Yakuza Deka: The Assassin (1970)

Release Year: 1970
Country: Japan
Director: Yukio Noda
Writers: Fumio Konami, Yukio Noda
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Ryohei Uchida, Fumio Watanabe, Giant Baba
Editor: Osamu Tanaka
Music: Masao Yagi
Producer: Koji Ohta

The Assassin is the second film in the Yakuza Deka series, and as the poster above would suggest, this film received an American release. And while the poster plays up the more violent aspects of the story, it is in fact a whole lot lighter in tone, and subsequently far more enjoyable than the first Yakuza Deka film.

This film opens at Tokyo Airport and the Oriental Dance Company have just arrived. They are shuffled off onto a bus with all their equipment. Waiting for them is notorious gangster Ishiguro — a member of the Seiwa gang. Ishiguro is played by Ryohei Uchida, who was also in the first Yakuza Deka film playing an almost identical character; even in the way they dress — flamboyant white suits. Ishiguro has been waiting because hidden inside the Dance troops musical drum kits is a shipment of marijuana — the ‘Devil’s Weed’.

Just as the deal is done, the police swoop. Ishiguro (and an offsider) make a run for it with large suitcases full of grass. The police slowly tighten the cordon around Ishiguro until it looks like he is trapped and has no where to go. Just as he is about to be taken into custody a slick dune buggy slides into the picture. Behind the wheel is Hayata (Sonny Chiba) in a ridiculous wide brimmed hat. He looks like a pimp from a Blaxploitation flick. Hayata calls to Ishiguro and his minion to leap into the buggy, which they do. Hayata speeds away with an armada of police cars hot on his tail. Of course, they get away.

They fugitives head to the ‘Queen Bee’ night club where a swinging little band called ‘The Scorpions’ are playing. It’s a happening place. But Hayata and Ishiguro are not there for the music. They are there for the gambling and out the back there are gaming tables. Later that evening, Mob Boss Mano walks in. Then a four man acrobatic hit squad somersault down from the roof. They are all dressed in black and have rubber face masks covering their features. Armed with machine guns they start firing at Boss Mano. Hayata leaps to the Mob bosses defence and into harms way. The stream of bullets plough into Hayata’s body. Or so it seems. He is wearing a bullet proof vest. As the gun fire dies down, Hayata steps into action with his fists and feet against the deadly Assassins.

The Assassins realise their time is running out as more of Mano’s re-enforcements arrive. They flee. Afterward, Hayata asks for a job working for the Seiwa Gang. Mano recruits him, teaming him up with Ishiguro. It appears that these Assassins work for a rival gang controlled by a mobster named Natsui. Mano assigns Ishiguro and Hayata to kill rival mobster Natsui.

But if you have been reading the reviews in order, and have looked at Secret Police, you will know that Hayata is actually an undercover ‘super-cop’ and will have guessed that his mission is to bring down the mobsters on both sides. To lay this on nice and thick the film cuts to Hayata’s mission briefing scene, which adhering to standard spy film tradition is in a darkened room, where Hayata is shown slides and footage of the pertinent players involved in the operation. Hayata’s name is then wiped from the police list and then told he will be operating on his own — with no backup or guarantee of safety. Finally, before being sent off, he is given a suitcase full of secret weapons which he can use over the course of the mission (but to my recollection the suitcase is never seen again throughout the film — so much for ‘gadgets’!)

The film has a weird romantic interlude. Actually the interlude isn’t that weird, but the way it is filmed is. As Hayata and his romantic interest ride on horseback, a silky pop song is crooned over the top — nothing new there, right? But it looks like the film-makers have experimented with putting vaseline on the edges of the lens to soften the image. In one part of the montage it looks like they have added too much and the edges have dirty ripples. In other parts of the montage it almost looks like a smoky effect, but it has only worked at the bottom, and although deliberate, it looks like someone has over-exposed the film. I guess you’ve got to admire the film-makers willingness to experiment. Thankfully, director Noda’s strength lies in tough, straight action scenes and this film has plenty.

Now this blog is not a forum to condone or condemn drug taking. But when a film depicts drug-taking (or a scene depicting the effects of drug taking), each viewer will judge or react to the scene based on their own personal experiences (or there lack thereof). Now I am child of the late seventies and early eighties and my life has not been so sheltered that I have never met any drug users. I have met many from all walks of life. In this day and age, I would suggest most people work with at least one recreational drug user. And when I have been in the company of people of the drug taking persuasion who are older than myself I have always been told that the ‘marijuana of the early ’70s was so much stronger’ than what my generation was/is exposed to. As I am not a time traveller I can not attest to the veracity of those claims. There may be a touch of the ‘rose coloured glasses’ syndrome inherent in these kind of statements too – I do not know. Anyway, when you look at a film like Yakuza Deka: The Assassin and you witness the depiction of a ’70s ‘marijuana party’ two possibilities spring to mind. The first is ‘Wow!’ — the dope back then was a lot stronger — it caused people to have wild orgies, while the room around them pulsed and throbbed as it changed colours. And the second possibility is that the film-makers had never actually tried marijuana and their depiction of a party is actually a generic ‘trippy drug sequence’. Either way, the scene is a spin out.

I really enjoyed Yakuza Deka: The Assassin. Sonny Chiba provides another highly entertaining performance. There is no denying his athleticism and cat like martial arts skills. This film doesn’t use wires — all the running, jumping and flipping is for real. Chiba even has a few moments of light comedy when he is confronted by the wrestler Giant Baba — he gets to mug and pull a few faces.

The Assassin is better than the first film Secret Police — but due to the familiar casting of Ryohei Uchida once again, and a plot that is so similar to the first film, it feels like an also ran or a remake. I would suggest that if you chose to watch them, do not do it in close succession like I have, because it will take some of the gloss off all that this film has to offer.

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Yakuza Deka: The Assassin (1970)

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