Kinji Fukasaku directed films for 40 years, most of the time, with a rebellious spirit fighting against the establishment. To reveal the “dark side” of Japanese society, to confront & question taboos. To break the status-quo.
He made over 60 films (at least), many of them aren’t available today, so here’s a list of his most important works to discover;
BATTLE WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY (1973)
Classical yakuza films were all about the code of honor, showing the traditional way of life of gangsters. But, by the 1970s, these films and their values were outdated. Somehow Kinji Fukasaku was among those who understood that.
With Battle without… he depicted white-collar gangsters, running legit businesses to cover their illegal activities. For these men, money was more important than any rules or code. As a director, he brought a sense of realism to that story by filming it with handheld cameras, showing bloody gunfights, using newspapers’ front pages like it’s really happening. And of course, there’s a great soundtrack.
UNDER THE FLAG OF THE RISING SUN (1972)
The young Kinji Fukasaku lived through the aftermath of WW2, the ruins, the lack of food, the daily fight to survive… This experience shaped his life, his films. And yet, 25 films after the end of the war, Japan was starting to forget, to ignore its responsibilities.
Here comes a story about a widow who wants answers, to know how his husband really died during the war while fighting for the Emperor. This is like a detective film, with the widow looking for witnesses to tell her the truth, but everyone offers a different story. It feels like the truth had been hidden, and nobody wants to face it anymore. The subject is heavy, and it’s pure Fukasaku.
GRAVEYARD OF HONOR (1975)
At this point, you may have understood that Fukasaku’s yakuza films portray men as wolves living in a corrupt society. Gangsters are only reflecting the spirit of that period, with their investments they’ve participated in the economic boom, helped Japan to become an international power. Still, they’re outlaws, and must be kept in the dark.
Graveyard of Honor reveals the consequences of all that. This is the story of a man born at the wrong time in a country that doesn’t need honorable values and hope, only money and power. This is the story of a self-destruction, a man who gave up everything to become crazier than anyone else.
As a symbol of this decadence, the main role is played by Tetsuya Watari, who once was the free-spirited Tokyo Drifter.
BATTLE ROYALE (2000)
During the 1960s, the director told many stories about the lost youth of that time, remember Blackmail is my life or If you were young: rage, showing young Japanese people trying to survive. Well, few decades later, it would seem that nothing has really changed. In fact, it has worsened over the years.
In Battle Royale, third-year students are sent on an isolated island and must fight to the death. As part of a military program/reality TV show. The country has turned into a totalitarian state trying to maintain its order with violence and fear – seems like the Japanese Imperial Society from the 1940s, but set nowadays.
A comprehensive piece of work that explores its concept well (the anti-Hunger Games), and sums up Fukasaku’s obsessions.
As an extra, be sure to watch this interview with William Friedkin – the director of French Connection, Sorcerer – who describes Fukasaku in great details;