The Wolves (AnimEigo, 1971) D: Hideo Gosha, w/ Tatsuya Nakadai, Kyoko Enami. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNN
Japanese cinema has always had a fine feel for tragedy. It comes from an understanding of the conflict between duty and desire and a sharp sense of how the social web of mutual obligation can make every choice a wrong one.
That sense informs The Wolves from the opening, when our protagonist, Iwahashi (Tatsuya Nakadai), is released from prison, to the blood-soaked climax. Iwahashi comes home to find his yakuza gang preparing to marry the old boss's daughter into a rival gang in hopes of cementing a peace so they can both get on with looting the South Manchurian Railway. But the daughter still pines for Iwahashi's mysteriously vanished buddy.
Japanese star Nakadai brings a noir sensibility to Iwahashi; he's low-key, restrained and out of step with his world. Director Hideo Gosha emphasizes his isolation with widescreen compositions that realistically embed his characters in settings mixing the traditional and modern, while Masaru Sato mixes jazz and traditional Japanese music to underscore their alienation.
AnimEigo does its usual solid job with onscreen text notes that fill in cultural details and historical background for the Western viewer.
EXTRAS Director, star and composer onscreen text bios; yakuza, Japanese railways text essays; program notes. Widescreen. Japanese audio. English subtitles.