Three Reasons To Watch: Ryuji (1983)

Ryuji is a yakuza who tries to lead a straight life with his family.


When asked if there have been any good yakuza flicks made during the 1990s, Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku only said the only great yakuza movie made since Battle Without Honor or Graveyard… in the 1970s was this film called Ryuji.

With its low-key approach to the genre – not much budget here, the film depicts the gruesome life of gangsters in the early 1980s. At that time, the idea of tradition, code or honor is nothing but a common joke between the yakuza – one of the characters will even say, “Only fools chop off their fingers after 30.

In other words, ‘yakuza’ has become just another job in Japan, it’s one way to get money and respect, to live a decent but violent life. There is no prestige nor glory in this underworld, just business.

That’s cinema!


Named after its main character, Ryuji is a violent, unpredictable and sometimes creepy, yakuza. He can beat the shit out of his comrades without showing any remorse, because he’s respected, and feared. It’s just that simple.

But unlike the classical yakuza stories, in which heroes were torn between their personal feelings and their duties towards the clan – lost in a moral dilemma, Ryuji is mostly trying to figure out what he wants to be – an existential dilemma.

He’s not attached to his clan, and can surprisingly quit it with no difficulties. To experience the straight life of any commoners, to work hard to support his family, to be a good husband and father. But ultimately, he will have to choose between one of these type of lives, to be Ryuji of the Santokai gang or to be like anyone else.


Shoji Kaneko died few days after the Japanese theatrical release of Ryuji in Japan, in November 1983, that was his first and last leading role in a movie. In this film, he delivers an amazing performance playing this violent but fragile yakuza.

In fact, he wrote the screenplay, and it would only be half-surprising to know that he may have influenced first-time director Toru Kawashima in some of the choices? Anyway, overall, the film has that gritty 1980s look, with from times to times great simple visual ideas to translate Ryuji’s dilemma on screen – for instance, the camera focusing on his back yakuza tattoo during one love scene with his wife, implying he may be a good husband but still a gangster deep in his flesh! Nice!

AKA 竜二

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