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Violent Streets (Blu-Ray Review)

3 min read
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When burst onto the Japanese cinema scene with Three Outlaw Samurai in 1964, it heralded the arrival of a new major talent. Despite its dubious pedigree of being a prequel film to a television show of the same name (also helmed by Gosha), Three Outlaw Samurai remains one of the finest chanbara works of its era, a strikingly shot sword-fighting film run through with a stark cynicism. Now, the Eureka release of Gosha's 1974 yakuza film Violent Streets (a.k.a. Bôryoku Gai) makes a strong case for his canonisation, even if it doesn't meet the director's own lofty standards.

Violent Streets centres on Egawa, a nightclub owner with a suspicious scar across his face and a correspondingly shady past. Issues arise when his old yakuza clan, the Togiku, begin paying him some unwelcome visits, demanding he hand over the lease for his bar—itself a gift for services rendered in his old life as a criminal. As played by , an actual ex-yakuza, Egawa is appropriately intimidating, whether glowering across moodily-lit nightclubs or clinically taking apart low-level cronies. Add in a kidnapping gone awry and a bunch of feuding yakuza clans and you're left with all the makings of a straightforward crime flick.

However, in keeping with the rest of his oeuvre, Gosha's direction is resolutely idiosyncratic. Perspective shots, twisting tracking shots, and bird's eye views abound, adding a real dynamism to the fountains of blood and shattering glass. Gosha finds further novelty by setting fight scenes in non-traditional settings. A particularly gory brawl in a chicken coop sticks out thanks to the unusual framing, each alternate blow of a fist or cut of a razor blade viewed through tight-knit chicken wire or behind the bobbing head of a perturbed bird.

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Over 96 minutes Gosha's frame is rarely sedentary, either prowling around the set or cutting between unexpected angles and locations. But his eye is also specific, never losing sight of the key players and their fast-moving hands. Each scene carefully sets up a new space and its importance; if a receipt spike appears prominently in the foreground you better believe it's going to be slammed through someone's orbital bone before the scene is out. In that sense you feel the heritage of silent comedy as much as Kurosawa et al.

The restoration, undertaken by the original production company, Toei, accentuates the film's moody colour palette, all twilight blues and purples. Some aspects of the audio track sound poorly mixed, but that's more indicative of the initial production value of Violent Streets than the restoration itself.

Where Violent Streets struggles is in its labyrinthine plot and stock characters. If you've seen a film about in-fighting crime families, you've likely seen everything Violent Streets has to show you. The various factions are as archetypal as they are difficult to distinguish—a problem when Gosha seems as preoccupied with the bureaucratic negotiations and resultant betrayals as he is with the spurting blood squibs.

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Likewise, the goons are all different shades of the same taciturn poe-faced mobster. The fact that the only character with the verve to match Gosha's direction—an impossibly nonchalant gun salesman who sips soda and listens to J-pop while popping off thugs—only appears during one shoot-out is a crying shame. Coupled with a slight dearth of memorable fight scenes, the lack of engaging characters can't help but make this feel like a lesser Gosha. Still, it's hard to be down on a film that features so many mundane objects cracking open skulls.

Special Features

  • Limited Edition slipcase featuring new artwork by Tony Stella [2000 copies]
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 2K restoration of the original film elements
  • An introduction to Violent Streets and the works of director Hideo Gosha by film critic Tony Rayns
  • Jasper Sharp on Violent Streets
  • A collector's booklet featuring a new essay by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes

The Eureka Blu-Ray of Violent Streets arrives in the UK on February 20th