‘The Blood of Wolves’ MOVIE REVIEW: A Gritty One for Lovers of Yakuza Cinema

The Blood of Wolves (Korô no chi) is a Yakuza movie from director Kazuya Shiraishi, based on a 2015 novel by Yûko Yuzuki.

Set in 1988, the film follows rookie cop Hoika (Tôri Matsuzaka) as he is assigned to partner gang squad legend Ogami (Kōji Yakusho). Their beat is the streets of Hiroshima, and they must mediate the uneasy balance of power between the city’s two powerful Yakuza gangs, the Kakomura-gumi and the Odani-gumi.

Hoika is a textbook, green, rookie, his by-the-book approach immediately conflicting with Ogami’s more traditional methods. And by ‘traditional,’ we mean kicking the shit out of everybody until they tell him what he wants to hear. Hoika suspects Ogami of collusion with one of the gangs. However Ogami sees his role as protecting citizens. He oversees the power balance between gangs and police alike, employing his own unconventional brand of brinkmanship. On their first day working together, Hoika and Ogami are charged with tracking down Uesawa, a missing accountant for a finance company with Yakuza links.

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The Blood of Wolves is a complex crime story, with a sprawling investigation that leads the two cops face to face with both the major gangs in the city. Although it’s used sparingly to maximise impact, it gets real bloody when it needs to, with some wince-inducing methods of persuasion employed by both the gangs and the cops.

With its questioned loyalties and constant suspicion, thoughts turn to Scorsese’s The Departed (or Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s original, Infernal Affairs, if you prefer), as the cops find themselves jammed in between two sides on the verge of war. Ogami’s shady motives and even shadier modus operandi means the audience can never really be sure which side he is on, or what truly motivates him.

Kōji Yakusho is excellent as Ogami, a bruising old-school cop who does whatever is necessary to get results. His philosophy is that he exists to diffuse the gangs – to neuter them, as he illustrates with a colourful pig based metaphor. While Tori Matsuzaka is spot on as Hoika, a perfect blend of idealism and dedication to duty. He goes along with some of Ogami’s methods, despite his better judgement; he screams at himself during one scene, where duty to his partner has overridden his own moral code.

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The Blood of Wolves is solid and well plotted, but unfortunately it’s not all plain sailing. At just over two-hours long, some judicious trimming would definitely be in order. Things get very stodgy in the middle section, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, a narrator appears to talk us quickly through a number of scenes. It feels a bit awkward, like a desperate attempt to move things on a bit.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t harm the movie too much. As events spiral, The Blood Of Wolves hurtles toward a startling third act, and despite being a little on the confusing side, it manages to deliver the goods in terms of visceral closure.

Fans of Yakuza movies are certainly going to want to check out The Blood of Wolves. Although a bit more work is required for those unfamiliar with the genre, the strong performances and gritty violence carry it through as a hard-hitting crime story that’s worth investigating.

‘The Blood of Wolves’ is now streaming on Shudder – HERE.

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About Adam Fleet

Adam Fleet is a writer from the UK, living in Melbourne / Naarm, Australia. Film nerd, punk, record collector. He has also written for The Guardian Australia, Diabolique, Junkee and Scream Horror Magazine. He can be found @AdamFleetMovies on Twitter and Instagram and you visit his very own 'Reel Important' blog HERE.

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