Director: Keiichi Ozawa
Notable Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara
Now that I’m five movies into the Outlaw franchise, sometimes it’s baffling to think this franchise took so long to get a release in the US (and UK). Even in this fifth entry, entitled Black Dagger, the franchise remains a solidly entertaining romp, utilizing some of the best elements of the yakuza genre of the time and making enjoyable films. Black Dagger, while remaining one of the weaker films of the series thus far, is full of great action, effective performances, and fun story bends. Of course, it sacrifices a lot of the great themes and overarching concepts to be a bit more consumable, but that never stopped me from enjoying a film before. Black Dagger might not be one of the weaker entries, but dammit it’s still fun and dynamic still riding on the anti-hero antics of our protagonist Goro.
Goro (Tetsuya Watari) continues to wander about as a punisher of the heartless and brash yakuza in the cities around him. When his love Yuri (Chieko Matsubara) is killed in one of his now famous knife battles by the young son of a yakuza boss, he decides to try and go straight from the life working in an old friend’s quarry. However, the life of a yakuza never lets go and soon enough he’s caught in the middle of a clan battle that is hurting those around him.
Once again, I feel inherently confused by the timeline of this franchise. It doesn’t help when many of the same actors and actresses play different roles throughout various films, but Black Dagger really had me a bit confused. When the film starts with the death of Yuri, once again played with the big watery eyes of Chieko Matsubara, I was trying to figure out whether or not that was one of the characters from one of the previous films. However, as the film continues on it comes to fruition that trying to place these films in a chronological order is a futile effort. It doesn’t really matter. Black Dagger actually uses the multi-roles-to-one-actress as a plot device for later on in the film when Goro and the young yakuza boss see another woman who looks just like Yuri, who died in the beginning. Perhaps that’s the intent of this film and the series, to give a sort of parallel concept and theme to how love and death blends together. Perhaps not. Either way, Chieko actually plays two characters in this one and the film addresses this confusing approach in a fun way by making it a plot device.
However, outside of that side thought, Black Dagger plays things relatively safe for the franchise. There are almost no overarching themes of family, loyalty, or feminism like previous entries and instead the film plays further into the formula for the series. Director Keiichi Ozawa still has a knack for finding some strong visual elements for the film, including the use of the gravel quarry, a phenomenal opening action sequence with its devastating aftermath, and a slick fight sequence on a moving train (which desperately needed to be longer considering how awesome it was). If it wasn’t for his work on this film and some strong performances (as always in these films) then this might have been a pure throw away episodic film. Ozawa makes Black Dagger entertaining and overall a solid piece of yakuza film, but the lacking depth of theme and characters leave it feeling a bit hollow overall.
Compared to its previous entries, Black Dagger feels too safe and shallow to compete with the artful blend of style, violence, and romantic heart that this series is known for. It’s still entertaining, Goro is still a walking badass of awesomeness, and the story passes by a solid piece work of yakuza viciousness and redemption, but in the end it feels like it’s running a bit too much through the motions instead of really digging into its material like other entries. Fun, but hardly the best.
ARROW VIDEO FEATURES:
- Limited Edition Box Set (3000 copies) containing all six films in the Outlaw series, available with English subtitles for the first time on any home video format
- High Definition digital transfers of all six films, from original film elements by Nikkatsu Corporation
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original uncompressed mono audio
- Newly translated English subtitles
- Audio commentary on Outlaw: Gangster VIP by Jasper Sharp
- Visual essay covering the entire series by Kevin Gilvear
- Original trailers for all six films
- Extensive promotional image galleries for all six films
- Exclusive gatefold packaging featuring brand new artwork by Tonci Zonjic
- Booklet featuring an interview with director Toshio Masuda by Mark Schilling, plus new writing by Schilling, Chris D and Kevin Gilvear
Written By Matt Reifschneider
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