitles
- Audio commentary on Outlaw: Gangster VIP by Jasper Sharp
- Visual essay covering the entire series by Kevin Gilvear
- Original trailers for all six films
- Extensive promotional image galleries for all six films
- Exclusive gatefold packaging featuring brand new artwork by Tonci Zonjic
- Booklet featuring an interview with director Toshio Masuda by Mark Schilling, plus new writing by Schilling, Chris D and Kevin Gilvear