Arrow Video: Honor Among Thieves: Yakuza Law (1969)

Teruo Ishii's Yakuza Law (1969) AKA Yakuza’s Law: Lynching starts out quite provocatively, with a slickly edited montage of several victims being tortured by various means. Eyes are gouged out, fingers chopped off, and one unlucky fellow is smashed in a trash compactor. Despite this gruesome opening, the actual film, a collection of three tales set in different eras of Japanese history, is much more nuanced with the narrative taking precedence over the torture scenes. Each story starts out with the narrator reciting some tenets of Yakuza law and a warning that if one of these laws are broken then terrible punishments will be administered.

The first vignette takes place in the Edo period and concerns a gang who has taken control of the area they live in. The boss of this crew is a paranoid man who eventually sends assassins to kill some of his most faithful subordinates. The two rules mentioned here are "do not steal" and "do not sleep with married women" and when these rules are broken all hell breaks loose. There is a particularly harrowing eye-gouging scene that culminates with the previous owner of the removed eyeball chucking it at his opponent’s face.

Time shifts forward to the Meiji period and the two rules singled out are “do not bring trouble to the boss” and “do not return after being expelled”. A Yakuza member named Ogata gets released from prison and upon his return decides to try to murder the boss of an opposing gang. Unfortunately, this starts a giant gang war and Ogata's boss exiles him. Ogata returns to the area to see his girlfriend which breaks several laws. This story is the least gory of the three and consequently the most heartfelt and well acted.

The third and longest story brings us to "present day" (1960s Japan) and this is where the aesthetic veers into a campier exploitation feel. The rule du jour is "do not leak secrets". One hundred thousand yen is stolen from a prominent Yakuza gang and they enact vengeance on anyone connected to the crime. One such punishment is a poor sap being hung from a rope and dragged across the beach from a helicopter. The tone is much lighter than the previous stories and there is a lot more sex and titillation mixed into the gore. There's also a funky score that permeates the entire sequence that adds an air of surrealism to the mix.

Ishii had directed many straightforward Yakuza films before this point, most famously the Abashiri Prison series which had ten films in the franchise. Unlike some of his other work, Yakuza Law doesn't delve much into the bizarre or erotic-grotesque, but like all of his work it is highly stylized and well-shot. I would rank this a bit lower in his filmography, but it is definitely worth a watch for fans of Yakuza films or Teruo Ishii's style.


-High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentation
-Original lossless mono Japanese soundtrack
-Optional English subtitles
-New audio commentary by author and critic Jasper Sharp
-Erotic-Grotesque and Genre Hopping: Teruo Ishii Speaks, a rare vintage interview with the elusive director on his varied career, newly edited for this release
-Image gallery
-Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Tom Mes

--Michelle Kisner