Not Only Horrors: 10 Best Japanese Criminal Movies About Yakuza

Not Only Horrors: 10 Best Japanese Criminal Movies About Yakuza
Image credit: Bitters End, Sony Pictures Classics,Signature, Toei Company, Netflix, Shochiku Co., Ltd., Nippon Herald Films, Media Blasters

Meet the best movies about the merciless yakuza – when they kill, it's spectacular, when they take revenge, it's violent, when they hate, it's deadly.

Organized crime in Japan is called yakuza and is known for its strict code of honor and harsh punishments. A main and rather unusual feature of the yakuza is its openness – the mafia does not hide its connections in political and business circles.

If you are ready for the adrenaline rush, then this list is for you.

1. Branded to Kill, 1967

The '60s and '70s were golden decades for Japanese cinema, filled with experimentation and a rebellious spirit. Seijun Suzuki was one of the brightest lights of that era – his films are capable of being visually stunning in the most unconventional ways (and his works are admired by Tarantino).

According to the plot, Goro Hanada, one of the best assassins in Japan, returns to Tokyo and is given a dangerous assignment that may be his last. The movie has all the key ingredients of a noir – femme fatales, gritty assassins, and the atmosphere of a ruthless city.

2. Сut, 2011

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The plot of this crime movie is extremely simple – the main character, young director Shuji, one day finds out that his brother owed the mafia a big amount of money, and they killed him. The debt is now Shuji's, but of course he has nothing to pay with.

So he works off his debt by serving as a punching bag for the criminals. They beat him until he runs out of strength, over and over again, and in order to survive it all, he recalls the great movies he admires during the beatings.

3. Brother, 2000

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Although Takeshi Kitano himself, the director of Brother, does not really like this work, many of his fans do not agree with him and consider the movie to be one of the most outstanding projects of the Japanese master.

Aniki Yamamoto leaves for the US after the destruction of his own mafia group. In the US, he returns to his old ways and works his way back to the top in the gangster hierarchy. Kitano himself played the lead role in the movie (and did it brilliantly), and the soundtrack, written by the famous Joe Hisaishi, a friend of the director, gives the movie a special charm.

4. Сrying Freeman, 1995

One of the early works of famous director Christophe Gans, who directed Silent Hill, was seen by almost every teenager growing up in the 1990s. The Canadian-Japanese movie is based on the Japanese manga of the same name.

Gans tells the story of Yo, a young artist who is kidnapped by a criminal organization to be trained as a professional assassin. As a result, he becomes an almost perfect killer. But during one of his murders, the girl named Emu sees him: according to the gangster code, Yo must kill her, but the two fall in love and their confrontation with the dangerous world of the yakuza begins.

5. First Love, 2019

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Japanese cult director Takashi Miike is a master of gory tales, and his First Love tells the story of one night in the life of a strange couple: a boxer suffering from a fatal disease and a prostitute who owes the yakuza a substantial amount of money for drugs.

They have just met, but immediately liked each other. Now they are being hunted by the police, the Japanese mafia and an assassin sent by the Chinese. It will be a very bloody experience – there are a lot of severed body parts in the movie.

6. The Outsider, 2018

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Before The Outsider, Danish director Martin Zandvliet had never made an action movie, let alone one about the Japanese mafia. But he still decided to do it, and even invited Jared Leto, who knows how to pick the perfect movie for his portfolio (with rare exceptions like Joker ), to play the lead.

The result is an exciting American-Japanese movie about the yakuza. The focus is on post-war Japan. American Marine Captain Nick saves the life of criminal Kiyoshi. In gratitude, he helps his newfound friend build a career in the mafia world.

7. Boiling Point, 1990

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Boiling Point is a satire on modern Japan, spiced with Tarantino-esque rivers of blood. An ordinary gas station worker gets into an argument with the head of a mafia clan at his workplace. The coach of the baseball team, Masaki, stands up for him and immediately gets beaten in return.

Although it is clear to everyone that the matter should be left as it is and that the all-powerful yakuza should not be confronted, Masaki feels differently. He and a friend travel to Okinawa, where it is rumored that illegal weapons can be obtained, and there they meet Uehara, a petty yakuza sociopath who has his own scores to settle with the mafia boss.

8. Fireworks, 1997

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The international title of the movie is HANA-BI, in which the hieroglyph HANA means joy of life and BI means violent death. This contradiction is the entire creative method of director Takeshi Kitano. A few years before the shooting of Fireworks, the director was involved in a terrible accident that almost cost him his life, but left only his trademark squint – half of his face was paralyzed forever.

Detective Nishi has suffered the worst of it: one partner died, two others remained disabled, and his wife was diagnosed with leukemia. Because of the mounting troubles, Nishi becomes more and more cruel. He borrows money from the yakuza to help his sick wife, knowing that he will never be able to pay it back.

9. Ichi the Killer, 2001

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Ichi the Killer is a Japanese crime movie in the splatter genre – a subgenre of horror in which guts, blood, and flesh fly from all corners of the screen in a highly exaggerated and grotesquely gruesome manner. If you miss a bloody mess like in Kill Bill, you are welcome.

The story of the confrontation between two madmen – the cowardly killer Ichi and the sadistic killer Kakihara. The yakuza boss disappears with a huge sum of money and Kakihara goes in search of his boss. He pursues the psychopathic killer Ichi, who is involved in the boss' disappearance. Kakihara hopes that the fight with Ichi will be the culmination of his sadistic experiments.

10. Into the Sun, 2005

The movie tells about the mysterious murder of the governor of Tokyo. People understand that the yakuza, the famous Japanese mafia, are to blame. Nobody dares to go against them, except for Special Agent Travis Hunter. During the investigation he finds evidence that the killer is not the person he suspected.

This American-Japanese production is a special treat if you like dynamic crime action movies and the works of Steven Seagal.