Art's Review of Minbo - or the Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion
The last of Juzo Itami's string of hits (The Funeral, Tampopo, A Taxing Woman, A Taxing Woman Returns) focused on the Yakuza and resulted in the director subsequently being stabbed in revenge. I guess he hit a nerve. Perhaps it isn't surprising that the Yakuza might really succeed by using intimidation tactics aimed to embarrass in a country that is very concerned about politeness and appearances and not inconveniencing others (and would take offense at such an accusation). The Yakuza in this film (goons, all) are all bluster and veiled threats but they are effective in cowing their victims (the staff of a prestigious hotel) into paying "reparations". They don't cross the line that would allow the police to act by actually using violence or leaving evidence of their blackmail techniques. So, when the hotel hires Nobuko Miyamoto (Itami's wife and the star of all of his other hits), a lawyer specializing in Minbo (the Yakuza's technique of extortion), the baddies have more than met their match. The rest of the film follows the usual underdog defeats evil power script but the various extortion schemes seemed believable, as did the legal means to stop them. Although the style of the film is nothing flashy, I was engaged all the way through by the characters and the simple hydraulic plot. Sadly, Itami committed suicide a few years later, perhaps still affected by the violent response to this film (although he did make a few more subsequent to this one).