Harry Kilmer (The Yakuza)

Created by Paul & Leonard Schrader and Robert Towne

“A man never forgets. A man pays his debts.”
— from the poster.

 Imagine Chandler writing a samurai flick…

In this forgotten classic from the mid-seventies, Robert Mitchum is HARRY KILMER, an aging former G.I., and sometime P.I. (his past is suitably murky), set loose in modern day Kyoto (he served in Japan during World War II), to rescue the daughter of an old Army buddy (Brian Keith) from gangsters, and soon finds himself awash in a bloody mess of betrayal and questions of honour and commitment, of promises made and debts owed.

Remorse? Regret?

You’re soaking in it.

To rescue the girl, Harry must confront the woman he left behind, and put his faith in an old enemy who owes him a favor. He also learns a very important lesson: people who live in paper houses shouldn’t play with swords.

The film is something, all right–what at first glance might have seemed like a simple kung-fu cash-in turns out to be a slow-burn monster with vivid and disturbing scenes of violence that slug it out with equally powerful scenes of gentle but compelling poignancy.

It was based on a story by Leonard Schrader, who lived in Japan and knew well the Yakuza subculture, and turned into an excellent script by his brother Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), and Robert Towne (Chinatown). The screenplay sold for $300,000–the highest amount ever paid for a screenplay at the time, and Mitchum, in one of his last great performances, brought it all home in living (and bloody) colour. Having Sydney Pollack to helm the film didn’t hurt either.

TRIVIA

  • Supposedly, Martin Scorsese, hot off Mean Streets (1973), wanted to direct but the producers wanted Sydney Pollack.

UNDER OATH

  • “No other actor I can think of could inhabit such a violent movie with such an affecting combination of toughness, tenderness, weariness and cynicism: His acting makes the battle scenes work as events instead of mindless spectacle.”
    — Roger Ebert on Robert Mitchum
  • “In The Yakuza, for the last time as a lead, Mitchum was vibrantly alive.”
    Quentin Tarantino (The Beverly)
  • “At its best, the picture is a tough gangster story with an exotic setting; at its worst, The Yakuza is a sensitive drama about a man in late life reconnecting with a lost love. So while action funs may find the touchy-feely stuff dull, and while viewers more interested in the heartfelt material may be turned off by the bloody bits, watching the disparate elements fight for dominance is fascinating.”
    — Peter Hanson (2013, Every ’70s Movie)

FILMS

  • THE YAKUZA | Buy this video Buy this DVD Buy the Blu-Ray
    (aka “The Brotherhood of the Yakuza”)
    (1975, Warner Brothers)
    Story by Leonard Schrader
    Screenplay by Paul Schrader and Robert Towne
    Directed by Sydney Pollack
    Starring Robert Mitchum as HARRY KILMER
    Also starring Brian Keith, Ken Takakura, Herb Edelman, Richard Jordan, Kishi Keiko, Eiji Okada, James Shigeta, Kyôsuke Machida, Christina Kokubo, Eiji Gô, Lee Chirillo, M. Hisaka, William Ross, Akiyama Akiyama

NOVELIZATIONS

  • The Yakuza (1975, by Leonard Schrader)

THE DICK OF THE DAY

  • September 7, 2021
    THE BOTTOM LINE: An ex-GI returns to Japan to help out an old Army buddy, in a slow-burn 1974 monster. Scenes of disturbing violence slug it out with equally powerful scenes of heartbreaking poignancy.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Big Al Hubin for the well-deserved whack on the head.

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