15 March 2003 | simon_booth
Okay movie, bad Miike movie
BATTLE ROYALE was the movie that brought the name Kinji Fukasaku to the lips of most people in the west for the first time, but he'd made his name in Japan many years earlier with a series of gritty and violent gangster movies that changed the face of the genre. In 1975 he made one such movie, called GRAVEYARD OF HONOR. In 2002, Takashi Miike decided to make a movie called GRAVEYARD OF HONOR too.
I haven't seen Fukasaku's original movie, so I have no idea how Miike's version compares. Normally you would expect a Miike movie to bear little resemblance to its source material, but in this case I'm not so sure.
GRAVEYARD OF HONOR tells the story of a man called Ishimatsu (Goro Kishitani), who is propelled into a relatively high ranking position in the Yakuza after saving the family head's life. His violent personality makes him feared and perhaps respected, but eventually gets him into trouble. He p***es off the family, and to such a degree that no little finger is going to get him off the hook. The stage is set for a small scale gang war.
GRAVEYARD OF HONOR is a much more conventional yakuza movie than any of his others, e.g. DEAD OR ALIVE. It's played pretty much straight, missing the wit and manic invention that characterises Miike at his most playful. Unfortunately, it's also missing the complex 3-dimensional characters that make Miike's more dramatic movies so good. It's a fairly straight genre movie that doesn't scratch particularly deep below the surface, in other words. This may be because Miike wished to stay faithful to the source material, but it is rather a surprise from the director whose work is normally amongst the most inventive in the world. Rather a disappointment, too.
Miike can definitely do straight drama, but in movies like RAINY DOG and BLUES HARP it is the fascinating, believable and sympathetic characters that make the films stand out from the crowd. Characters in GRAVEYARD OF HONOR are much harder to relate to, and their intentions and motivations are often unclear or seemingly thin. In particular it's hard to understand Ishimatsu's actions, beyond the facts that he's very violent and not very smart. It's very hard to empathasize or even sympathize with him, and very difficult to actually like or care for him too. Even an anti-hero needs some humanity we can relate to, or at least a shed load of charisma. Goro Kishitani injects his character with neither.
I'd been led to expect GRAVEYARD OF HONOR to be somewhat action packed, and there are a few scenes of fairly brutal violence but nothing like the cool stylised action of DEAD OR ALIVE: FINAL. In fact, most of the movie is very slow - rather boring even. I actually took a break for an hour and a half in the middle to go and do some work, which isn't a great sign
GRAVEYARD OF HONOR is probably not a bad gangster movie, but it is very disappointing as a Takashi Miike movie. Pretty much any director could have handled the job, and only a couple of scenes show any of Miike's characteristic style, wit or perverse genius. Basically, I'd hoped for something more.
Not recommended much.
The ebay DVD has a decent anamorphic transfer, presumably ripped from the Japanese release and re-encoded to fit on a DVD-5. Sound is functional stereo, and subtitles are optional and very well translated. If you want to see the movie, this is your best option for now.