The Films (4/5, 3/5, 2/5, 3/5, 3/5, 3/5)
The first film in the Outlaw Gangster series opens with a black and white flashback of the terrible childhood of Goro Fujikawa (Tetsuya Watari) who loses his only family -a prostitute mother and a younger sister- to tuberculosis. He quickly turns to theft in order to survive and begins bouncing in and out of reform schools and eventually prison well into his adulthood. His experience as a yakuza has led him to become a living legend with a blade. When he gets out of prison this time, he finds out that his best girl has settled down and gotten married instead of waiting for him like she promised.
Goro rescues a young woman named Yukiko (Chieko Matsubara) from some toughs and she falls in love with him. She doesn’t like his involvement in the yakuza and tries to get him to leave the life. When his old senpai shows up, Goro gets drawn right back in and lots and lots of blood is gonna be spilled as rivaling yakuza gangs start some shit.
Outlaw Gangster: VIP is based on the real life exploits of ex-yakuza Goro Fujita and it is one of the most entertaining gangster flicks of the late 1960s. The melodrama is high and the action sequences feel as though they were meticulously choreographed. There’s also lighthearted moments mixed in with all the badassery to keep things nice and dynamic. The cinematography by Kuratarô Takamura is astonishing and his color palette is quite the kaleidoscope. The character of Goro Fujikawa is so lovable. He always treats women with respect (well, for a yakuza anyway) and he always looks out for the little guy.
If you loved the first Goro the Assassin film, you’re in luck! Well, sort of. The other five films in the Outlaw Gangster saga are inferior carbon copies of the first film. They range in degrees of quality, the worst being Outlaw: Heartless where the threads of the formula were really starting to show. Unfortunately, the seedier aspects of Japanese cinema from this time period started creeping in. Yes, I’m talking about rape. Outlaw: Goro the Assassin (which is my favorite after the original), Outlaw: Black Dagger, and Outlaw: Kill! all feature women being violated in varying degrees of explicitness. Nice job, assholes.
Arrow Films has done another amazing job in bringing more Japanese obscurities to screen. All six films have minimal print damage considering their age (1969-1970) and are just gorgeous to behold in 1080p widescreen. Sound is in good shape as well with the strident music score sounding very robust. English subtitles are provided for all the films.
Every film has a trailer and a picture gallery. There is a doc (or a “visual essay”) by Kevin Gilvear that was kind of infuriating because it relies too heavily on the plots of each film. While informative, this really felt like a rehash of what I’d just seen, especially after six films! The real crown jewel on this set is the audio commentary for the first film by Asian cinema expert, Jasper Sharp. Also included in the set is a booklet with essays by Mark Schilling, Chris D, and Gilvear. This also has an interview with director Toshio Masuda himself.
After the one-two punch of Arrow’s Stray Cat Rock and Nikkatsu Diamon Guys boxsets, I suppose you could say, I was massively let down by the Outlaw Gangster: VIP series. While not entirely surprising, all six films about Goro the Assassin were released between 1969 and 1970. This was a huge mistake in my book as there isn’t nearly enough space between the films to allow more variation of the plots and style. Comparing the first film Outlaw Gangster: VIP and the last Outlaw: Kill!, the only real difference is a dash of sexual sadism and some hippie rock music. The first film with the Jasper Sharp commentary is worth getting the set for but I found the whole experience pretty tedious.