Perhaps one of the biggest benefits to come from the invention of DVDs is that we now have access to some great movies from foreign countries at an affordable price. You no longer have to live in a major city with an art house that shows them or hope that they somehow make their way to an off kilter streaming channel. Instead you can rent (if your store/machine carries them) or purchase these films to watch. It provides movie lovers with the opportunity to see films they might otherwise never have had the chance to see or have access to. Such is the case with BRUTAL TALES OF CHIVALRY.
The film takes place just after WWII in Japan, a beaten giant of a country now in the midst of recovery. To survive open air markets sell goods for low prices in various neighborhoods. This locations are run by the beginnings of what will become the modern day Yakuza, gangs that run things beneath the surface. Into the area this story takes place in one house is in decline while another is on the rise.
The Kamizu group is trying to retain the honor of the past, a yakuza line that deals with honest goods rather than the cheap black market items Iwasa and his group brings. When the leader of the Kamizu group is killed his role is taken over by Seiji (Ken Takakura), a soldier just returned from the war. In his will he instructs his protégé to seek a path of non-violence which he must ahold to, honor bound.
Seiji has his own issues to deal with as well. While gone, his longtime love ended up marrying another man, the head of a different yakuza group, in an effort to strengthen the bonds between the two. She still loves him and longs for him and he for her, but once again honor prevents them from being together.
As Iwasa's men move in telling vendors to carry only their goods they resort to violence to enforce their way. Seiji's men want to retaliate but he tells them to obey their deceased leader's request. The end result is that Iwasa takes over the area slowly but surely, going so far as to put the local government officials in his pocket. As his power increases he plans to build an indoor shopping area where the old market has been. But Seiki and his group press the issue and legally still retain the land.
Taking Iwasa's idea they begin building their own indoor market but Iwasa's men burn it to the ground. Some of Seiji's men go after the rival gang and are beaten for their efforts. Realizing he has no other option with the insult to the honor of his house delivered, Seiji must decide whether to confront the rival gang on their terms or on his.
The movie itself runs at a rather slow pace and some may find that combined with the reading of subtitles to make it a movie to avoid. But it delivers something one rarely has the chance to see. We're provided with a glimpse at history that we rarely have. This isn't a westernized presentation of how things were after the war in Japan but one made there by the people who actually came from that time. It is a timepiece that shows us the reality even if it takes place on a movie set. It gives us a view of the world through the eyes of another country and a set of film makers that were not born and raised here. It offers us a chance to view Japanese cinema.
Praising the acting here is difficult to do. There is definitely something lost in translation and more so if you are reading the dialogue while trying to watch the actors emote. But the performances by many here show not just their abilities but the style used in Japan. In the lead role Ken Takura shows why he became a major star there. Some may remember him in American films like THE YAKUZA, BLACK RAIN and MR. BASEBALL. His style has been comparted to that of Clint Eastwood and it's easy to see why.
Twilight Time has brought this film to us on blu-ray in what is the best transfer possible considering the source material. The only extra on the disc is a short, Brutal Tales of Filmmaking: Toei Producer Toru Yoshida. Once again the pressing of this disc is limited in number so if you are interested make sure to order before they are gone.