DVD/Blu Ray

Yakuza Wolf 1 & 2 (18) | Home Ents Review

Dir. Ryuichi Takamori/ Buichi Saito, Japan, 1972, 172 mins, subtitles

Cast: Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba, Koji Nanbara, Ryuichi Takamori, Tsunehiko Watase

Review by Colin Dibben

Two iconic slabs of 1970s Tokyo yakuza action flick, starring the equally iconic Sonny Chiba, Japan’s answer to Bruce Lee. The spaghetti western stylings of the first film weigh it down massively; the second film is much better for being a straightforward action film.

In Yakuza Wolf: I Perform Murder, Sonny Chiba plays the cowboy hat wearing son of a dead gangster, out to revenge his father and his sister, who has been sold into sex slavery. The film is overly packed with shots that mimic Italian western compositions, largely figures standing at the sides of the frame, pointing inwards towards distant action. It would be a nice touch, but makes the film terribly ponderous and slow; somehow the images don’t have the operatic ‘charisma’ you associate with Sergio Leone and his colleagues.

There are also lots of weirdly angled shots, often foregrounding prosaic objects. These can be found in both samurai films of the 1960s as well as Italian westerns. A final formal note is struck by the handheld action scenes which look chaotic and great in the widescreen format. They are the only successful formal element, in my opinion: everything else comes across as laughably laboured.

The image isn’t always in tip-top condition despite some restoration work.

Yakuza Wolf: Extend My Condolences has Sonny Chiba playing an arms dealer who gets out of prison and sets about destroying the gangs who stole his weapons and money while he was imprisoned. He ropes in five criminal types to help him and there is a satisfying, large-scale shootout at the end of the movie, which apparently influenced the climax of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow 2.

The second film is much better paced and more exciting. Action tends to happen in the centre of the frame and there are generally fewer stylistic mannerisms to slow the action down. There is a key scene which sees Sonny Chiba with his shirt off and deep scratches on his torso which can’t help but make the viewer think of Bruce Lee’s iconic look in Enter the Dragon, although Extend My Condolences appears to predate Lee’s film.

Both films feature some pretty repulsive, unfortunately rather standard and dare I say it half-hearted, misogyny and violent abuse of women characters. I guess that put bums on seats back in the day.


Yakuza Wolf 1 & 2 is out on Blu-ray on 19 February 2024.