I'm not a big Fukasaku fan, so it's no surprise I liked Miike's version a lot better. It's a film that seems to fit nicely into Miike's Yakuza oeuvre, but halfway through it takes a bit of a turn and it becomes a more personal and emotionally charged descent into hell. Somewhat of a first for Miike.
The first half of the film sports a pretty typical Yakuza setup. There's a lot of people to introduce and quite some connections to lay bare. Once that's out of the way though (the dentist appointment is the big turning point), it's Goro Kishitani's moment to shine, as he starts his merciless crusade.
It's a twist not everyone is going to appreciate, not in the least because Kishitani's character is absolutely intolerable. It's almost impossible to root for him, but it just makes his journey that more impressive. The first half's familiar territory, the second half a certifiable kick in the gut. A fine Miike.
Miike's darkest take on the Yakuza genre. The first half of the film is a pretty standard Yakuza tale. A lot of characters are introduced, there's some muscle flexing and intrigue, and the rise and fall of a young recruit. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but Miike does well with that kind of material. It's the second half that makes this one stand out.
When Ishimatsu saves the life of a Yakuza boss, he gets a big promotion. Ishimatsu is somewhat of a loose cannon though, which lands him in jail. When he finally gets out, he quickly settles back into his old habits, plus an extra drug addiction. This pushes him completely over the edge.
This film is Goro Kishitani's moment in the spotlights. His character is dark, depraved and impossible to like, yet Miike makes him the emotional centerpiece of the story. It's not a film for people who want to see a fun Yakuza flick, nor a film for people who want 2 hours of wacky Miike. It does lack the polish to be one of his all-time bests, but it's a very worthy film indeed.