Outlaw: Gangster VIP

| April 19, 2016

After years of waiting for the Criterion Collection to release the Outlaw: Gangster VIP series on their label, here comes Arrow Video to the rescue.  A precursor to Kinji Fukasaku’s seminal yakuza series, Battle with Honor or Humanity series, the Outlaw: Gangster VIP manages to be a major bridge between the Ninkyo-eiga (Chivalry Films) and the Jitsuroku-eiga (Actual Record Films). Released from 1968 to 1969, the Outlaw series stars Tetsuya Watari (Tokyo Drifter, Graveyard of Honor) as Goro Fujiwara; a loner who drifts from one yakuza gang to another, righting wrongs and staying true to the honor bound duty as a yakuza. Based on the writings of Goro Fujita, an ex-yakuza that decided to write fictional accounts of his exploits, the Outlaw: Gangster VIP set is one of the best things that Arrow Video has put out thus far and fans of Japanese cinema and crime films won’t want to miss.

The first film in the series sets the stage for all of the five sequels, in that it outlines what the character is all about. After having both his mother and his sister pass away in their poverty stricken upbringing, Goro is left by his lonesome and falls into a life of crime. This leads him to carry out deadly missions for various bosses, fellow comrades and other nefarious types in the yakuza. While sporting a tough, bad boy image, Goro always manages to attract wholesome young girls and ensures that they’re both safe from harm. In an effort dissuade them, Goro always outs on a front of not wanting them, but does his best to care for them in someay. A constant reminder to them is uttering, “The wife of a yakuza is always on pins and needles. One never knows if her husband will be stabbed one minute, or killed the next” is a scare tactic that he uses constantly in each film, sometimes to different women. While he says this, in reality, Goro just tries to ensure that his loved ones, both men and women are safe from harm.

While the plots on some level are worn, many of the entries in the Outlaw series keeps things interesting by adding different plot threads or even the same actor’s, but in very different roles that we’ve seen them in already. In one film, an actor might play Goro’s direct nemesis, while in another, a comrade in arms. The only actress to play the same type of character in all of the films is Chieko Matsubara. While her name changes in each entry, Chieko always plays the central love interest in the Outlaw films and plays really well of Tetsuya Watari’s charm and good looks. They seem like they could make a really great couple, so it makes sense that all of the entries have this to balance out. While I’ve always thought highly of him in everything that I’ve seen him in, I can be genuine in that Outlaw: Gangster VIP made me fall in love the work of Tetsuya Watari. Sure, he’s playing the same character five times over, but there’s something about the charm and bravery that he injects into Goro’s character that manages to imbue something that his other characters never have.

Outlaw

As for the presentation on the Outlaw: Gangster VIP set, it boasts some solid video and audio, as well as a decent amount of extras for the set. The video on the Blu-Ray’s on the set are presented in an AVC encoded, 1080p transfer, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There are mere moments in each film, where there are rips and scratches that seemed unavoidable in the restoration for the film. While this would seem like a detriment, given the nature of the Outlaw series, it feels appropriate and actually enhances the viewing experience. Other than this minute issue, the work that Arrow Video has provided in the visual portion is nothing short of brilliant.  The audio on the disc comes in the original mono Japanese language track. While it’s only a mono track, there’s a great amount of clarity with films of this age. There’s a visual essay on the entire series by Kevin Gilvear, and audio commentary by Jasper Sharp for the first Outlaw film, as well as trailers and image galleries for all six films. There are also DVD’s in the set, boasting standard definition transfers and a beautiful gatefold package, with artwork from comic book artist Tonci Zonjic (The Immortal Iron Fist, Lobster Johnson).

The beauty of the Outlaw: Gangster VIP series is that it manages to mix a multitude of Japanese cinematic genres to feel invigorating, even if a majority of the films plots are similar to one another. If you love the adolescent films of 50’s Japan or love the Ninkyo-eiga era, you owe it to yourself to pick this set up from Arrow Video. Highly Recommended!

About the Author:

is a graduate from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Audio for Visual Media. He works as a freelance location sound mixer, boom operator, sound designer, and writer in his native Chicago. He's an avid collector of films, comics, and anime.
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