Arrow Video continues mining Nikkatsu’s back catalog in this gritty Yakuza tale

Director Yasuharu Hasebe would follow up his successful Massacre Gun with another Yakuza film for Japanese film studio Nikkatsu in 1968. Retaliation stars Akira Kobayashi (Battles Without Honor and Humanity, The Flowers and the Angry Waves) and includes future star Meiko Kaji in a smaller role. This is a conventional tale of the criminal underworld as rival gangs bitterly fight over real estate property. The script is careful not to glamorize the gangsters or their lifestyles.

Jiro Sagae (Akira Kobayashi) has served eight years in prison for murder and has just been released. Finding out his former gang has nearly disbanded, Jiro approaches the powerful Hazama crime family looking for assistance. Making matters more complicated for Jiro is an old rival that wants him dead. Jiro is sent to run things in the growing Takagawa City for Hazama. Hazama wants Jiro to push a group of obstinate farmers off their land so a factory can be built.

Jiro is smarter than the average yakuza lieutenant. Despite being given very little manpower, he tricks the local Aoba gang into a turf war with the Tono crime family. That gives Jiro a way to snag the farmers’ lands without getting his hands dirty. Caught in the middle is one of the farmers’ daughter, played by a young Meiko Kaji before she would go on to fame in films such as Lady Snowblood.

If the intent behind Retaliation was not to glamorize the yakuza lifestyle and its trappings, it is a job well done.

Director Yasuharu Hasebe’s film is a cynical tale about criminal life and the yakuza. It also captures Japanese society’s ambivalent feelings on the shift from the country’s agrarian roots to modern urban development. The story is fairly dense, introducing more characters than necessary. Jô Shishido is wasted as Jiro’s bitter rival in a supporting role that should be more important. Jô Shishido is simply not given much of a chance to shine in Retaliation. This movie is all about Jiro’s manipulation of the rival gangs before getting caught in the crossfire. That might have worked better if Kobayashi wasn’t so reserved as the honorable Jiro.

If the intent behind Retaliation was not to glamorize the yakuza lifestyle and its trappings, it is a job well done. Lacking the more sophisticated style of better films like Branded To Kill and Massacre Gun, Retaliation is too conventional in its storytelling. The straightforward tale of rival gangs fighting over real estate wasn’t fresh in 1968 and isn’t particularly invigorating in 2015. It is merely a solid B-movie, one of many produced by Nikkatsu around its period.

Movie ★★★☆☆

Retaliation Blu-ray screen shot 8

Retaliation was transferred from “original film preservation elements” by Nikkatsu Studios in Japan. This Blu-ray presentation by Arrow Video is not up to their recent standards since they didn’t create the film transfer themselves but licensed it from Nikkatsu. It’s not a bad effort for a film that was quickly made and intended to be disposable entertainment in its day. Retaliation was likely shot in Nikkatsu Scope, a variant of CinemaScope.

The scope presentation is properly framed at 2.35:1 in 1080P video. Retaliation runs 95 minutes on a BD-50. The AVC video encode averages a stout 34.95 Mbps. It transparently replicates every inch of the extant film transfer in perfect detail.

Secondary film elements have been used for this restoration, probably an inter-positive. The film elements are in good condition. They hardly have any debris or visible wear. Their clean appearance does not indicate filtering. Most older Japanese films from this period seem to have immaculate surviving elements without having been heavily filtered. There is some blooming and minor fringing, which look intrinsic to the film’s cinematography in a couple of scenes.

Overall definition is soft. Retaliation isn’t particularly sharp most of the time. The print is rather dull in high-frequency content, lacking excellent fine detail. The faded color palette has average chroma resolution at best, Retaliation’s colors don’t leap off the screen. Everything about this picture quality smacks of a few-years-old telecine being struck from secondary film elements.

Video ★★★☆☆

Retaliation’s original Japanese mono soundtrack is presented in lossless 1.0 PCM. The Japanese-language film has surprisingly crisp audio quality for its vintage. Dialogue is cleanly rendered and perfectly intelligible. It lacks the impact and bass of modern recordings but the action is delivered in pleasing fidelity.

Newly-translated English subs that are optional play in a white font. The subs remain inside the widescreen scope presentation at all times. This is an English translation for very casual fans. It ignores honorifics and other peculiarities of Japanese. While I don’t think you lose much with the left-out bits, this is not an exhaustive translation.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Retaliation is a dual-format release as Arrow Video likes to call their Blu-ray and DVD combo packs. This is limited to 3000 units. Arrow has encoded it as Region A and B, so both British and American users can play it with no problems. If you saw the special features for Massacre Gun, you will have a good idea of what to expect on this set. I have come to really enjoy Tony Rayns’ monologues on the history of Nikkatsu Studios. He is an encyclopedia of knowledge on the subject and he’s fair when needed. This isn’t quite the deep list of featurettes we’ve come to expect from Arrow Video but the included essay by Jasper Sharp is an excellent piece on Retaliation’s place in Japanese cinema.

Brand new interview with star Jô Shishido (13:33 in HD) – The very elderly actor speaks in Japanese. English subs are provided. He recalls fellow actor Akira Kayobashi and working on Retaliation.

Interview with renowned critic and historian Tony Rayns (31:25 in HD) – Rayns goes on in great detail about Nikkatsu Studios. This time his focus in the documentary is director Yasuharu Hasebe and Jô Shishido.

– Original theatrical trailer (02:44 in HD) – Presented in scratchy condition.
– Gallery featuring rare promotional images
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan
– 24-page collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp. It is newly illustrated by Ian MacEwan and includes original archive stills.

Extras ★★★★★

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review as a screener that may not represent the retail disc. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

One thought on "Retaliation Blu-ray Review"

  1. Phantom Stranger says:

    An interview with the man in charge of Arrow Video’s film transfers, James White:

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