Color, 1972, 87 mins. 45 secs.
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Starring Bunta Sugawara, Noboru Andô, Mayumi Nagisa, Nobuo Yana
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/B HD), Home Vision (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Eureka (DVD) (UK R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1: (16:9)

A Street Mobsterwild, stylized grenade tossed into Street Mobsterthe world of Japanese yakuza films, Street Mobster was the last and most aggressive of a six-film string of gangster films from Toei starring Bunta Sugawara (Battles without Honor and Humanity), cast here as a deeply cynical and aggressive miscreant named Okita.

Our antihero's story starts off with a rapid-fire montage over narration as we find out he was born on the same day Japan lost World War II, to a prostitute mother whom he smacked around as a kid and drove to an early death. After two stints in reform school, he ends up in his own street gang in an area controlled by the powerful Takigawa family. Specializing in nabbing girls to be forced into brothel work, he's a savage fighter who isn't above knifing multiple mob members to death in a public bath and seems to end up in alley tussles all day. After a stint in prison he ratchets up his prostitution racket and establishes a turbulent romance with Kimiyo (Nagisa), one of the women he forced into the sex trade. He and his men hook up with the rival Yato gang and become part of an uneasy truce (complete with an odd ritual involving two red snappers on a plate), but that soon ignites a new territory battle that soon escalates into a violent siege.

A regular entry in lists of the best yakuza films to ever come out of Japan, Street Mobster is a great introduction to Fukasaku's style with a dark, shadowy look relying heavily on canted angles and an extreme editing Street Mobsterstyle. The filmmaker was really on a roll here coming right off of Sympathy for the Underdog and Under the Flag of the Rising Sun, with the Battles cycle to commence immediately afterwards. Street MobsterThis would be his most graphic film to date, complete with numerous bloody scuffles and even working in several flashes of frontal nudity (a big cinematic taboo at the time). It's very much a film of 1972, complete with great street shots of long-haired youths and little touches clearly inspired by A Clockwork Orange and The French Connection but rendered in Fukasaku's unmistakable style.

Like many of its fellow '70s Japanese crime films, Street Mobster took quite a while to reach U.S. audiences, only hitting the revival theater circuit in the early '00s via subtitled 35mm prints. The film made its DVD debut in 2002 from Eureka in the U.K. (also packaged in a 2003 boxed set with Battles and Yakuza Graveyard), followed by a U.S. DVD from Home Vision (containing Fukasaku trailers and a minor interview with two anonymous former yakuza members), both fully letterboxed at 2.35:1 and contributing to the growing appraisal of Fukasaku by Western critics as a major world filmmaker.

In 2018, Arrow Video gave the film its Blu-ray debut in both the U.S. and U.K. Street Mobsterwith an improved, presumably correct HD scan that adjusts the overly bright, flat black levels of the DVDs. It looks very moody, dark, Street Mobsterand rich now, with little bursts of color really popping out now. The fake blood looks a lot less orange now, too. The Japanese LPCM mono audio is also in fine shape, with optional (and sometimes quite profane) English subtitles provided. In addition to the caffeinated Japanese theatrical trailer (also subtitled), the film now sports an audio commentary by Tom Mes, who of course knows his stuff when it comes to Japanese cinema and delivers a soft-spoken but thorough account of the film's social commentary, the significance of its fictional disclaimer at the beginning, the "gray zone" of distribution it fell into for a long time, and the necessity of exaggerating and dramatizing the circumstances of yakuza life on film compared to the real thing. The packaging features reversible sleeve options including a new design by Chris Malbon and, in the first pressing only, an insert booklet with new liner notes by Jasper Sharp.

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Reviewed on July 22, 2018.