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Port of Honor (1957)

Ninkyo shimisu-minato (original title)


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Credited cast:
Chiezô Kataoka Chiezô Kataoka ... Jirocho
Kinnosuke Nakamura Kinnosuke Nakamura ... Mori no Ishimatsu
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Chiyonosuke Azuma Chiyonosuke Azuma ... Shichigoro
Shinobu Chihara Shinobu Chihara
Sentarô Fushimi Sentarô Fushimi
Yumiko Hasegawa Yumiko Hasegawa
Utaemon Ichikawa Utaemon Ichikawa
Ryûnosuke Tsukigata ... Kurokama
Eijirô Tôno ... Kansuke
Hashizô Ôkawa Hashizô Ôkawa
Ryûtarô Ôtomo Ryûtarô Ôtomo ... Chobei


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Convoluted period yakuza tale has its pleasures
14 February 2017 | by BrianDanaCampSee all my reviews

My copy of this film gives the English title as PORT OF HONOR and the film is in color not black-and-white, as IMDb has it. It's a swordplay adventure about warring gangs in Edo-era Japan and is based on a real historical figure. A website offering the film for sale indicates it's the first in a trilogy of three films about Boss Jirocho of Shimizu, but with completely self-contained stories and different sets of supporting characters. In this one, there are quite a number of rival bosses and it's hard to keep track of them all, yet the story remains fascinating as it charts the interlocking relationships and codes of behavior that drive one set of bosses to do one thing and the other set to do another until they're locked in battles to the death. A lot of attention is devoted to how these men lived and what daily life was like in the towns and villages situated far from Edo, where the Shogun lived. Even if I got confused by the wealth of characters and how they were related to each other, I enjoyed the pacing of it and the lifestyle details of pre-Meiji Japan.

Long story short, Boss Jirocho (Chiezo Kataoka) emerges as the protagonist, a wise and just man who tries to do the right thing at every step. He has a small group of loyal followers and we get to know some of them and witness their camaraderie and emotional ties. At one point, Jirocho withdraws from a challenge just as a massive battle against great odds looms before him, acceding to the wish of a friendly colleague acting as mediator. He leaves the region and takes his men to the countryside to practice farming and a life of peace and he even demands they get spiritual instruction and meditation at a nearby temple. He apparently tries to go straight and give up the gambling or "yakuza" way of life. When one of his most loyal men, Ishimatsu (Kinnosuke Nakamura), who is, I believe, an adopted son, is sent on a long mission, the young man's innocent encounter with an enemy boss still seeking revenge for an earlier battle reignites the conflict and propels Boss Jirocho back into the fray. There's quite a spectacular action finale.

This was a production of Toei Pictures, a studio that specialized in contemporary yakuza movies in the 1960s and '70s, but also did a number of period adventures like this one. I haven't seen many of them because few of them ever got shown in the U.S. or released on home video. The few I've seen have come from gray market dealers. One of them, VANQUISHED FOES (1964), isn't even listed on IMDb. I tend to see more films of this genre from Toho Pictures, Shochiku and Daiei, studios which have made more of their samurai films available through legit sources such as Criterion and AnimEigo. I'm more familiar with the actors from those studios and less familiar with the actors under contract to Toei during this time. This film features only three cast members I had seen before: Kinnosuke Nakamura, Isao Yamagata and Eijiro Tono. Nakamura played tough swordsman characters in many classic samurai films and even starred as Itto Ogami (Lone Wolf) in the TV series, "Lone Wolf and Cub" (1973-76), playing the role that Tomisaburo Wakayama made famous in a series of films in the early 1970s. In this film, Nakamura plays a somewhat off-kilter character, socially awkward and unfiltered, a figure of fun to some of his compatriots, but clearly not meant to be funny. He may have some kind of personality disorder, but his mentor, Jirocho, loves him like a son and values his loyalty. It's a side of Nakamura I've never seen before and I was quite impressed with the actor's versatility.

Toei has made some effort in recent years to release its backlog of anime series in the U.S., something I'm quite happy about, but I wish the company would be more aggressive with its extensive catalog of live-action samurai and yakuza movies as well. Director Kinji Fukasaku worked often for Toei and a number of his contemporary yakuza movies from the late 1960s and '70s have gotten released here, but that's a tiny percentage of the company's output.

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