The Film (4/5)
I have been a fan of Yakuza films since I was a teenager. Until recently it was mostly the films of Seijun Suzuki, “Beat” Takashi Kitano, Kinji Fakasaku and Takashi Miike where I got my yakuza fix. However, the world of cinema has just hit me with a wonderful cinematic brick to the face with Onimasa: A Japanese Godfather, a yakuza epic, by famed Japanese film director Hideo Gosha.
Onimasa is a film that can only be described as epic. The story of Onimasa is not a simple yakuza action tale, and feels more tonally similar to Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy, and Martin Scorsese's Casino, Raging Bull, and especially Goodfellas. If it sounds like high praise, it is, Onimasa: A Japanese Godfather is one of the greatest yakuza films I have ever seen.
The film opens in 1940 with the death of Hanako (Kaori Tagasugi ), the biological daughter of Onimasa(Tatsuya Nakadai) , a yakuza Godfather based on Shikoku Island. The rest of the film is told in flashback from the perspective of Onimasa's adopted daughter, and stepsister of Hanako, Matsue(Masako Natsume) . Matsue's tale begins in 1918, when she is only 12 years old, and an orphan. Onimasa and his wife Uta(Shima Iwashita) visit the orphanage so that they may adopt one of her foster brothers. While there they notice Matsue, and decide to adopt her as well. That night her brother runs away, but she chooses to remain.
The film then opens up, and shows us Matsue's life as part of Onimasa's yakuza family. The film primarily takes place through the 1920's and 1930's where we watch as Matsue tries to become an independent woman in a household where her desires are repressed. We also watch as Onimasa, a man who believes he is chivalrous, try to maintain his integrity, although it is direct contrast with his position and the best interest of his family, and business.
Onimasa: A Japanese Godfather moves at a leisurely place through much of it's running time. This gives us time to fully understand the characters, and there various motivations. Gosha's direction is simply enough, to allow the story, and it's characters to breathe, and allow us a glimpse into the world of this small-time yakuza family.
Animeigo has presented Onimasa in a breathtaking 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The transfer maintains Animeigo's usual fantastic transfer quality, and practically looks like a new film. There are 2 audio options on this disc, a Dolby Digital 2.0 track restored for this released, and the original mono which has a hiss that runs through the track.
Not a lot of supplementary material on this disc, but what is here is good. Animeigo has included 4 trailers for the film each highlighting different aspects of the film(sex, violence, etc). The trailers are all presented in the same 16:9 transfer as the film itself. Also, they have included multiple subtitle options. They have continued their tradition of color coding the various lines of dialogue, to make it more understandable. They also feature optional production and cultural notes. For those unfamiliar with Animeigo's DVD releases, they usually include notes on the various cultural references present in the film, alongside some anecdotes regarding the production.
Onimasa: The Japanese Godfather isn't an ordinary run of the mill yakuza film. Onimasa, simply put is a yakuza epic. The extras are slim, but the transfer is amazing. The story is gripping, and although the film is leisurely paced, and close to 2 ˝ hours long, there is never a boring moment.