I watched Sympathy for the Underdog by director Kinji Fukasaku (who would direct Battle Royale 30 years later) on Sunday and I’m glad I did. If you like crime dramas, this 1971 yakuza flick is a winner. It’s about a Yokohama gang that loses its turf to a big Tokyo outfit. The leader, Ginja, spends 10 years in prison. When he gets out, he puts the gang back together and heads to Okinawa. There, he says, it’s like the post-war days. A small outfit can still carve out territory and make a killing. This they do, going up against local Okinowan gangs trying to defend their own turf. Ultimately, of course, the Tokyo boys come calling once they realize there’s money to be made. The smart play for Genji’s gang is to take the bribe money and leave. The honorable thing to do is to stand tough and try to take vengeance for their betrayal in Yokohama, even if it means they all die. Can you guess which path they choose?
The movie has a great sense of time and place. The American naval base on Okinawa is an important part of the plot and this western influence is accentuated with a bluesy soundtrack. Genji’s sunglass wearing badass is a precursor to Chow Yun-Fat’s Mark Gor in A Better Tomorrow, and you can certainly see Fukasaku’s influence on Kill Bill. If you are ready to get your yakuza on, Sympathy for the Underdog is a great choice.