Sneak Peek inside Japanese Gangster Movies

Japanese gangster movies have become a popular source of entertainment introducing several facts regarding the Yakuza clans in Japan. The underworld cinematic world has followed a trajectory unlike Hollywood producing distinct dramas that feature a cultural experience altogether.

Youth of the Beast screenshot

History of Japanese Gangster Movies

Apart from being fun and exciting with spectacular storylines, Japanese gangster movies originated in the late 1930’s with the release of the Ozu Collection: Gangster Films. With an explosion of movie titles, awards and classic presentations, Japanese gangster movies unfold Japan’s traditional crime associations, the Yakuza. Becoming a homegrown genre, Japanese gangster movies combine elements of Japanese art, culture and crime spilling fractions about the Yakuza history.

Several movies were released that focused specifically on moralistic characters who happened to endure a struggling survival within a Yakuza controlled dominion. The corrupt underworld showcased in the movies gives viewers a perfect analysis of the code of conduct followed by the Yakuza clan. It also serves to offer a different cultural experience for movie lovers and film makers. Right from the black & white scripts to the vividly digitalized narratives of Japanese crime, these gangster movies are definitely worth a watch.

Popular Japanese Gangster Movies

Here is an broad and short overview ...

Dragnet Girl (Hijosen no onna)
Released in the year 1933, director Yasujiro Ozu created an impressive line of Japanese crime ridden motion pictures. Dragnet Girl was one of the best screenplays introduced by Ozu, a reflection of his fascination for the American mob. The movie begins in Yokohama, downtown city where the character Tokiko, a typist is the girlfriend of a gangster Joji who seeks redemption. The plot deepens as Joji falls in love with his partner’s sister, Kazuko making Tokiko desperate and jealous.

Youth of the Beast (Yaju no seishun)
Japanese gangster movies became an art in the later years giving rise to the creative Seijun Suzuki who released Youth of the Beast in 1963. Unorthodox in style, Suzuki who is known for pop art confections introduced a movie regarding a mysterious and lonely character. He infiltrates one of Tokyo’s major gangs soon getting involved in gang rivalry. The action sequences seems never to end and thereby creates a movie that can be hard to take all to serious. The characters doesn't seems very human and the movie reveals Japanese crime scenes in a flamboyant manner.

Abhashiri Prison (Abhashiri bangaichi)
Along the same time, 1965 director Teruo Ishii claimed the stage with the introduction of Abhishiri Prison that gives a glimpse inside Japanese gangs through a momentous series. Shot in the icy wastelands of Hokkaido, the series focuses upon gangland grudges between the Tachibana family and Gonda till, the protagonists manage to escape prison handcuffed to each other. The movie is definitely a wonderful combination of drama, intensity and action which relates the history behind Japan’s most famous criminalized families.

Demon (Yasha)
Think about James Bond but the movie will still be more intense than ever! Where the James Bond series consist of drama, action and classic characters, Demon is a darker interpretation of Japanese crime scenes. Directed by Yasuo Furuhata, the movie features the protagonist star of the Abhashiri Prison series, bringing him back into an environment of a snowy township. When the character retires in a small coastal village to finally leave behind felonious acts, for a clean chit, his past comes back to haunt him. Made within a Yakuza filled ambience, the movie draws a captivating character and his struggles to leave behind the heroin addicted gang.

Black Society Trilogy (Kuroshakai)
Filmed within the years 1995-99, the series welcomes a change in its script and production having a typical 90’s vibe. Prolific director Takashi Miike, who’s had a massive success in producing Japanese gangster movies that represent Yakuza clan fished out the Black Society Trilogy right after graduation. The series focus on the Asian minorities in Japan that features a throttling combination of action, crime and skilled screenplay. On screen violence in the movie definitely introduces viewers to a distinctive representation of Japanese crime.

As the phase of the 90’s crime scenes passed by, Brother directed by Takeshi Kitano, entered the world of Japanese mafia with a bang! The movie introduced a different style of production where a Yakuza member flees to Los Angeles. The movie finally channels Japanese crime outside their homeland having an entertaining end. Ichi the Killer in 2001, is a Japanese compilation of a manga series which is known to be one of the best Japanese thrillers around. Takasi Miike has done a marvelous job at visualizing a crime scene that mingles around themes of sexual manipulation, murder, betrayal and psychological exploitation.


The Yakuza movies certainly had a massive impact on the audience from an entertainment and political aspect. However, there was unintended decline of audience interest in Japan for gangster movies which finally led to its demise. Japanese cinema that revolved around underground clashes was a major source of action, amusement and diversion. The genre certainly was able to build a stereotype image of the Japanese mob with patriarchal portrayals. Till today, these movies are sought after bringing back reminiscent memories of a time filled with traditional delinquents in Japan.

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