Watched two Japanese gangster movies recently, one the classic black-and-white Pale Flower (1964) by Masahiro Shinoda, the other the modern Outrage (2010) by Takeshi Kitano. The former is a dark look at an older hitman, Muraki (Ryo Ikebe, who appeared in more than one hundred films), recently released from prison, who as he gets bearings on his freedom meets the carefree, mysterious risk-taking Saeko (played by the lovely Mariko Kaga). Although he has a faithful woman who has waited for him to get released, he is smitten by a beautiful petite gambler with a pert nose and dark eyes, who is willing to risk everything for a little excitement. The movie is visually beautiful, though somewhat dated; some of the scenes do not reach a high level of tension, but the film does not try to glamourize yakuza life either. The latter film reflects more of the violence of our age as well as in the Japanese underworld, as a manipulative Yakuza boss decides to destroy one of his gang offshoots and rival drug dealers, while pitting his underlings against each other. The director (and writer) takes the lead role as the older yakuza, Otomo, as he gets caught up in the machinations and blood flows. No one is safe, and life means little. One overall theme is that gangsters should never get complacent, because there are always underlings ready to take you out and gain the mantle of boss. What is it with the finger cutting however, as both films included this way of signalling one's apologies. Both films show a highly structured and hierachical world, although the freedom and aggresiveness of Saeto flies in the face of societal norms that women are usually portrayed in. Both movies are entertaining, and no doubt Pale Flower is avidly watched by film buffs.
I also watched Kuroneko (1968), a classic Japanese ghost/horror story about two women raped and murdered by samuri (who aren't really that far from yakuza themselves), who are turned into vengeance ghosts by a black cat with the goal of killing and drinking the blood of all samuri, and the son/husband who earns a lucky battlefield promotion to samuri and is sent to quell the monsters. It is about love and honor, and reflects the low esteem samuri had for common folk. Done in black and white, it is an interesting movie.