Kinji Fukasaku's yakuza films are fascinating because they are fueled by a unique combination of meditations on machismo, an analysis of the thin line between cop and crook and a tireless exploration the relationship between Japanese society and the crime it spawns. All of these aspects come to the fore in Yakuza Graveyard. The script tells its story of police corruption in a brisk, adrenalized style, giving the characters just enough room to make their internal dilemmas felt. The actors take the ball and run with it: Tetsuya Watari is fascinating as the lone wolf cop who finds more honor in his prey than he does his fellow officers, Meiko Kaji is quietly affecting as the female crime boss whose all-business exterior barely hides a fragile soul and Tatsuo Umemiya is fiercely charismatic as the tough-guy yakuza boss who finds a kindred spirit in Watari. However, the most important aspect of Yakuza Graveyard is Fukasaku's taut, stylish direction: he brings a gritty visual style to the squalor of Japanese urban life and keeps the pacing taut. Most importantly, he makes room for scenes that underline the film's social critique between the action and the double-crosses: one of the most powerful is a scene where Watari meets the alcoholic mother of a young yakuza punk and finds a new sympathy for the boy's lifestyle choices. All in all, Yakuza Graveyard is a strong piece of work that is well worth the time for anyone interested in the yakuza film.
by Donald Guarisco review