Tag Archives: Tetsuya Watari

Cinema-Maniac: Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 (1968) Review

The first Outlaw: Gangster VIP film was a very pleasant surprise the first time I saw it. I’ve never heard anything about it, nor ever seen any promotional material going into it. It’s this blind viewing experience that made me discover quite the hidden gem of a Yakuza film. Now, considering the fact I knew this was a franchise, and the ambiguous ending for the first movie I still consider the first entry a great standalone feature film. It was open enough where a debate towards the outcome of it conclusion could be considered valid. This sequel had a tall order to follow, and for the first act at least, it was doing a good job building on the foundation the original film laid out. However, after the first act was done it reverted back to the same familiar structure, and plot points that could be found in the original, just less potent this time around.

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I’m here to audition for the one arm swordsman role.

Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 continues the story of Goro (Tetsuya Watari) who wants to put his dark past behind, and live an honest man’s life. This is a direct sequel so knowing what happens in the first film is a blessing, and a curse. A blessing in the since Goro is a developed character could be even more fleshed out. Seeing him interact with people in this film holds greater significance with a better understanding of Goro from the previous movie. For the first act, this sequel serves up being a good extension to the franchise. Seeing Goro for the first time in his life attempting to be an honest man, and seeing him struggling through that is compelling. The same also applies to him attempting to stay committed to his new lifestyle no matter the difficulty given to him. It’s also the best part of the movie since Goro is shown tackling, and failing to overcome new challenges as a straight man. If the film expanded further on this than the foreseeable events later on in the story would have packed some kind of a punch.

Another positive to the film is the subplot revolving around Goro, and Yukiko (Chieko Matsubara) attempting to make money to take care of fatally ill friend Yumeko (Kayo Matsuo) is potent. Unlike the other plot threads within the sequel, this feels the most potent in its effort to tell another good story in Goro life. It’s not a rethread of something that happened in a previous movie, and it offers some kind of continuity that when the subplot ends it is actually meaningful. This subplot also leads to the best dramatic scene in the film, but unfortunately saying more than that would require spoiling it.

There is one area where this sequel somewhat does better than the original, and that’s fleshing out Yukiko. She still isn’t given much to do, but her contribution to the story adds something to the story. Without Yukiko, certain scenes discussing love wouldn’t work. So yes, by simply having Yukiko exist, and be the love interest the film discussion on love doesn’t come off as phoned in. Other than that, expect the same song, and dance for the rest of the material.

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Goro: “Finally, someone who doesn’t put their arm through sleeves like me!”

The negative side of this being a direct sequel is a bigger of suspension of disbelief when viewing the film. Asking the viewer to overlook the fact that Goro met the same type of people, and similar events happened around him is quite a stretch. Another drawback is the inevitable boredom of that you’ve seen these same exact scenes, and same exact outcome in the previous film. Offering little surprises in the direction the story. Once you determine what exactly this sequel is going to rethread you’ll have less of a reason to be invested in it.

Perhaps the biggest drawback is the ending of the movie. Unlike the original film where its ambiguous nature could be debated in spite of there being sequels. Here, the ending comes off as more conclusive as you’ll see a bloodied Goro finally stopped moving, and lay down on the floor. The first time when I saw this kind of ending it left a good impression. I was willing to overlook the fact in the original Outlaw: Gangster VIP there was an entire franchise, but here, I simply can’t for the reasons stated earlier. It rethread too much material so expecting me to leave the movie with the same kind of meaningful experience is not earned.

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Finally, Goro the Wise finally learned to properly put on a jacket.

Tetsuya Watari once again takes the leading role as Goro, and he does another good job in the film. It’s largely feels like a repeat of his performance of the first movie, but his portrayal is nonetheless still effective. His line delivery is commanding, and sincere at a moment notice. He’s convincing in the action sequences he performs with the psychical appearance to boot too. Yes, Tetsuya Watari still refuses to put his arms into his jackets just like the first movie in a good amount of scenes which is going to be mentioned as long as he does. Just like in the previous movie, his chemistry with the cast is on point again in this sequel.

Returning actors like Chieko Matsubara who plays Yukiko, and Shoki Fukae both whom play new character named Mori are dependable again. However, seeing them play their respective characters with little new to offer makes them easily fade into the background. Unlike Tetsuya Watari whose in the front, and center of not only the dramatic scenes, but also the action sequences allowing him to shine despite the rethread. Both Matsubara, and Fukae aren’t granted that luxury since they did little in the first movie, and here it’s no different.

New actors whom do appear in the movie have the drawback of playing similar characters already portrayed in the first film. Making any new actor who plays a similar character from the previous film seem like an imitation. The only bright side of the new cast is obviously Kunie Tanaka who plays Katsuji Nemoto, an underachieving yakuza with a grudge against Goro. His character is sympathetic without crossing into over acting. Unlike Goro whom once again fallen back into the Yakuza lifestyle, Tanaka plays a more dynamic character that is allow to mix it up how he interacts with Watari. While it’s unfortunate Tanaka didn’t receive more screen time in the film, he makes the most of what he is given. Everyone else though, I could hardly remember to be honest.

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Now that I about it, nearly every time Goro puts his arms through his jackets sleeves he gets into a fight. Symbolic?

Following from the first movie, the technical aspect as still top notch, but not of the same quality. This time, Keiichi Ozawa takes over for the rest of the franchise. Like his actors, Ozawa feels too much like he’s impersonating Toshio Masuda (the first Outlaw: Gangster VIP director) style, tone, and just about everything. The one thing Ozawa maintains as his own is his lack subtlety in the drama department. Going as far in one scene to have a ray of light shine down on a dying character, and in another scene showing footage of an raging avalanche once Goro decides to go back to working in the Yakuza. You know, visual allegory to help hammer in the point of the scene you’re watching. The action sequences are once again good to witness. Some setpieces feel like a rehash of the original, but again, for a late 60s film the action sequences hold up pretty well. Music isn’t as memorable as in the first film, but is serviceable working favor of the movie. Though the climax lacks the impactful score found that made the first film end on a high note.

Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 is more of the same. The same characters, the same story, and the same themes. However, the acting, the action, and some of the new story beats are just as good, even if crossing into familiar territory diminishes their impact. I do feel this sequel while sadly a downgrade from the first entry is still not bad a movie. It’s positives overweighs the negatives, but viewing it for yourself is another story. For me, I was enthusiastic going into the film anticipating where the next chapter of Goro life would take him, and it wasn’t much different from the first movie. It left me disappointed by the time the ending title card came up, but one thing I was not was angry, nor did I felt like my time was wasted. Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 has a specific goal of capturing the same magic of the original film, and it was a decent attempt at it. Succeeding in what it aimed to do, even if it wasn’t the homerun it was expected it to be.

Rating: 7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Outlaw: Gangster VIP (1968) Crime Movie Review

Crime cinema is one of the most interesting genres for me, but typically also one I spend the least amount of time exploring in my area of interests. Quality films in the the crime genre are abundant so that’s not a issue for me. What is are usually the kind of stories that can be told in this genre, and how typically I don’t find myself caring much about these crime stories leading characters. I find the amount of memorable character, for me, even harder to find as after a single film I never seen them again. However, as I venture more in depth into foreign (outside of the US for me) cinema I learn there take on the subject I find a bit more interesting. Hence, my venture into the first of six (one of five films to come out in 1968) in the Outlaw: Gangster VIP franchise.

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Hey, did you know 2 out 3 Japanese men don’t know how to wear the sleeves in their clothing. Crazy right?

Outlaw: Gangster VIP follows Yakuza Goro Fujikawa (played by Tetsuya Watari) becomes disenchanted with his lifestyle after serving three years in prison, and seeing a changed Japan. Starting off strong, Outlaw: Gangster VIP shows a glimpse of Goro rough life as a child during the opening credit sequence, and the film never loosen its dramatic grip on you. Establishing early on in the film characters history, motivation, and displaying Goro contrast of his rough exterior compare to his inner kindness. At 90 minutes, Outlaw: Gangster VIP is very bold, and ambition in narrative storytelling is quite a successful accomplishment. Nearly everything in the film from a writing perspective works better than the film probably intend it too.

For example, throughout the film snippets of certain characters are given to the viewers at different points in the story. These snippets are later expanded on as the film progresses into discussing it themes on violence, loyalty, and moving forward through a slow pace. In particular, the character Takeo Tsujikawa (played by Mitsuo Hamada) embodies all these themes greatly. Serving somewhat as a surrogate of the new youth idolizing the life of the Yakuza while Goro Fujikawa is the wise old veteran trying to set him on the right path. Several scenes in the film illustrate why Goro wants to set Takeo on the right path, and as well facing the consequences that comes from his misguided view on the Yakuza lifestyle. It’s a classic dynamic you’ve seen in many films, and here it works all the same.

Continuing on, another aspect of the film that greatly serves it narrative are the characters, and the interactions they have with one another. A no brainer of course, but the dialogue, and the discussion among the characters in the film feel so natural. It doesn’t come across as if the film itself is dictating how these character talk. Rather, it’s the characters themselves moving the story forward, and their storied history. The way the character speak to each other, and how they react to an individual does as much to convey character traits as much as the spoken words.

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What’s with that look? I swear we didn’t have the dog for dinner last week.

If there’s any area Outlaw: Gangster VIP falters in is the romantic subplot involving Goro, and Yukiko Hashimoto (played by Cheiko Matsubara) is only half convincing. From Yukiko point of view her romantic feelings for Goro is sensible with what’s reveal about her in the film. However, from Goro perspective his romantic feelings for Yukiko don’t add up entirely. It simply comes off as a facade to get out of a uncomfortable situation. It’s a spoilerific scene that makes Goro yearn for Yukiko be questionable. Aside from that small drawback, the film plays out without a hitch. The seemingly large cast of characters never become too much to keep track off. It balances the small human aspects of it story without it losing itself with this Yakuza gang war that develops in the background. In spite of its many theme, and relatively short length at 90 minutes there’s always something important in occuring in the film. Finally, thematic exploration especially since by the end of the film you end up with a film that’s a lot thoughtful than the name would imply into a nice package.

Tetsuya Watari plays Goro Fujikawa (a character based on a real ex-gangster) in the first of many ventures. Watari excels in this portrayal of the Goro in both the physical, and emotional aspect required of him. His exterior, much like the character, is rough, and his line delivery shows no hint of a gentle soul. However, his eyes tell a different story whenever the camera focuses on him. Goro is a layered, and therefore Watari switching between contrasting personality for the same character feels natural. You will believe that Tetsuya Watari can defend himself against a  against an entire gang of knife wielding Yakuza by himself relatively well because of his commanding on screen presence. Simply put, Watari creates an quite an iconic character for the crime genre, even if the series as a whole is relatively unknown as of this writing.

Another noteworthy performance is by Mitsuo Hamada who plays Takeo Tsujikawa. He’s given more ranging material compare to Watari, but given a less layered character to portray. However, is able to hold his own much like Tetsuya Watari. Tsujikawa portrayal is more expressive of his overall turmoil, and happiness that his character faces. Relying less on body language, but doesn’t take away anything from his scenes. Whenever Tetsuya Watari ain’t the main focus Mitsuo Hamada is a fantastic choice to share the spotlight with. His scenes often relies on his comedic timing, and dramatic chop to make scenes. It’s a delicate balance that if done incorrectly a scene would have easily appeared too comedic, or too dramatic. Understanding this delicate balance, Hamda knows exactly how to deliver his lines in every scene. Plus, the times he shares the screen with Watari makes for some splendid bit of acting, as well as make for some of the best moments in the film in terms of writing.

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Trust me, no stills from the film’s action sequences can do them rightful justice.

In terms of supporting cast members, besides Mitsuo Hamada, there’s Kyosuke Machida whom in spite in being in the film as much as Hamada, but he gets to shine in some heavily dramatic scenes. Tatsuya Fuji also gets a small part as Suzuki, but unfortunately his role is also brief ending before making much of an impression. Same thing for Yoshiro Aoki, although he’s more of the lacking variety sort since he’s villain of the film, and has to appear more scummy regardless of the scene he’s in. Yet, in spite of the small roles the supporting cast receives they all turn in good performances with what little they’re given. Finally, there’s Chieko Matsubara, and Kayo Matsuo whom are the only ladies of any noteworthy roles. They play the supportive ladies which tended to be common in films in general during the 60s, and earlier. Both actress do fine in the role, but only in her final scene does Chieko Matsubara get to deliver a good scene. However, her co-star Kayo Matsuo despite appearing less leaves a bigger impression. Helps with the fact her scenes in the film tend to be other topics instead of constantly delivering dialogue on how much she wants to stick with her man.

Finally, this review (and any other on this film for that matter) would do a huge injustice if not mentioning action coordinator Kakuo Watai, and cinematographer Kurataro Takamura. Firstly, Kurataro Takamura eye for visuals gives the film plenty of classic wide shots, and long takes to absorb late 1960 Japan. Making the film look very beautiful throughout many points in the film. I would even say thanks to the visual choices made it visuals have gotten better with time. There’s also the action sequence by Kakuo Watai which surprisingly are impressive considering the year it was made in. Granted, like with action sequences during this era of filmmaking there’s the usual suspects of spotting actors standing waiting for their cue to perform in the sequence. All the film’s set pieces have these issues made easier to spot thanks to the long takes, and white shots, but they don’t diminished the elaborate (for the time at least) set pieces. Being an obvious highlight of the movie, even if they’re more over the top in comparison to the rest of the film. The execution of them, and staging of these action sequences ensures it warrant a viewing from any viewer. Lastly, the score by Harumi Ibe is pretty good. Fitting tonally whenever it’s used, and sometimes adding more impact to a scene.

Outlaw: Gangster VIP is a slow drama thick with great storytelling, and a fantastic cast of characters. Director Toshio Masuda crafted a film that age extremely well visually, and narratively. Many of the themes in the film are given careful thought in how they’re explored while also never forgetting about its characters. Balancing the large scope gang war with the human element thrown in you have a film huge in its scope that succeeds in what it sets out to do. That’s also including the technical achievement of the film which at times, along with everything else working in great cohesion with each other, will make you forget you’re watching a 50 plus year old film.

9/10