Few points to understand Kinji Fukasaku films!
WHERE EVERYTHING STARTED
First of all, you have to remember Fukasaku’s background. In 1945, when the Japan lost the war, he was 15. Cities had been destroyed by massive bomb attacks, people had to find ways to survive. And the country was under US occupation. A difficult time.
Think about what it must have felt to experience these changes. And how it has affected Fukasaku films: violence is part of daily life (to survive), values & times have changed (Americanization of the country), the need to belong to something (alone, you’re nothing), the taboos of the society (the Defeat, yakuza & the economy, lost youth).
Which gives you the main key points to understand his films!
Tribute to the dead
In a ruined country, chaos is king. A black market has been developed by yakuza (an underworld market, no pity), prostitution has become the only way to live for women, a bad feeling/mood exists among the population (towards the defeat, the occupation) and above all, there is no trace of order (ruins). The only way to live is to fight and “win” your food. Everybody tries to make his living, by any ways necessary.
To translate this chaotic urban violence to screen, a hand-held camera is used, like documentaries – no studio’s set, just the street reality. Also it brings images to life, with always a movement. That way we haven’t time to understand what’s happening, it’s pure chaos.
But this mise-en-scène would be nothing without the characters, those violent pigs are always swimming in the blood of a recent massacre. They love to fight and kill. To emphasize this reality, Fukasaku decides to use freeze frames, during a gun shoot for example. That way, we can’t ignore this violence anymore.
VALUES & TIMES HAVE CHANGED
The traditional ideal is now useless. During the reconstruction period, men have learned to first satisfy their own interest: what matters is their lives.
There is no place for morality or honor. That’s the birth of a savage individualism, with people ready to do anything to get money, power. In this case, following the path of honor or mutual respect is out of the question.
Tradition is nothing more than a formality, a ridiculous mask hiding a merciless reality. For example, why a politician should fight organized crime to keep his integrity clean when he can directly pay the underworld to get peace? Money erase honor. Yakuza become businessmen! (See Japan Organized Crime Boss, Sympathy for the Underdog)
BE PART OF THE GROUP
It means unity and trust. In order to live on, it’s better to be a part of a group, knowing you can trust other people, than being totally alone.
Between 1968-1978, Fukasaku has never stopped to film this “group,” this human construction. Just look at the visual composition of each shots, every character belongs to this construction. It represents clearly the unity on screen. With this human construction, whoever you are, whatever you did or thought, you can belong to something. Share similar values with other.
To go further, it gives the chance to really exist in the eyes of the society. Because, outside of this construction, characters are nothing, nobody cares about them.
The climax of this idea is the Yakuza Papers series, but it’s also where Fukasaku starts to doubt about it. Because the group is then slowly losing its original values. Characters are becoming sheeps, and don’t care about what being part of the group once meant. It’s the reign of individualism (See Graveyard Of Honor).
Times have changed, yet, society has never tried to face its fears. Starting with the Defeat, the war atrocities, the 2 atomic bombs and the after-war chaos.
Fukasaku wants to confront those war taboos with reality: showing for example the difference between the reality of japanese soldiers in 1945 and the myth created during the 70s. As a result, he notices how dead soldiers became great and honorable heroes (See Under the flag…), and how war reality was forgotten (like cannibalism, ideological blindness, massacres).
In front of the A-Bomb Dome, how can people talk about heroism? That’s why, this dome opens/ends many films in the Yakuza Papers series. So that the audience won’t forget the past while living the economic boom.
Who’s behind this boom? Yakuza! The underworld owns key companies and markets (like ports) and pays high rank politicians as well as the police (corruption). Yakuza are at the heart of the economical system! And it seems there’s no problem with that! With so much taboos and hypocrisy, what can do the youth?
It’s a nihilistic period, with no identity or real values (except money), a part of the youth becomes interested in the old past ideology (like Yukio Mishima), thinking it can brings solid strong answers to this empty period. After all, what is doing the Emperor each year? Honoring the heroism of the glorious dead soldiers!
Another part of the youth can’t find a way to live in this difficult economic reality, they have no future. So instead of fighting to get a honest job, this youth chooses illegal ways, like blackmailing (See Blackmail is my life, If you were young).
More than ever, Fukasaku is showing a divided and irresponsible society living in corruption, lies. Welcome to Japan!