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<I>The Yakuza Papers</I>: Tarantino&#39;s Ground Zero and Icon of Asian Cinema

9 Sep, 2004 By: Erik Gruenwedel

In Quentin Tarantino's Ginzu classics Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, actor Michael Parks (“Then Came Bronson”) appears both as badass sheriff Earl McGraw and stoned drug lord Esteban Vihaio — an apparent duplicitous use of a veteran character actor that in reality pays homage to Asian cult cinema.

Home Vision Entertainment Oct. 19 (prebook Sept. 21) will release The Yakuza Papers, a six-DVD boxed set priced at $99.95, featuring five Japanese nihilistic films from late director Kinji Fukasaku.

Released theatrically to critical and commercial success in the early 1970s, Yakuza revolves around the story of an ex-soldier turned Hiroshima gang member and his three-decade-long gritty, brutal and violent struggle for power.

The titles, in Japanese with English subtitles and available individually for $19.95, include Battles Without Honor & Humanity, Deadly Fight in Hiroshima, Proxy War, Police Tactics and Final Episode.

Bonus material includes: “Friedkin on Fukasaku,” director William Friedkin's (The French Connection, The Exorcist) comments on Fukasaku and The Yakuza Papers' influence on his career; “Translating Fukasaku,” with subtitler Linda Hoaglund; “Kantoku: Remembering Fukasaku”, a 20-minute group discussion; “Jitsuroku: Reinventing the Yakuza Genre,” a 30-minute video essay featuring interviews with film scholars, friends and family of Fukasaku; “Boryoku: Fukasaku and the Art of Violence,” featuring interviews and rare archival footage; “Yakuza Papers Family Tree,” a comprehensive story guide outlining characters and their family and territorial connections; and a 20-page booklet featuring essays and articles.

Popularity of Asian Cinema
Two years in the making, the Yakuza boxed set is attempting to capitalize on a wave of U.S. popularity for Asian cinema that transcends traditional period pieces and action comedies with Jackie Chan and Jet Li, according to R. O'Donnell, public relations director for Chicago-based Home Vision.

“We've tapped into a vein that's very popular [due to] Tarantino's love of the original Japanese directors, and we [are] one of the very few distributors that is actually putting out Fukasaku,” O'Donnell said.

He said recent theatrical releases of crime thrillers Cure and The Ring, coupled with a barrage of contemporary Asian horror films such as Living Hell, Cemetery Man and Evil Dead II, have helped further quash some misperceptions that the horror thriller genre didn't exist in Asian films.“We are used to seeing Crouching Tiger and other period pieces, so that contemporary genres such as horror mystery and horror thriller were ignored,” O'Donnell said. “Tarantino has sort of been promoting Asian cinema for a long time.”

Other Japanese titles, including Blackmail is My Life, Graveyard of Honor, If You Were Young: Raged, Street Mobster and the “Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter” series pinpoint stylistic moments from Asian cinema replicated by Tarantino.

“Some people perceive Tarantino as a thief,” O'Donnell said, “but they miss the point. He really isn't. He's saying ‘here it is,' and if you understand the films and cherish them, you see it as that.”

Notable examples include the concept of the heroine (Uma Thurman as The Bride) on a motorcycle, an all-girl band such as The 5, 6, 7, 8's, or numerically separating film sequels.

“He was just being consistent … and the more you understand that, the more you understand Tarantino,” O'Donnell said. “Until you see how beautiful they are filmed — the cinematography, the action sequences and the choreography — The Yakuza Papers remains a very raw, in-your-face de-romanticized view of the Japanese underworld.”

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