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Onimasa A Japanese Godfather

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    Ian Jane
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  • Onimasa A Japanese Godfather

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    Released by: Animeigo
    Released on: 1/12/2010
    Director: Hideo Gosha
    Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Masako Natsume, Shima Iwashita, Tetsuro Tanba, Kaori Tagasugi
    Year: 1982
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    The Movie:

    When Hideo Gosha's 1982 Yakuza epic opens, a woman named Matsue (Masako Natsume) walks into a room surrounded by police and onlookers to find the body of her step-sister, Hanako (Kaori Tagasugi) lying lifeless on the floor. From this dramatic opening, we flash back to the years of Matsue's childhood where we learn that she and her brother were given to a local Yakuza boss named Masagaro 'Onimasa' Kiryuin (Tatsuya Nakadai) by their impoverished parents. Her brother ran away, never to be seen again, but Matsue grew up in the house alongside Onimasa's wife, Uta (Shima Iwashita) and his mistresses. As Matsue gets older, her 'father' has a daughter with one of his mistresses. The child, Hanako, becomes the apple of her father's eye but when the man he picks to marry Hanako, a union leader named Kyosuke Tanabe (Kei Yamamoto), falls in love with Matsue instead, their already twisted family dynamic becomes even more dysfunctional. On top of all that, an opposing crime lord with whom Onimasa holds a grudge against over a dog fighting match, is back on the scene after fleeing town fearing for his life. The various subplots laid out during the film's two hour plus running time all come to a boil as the film reaches its inevitable albeit incredibly poetic conclusion, all while Onimasa's shift in political leanings push him further and further away from his own boss, Uichi Sado (Tetsuro Tanba).

    An epic and sprawling picture told over the course of over a decade, Onimasa is a brilliant look at the supposedly honorable style of the Yakuza clans as they stood in the 1940s. Nakadai plays the lead role with remarkable over the top style, bringing all of the character's quirks and eccentricities to his performance and making for a truly memorable turn in a filmography filled with strong performances. All of Onimasa's internal conflict is laid bare by Nakadai and as such we're really able to get under his skin and feel what he feels, even if at times it's very hard to sympathize with him. He is, after all, a criminal and very often a complete bastard to many of those around him.

    Shima Iwashita is also excellent in the film, playing Onimasa's wife, obviously distraught over her husband's penchant for sleeping with his mistresses as often as he does and responsible for having them ready, willing and able whenever he should decide he wants one of them in his bed. Her drinking is understandable, she uses it to escape and to hide from her problems. Iwashita's performance reminds us that while this cold hearted woman is often an utter bitch, she's not without feelings and emotions of her own. Masako Natsume, who as Matsue is in the middle of all of this, is the only truly sympathetic one of the whole group. She only wants to live her life as a teacher and settle down with her husband, who is unable to put his political activism behind him and instead pulls her down with him.

    More a tragedy than your traditional gangster movie, Onimasa is beautifully shot and full of great cinematography that really goes a long way towards visualizing its somber storyline as effectively as possible. Subtle lighting shifts and hues accentuate aspects of the production and help give the film its inherent sense of sadness. It's all got a very classical slant to it, the film is full of romance, comedy, tragedy, heroics, and peppered with sporadic and intense moments of violence which serve to remind us that while this is very different from what would be considered a 'normal' Yakuza movie, it's still very much rooted in the basics of the genre.

    Onimasa was released in France on DVD along with The Wolves, an earlier (and probably better known) Yakuza film that Gosha made with Nakadai, but this Animegio release presents the movie with English subtitles on DVD for the first time.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Animeigo's 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen progressive scan transfer is a pretty good one. Some mild print damage and noticeable grain is present but it's never too obnoxious or distracting, it simply reminds us that this is a film sourced transfer. Color reproduction is strong as are black levels and despite the film's lengthy running time, there aren't any problems with compression artifacts to complain about. Some slight shimmering can be seen from time to time but by and large they've done a very nice job bringing this film to DVD.

    The Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, which includes optional English subtitles, is well balanced and free of any hiss or distortion. Dialogue is clean and clear and while there isn't an abundance of channel separation to note, there aren't any problems here - the movie sounds pretty good and the score in particular is at times quite sweeping.

    As is the norm with Animeigo's live action releases, the extras are heavy on the written word. Included in the supplemental section are some interesting program notes that put the whole story into cultural and pop cultural context and which provide some welcome background information on the principal players involved and where they were at professionally and personally during the time this movie was made. Biographies for the central cast members and for Hideo Gosha are also provided.

    Aside from that, look for a few trailers for the feature, trailers for Hideo Gosha and Tatsuya Nakadai's earlier Yakuza effort, The Wolves, a still gallery, animated menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    A wonderful slow burn of a film that builds to an unforgettable conclusion, Onimasa A Japanese Godfather presents Tatsuya Nakadai at his best and surrounded by an equally impressive cast. Those expecting the unrelenting violence of Fukasaku's Yakuza films may be put off by the deliberate pacing of this picture but it really is a remarkably well made film and one well worth owning.
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