Best Yakuza Movies – The Yakuza are essentially the Japanese Mafia, a hierarchical organisation characterised by underground crime, black market trading, extreme subservience and prideful violence.
Surprisingly, they’re also viewed as a business organization, complete with business cards, corporate offices, investments and trade, and even tabloid magazines!
Since gaining immense popularity and recognition during the post-war economic book in the 1960s, the Japanese mafia have dipped their fingers in many different pies. They’ve spawned rational fear amongst the public with their gang violence and territorial wars, aided in humanitarian efforts across Japan, and a certain syndicate has even developed a thorough written exam for aspiring gang members to sit.
Unsurprisingly, the Yakuza have since developed their own genre of movies and shows. Most will tell stories of gang members seeking vengeance and honor through violence, toppling authority through schemes, and the difficulty of finding love.
We’ve listed below some of the best Yakuza movies you should watch.
1. Outrage (2010)
Outrage is an amazing movie directed by Takeshi Kitano, one of the most popular Japanese movie directors. The film is about a territorial Yakuza syndicate looking to assert power and dominance by getting rid of a rival gang.
Sekiuchi is the gang leader of the Sanno-kai, a huge gang who control the entire Kanto region. He learns that one of his henchmen has become friendly with an alliance of the dis-associated drug-dealing Murase-gumi gang whilst in prison, and is not happy.
Said henchman, named Otomo, is then set the task of bringing the Murase-gumi gang in line.
What ensues is a bloodbath of violent gang fights, killings, and backstabbing. Of course, the law enforcement officers are too corrupt and afraid to step in.
2. Graveyard of Honor (2002)
This movie is Takeshi Miike’s version of the 1975 masterpiece of the same name.
It follows the story of Ishimatsu, a dishwasher by day who inadvertently saves a Yakuza boss from an assassination attempt. He is then invited to join the gang and quickly rises in ranks, much to the annoyance and anger of fellow members who have been around longer than he has.
He eventually lets the power get to his head and commits crimes that his former self would have never even dreamed about getting involved in.
3. Ryuji (1983)
This movie offers a refreshing change of main plotline, with the main focus being an ex-Mafia man and his family.
Kaneko is a young gang member who has just been released from jail. From there on out, he makes it his life purpose to leave the criminal life behind and start fresh with his wife and daughter.
However, his past slowly creeps up on him, and he quickly learns that old habits die hard.
4. Blood of Revenge (1965)
In Osaka, 1907, Asajiro is a gang member with a lot on his plate.
Whilst trying to keep his business afloat and running smoothly, he’s also been tasked with taking care of his late oyabun’s temperamental son. On top of that, he’s also trying to navigate through his emotions for a stunning yet seemingly out-of-reach geisha named Hatsue.
5. Branded to Kill (1967)
This movie is about two high-ranking underwork hit-men who resign from their missions and go on the run.
Goro Hanada, along with his wife, travels to Tokyo for a mission. Here he meets Kasuga, another former hitman. They find out that they’ve been hired to escort a client to Nagano, but both feel like something is amiss and realize that they’ve been set up.
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6. Like a Dragon (2007)
Like a Dragon is about a Yakuza who wants a fresh start.
Kiryu Kazuma has just been released from prison and is now looking to start a new life. He then meets a young girl Haruka, who is seeking her mother Mizuki, who happens to be Kazuma’s childhood love.
Their journey is marred by Kazuma’s old rival from his Yakuza days, the psychotic Goro Majima, who is searching for Kazuma to settle an old score.
7. Sympathy for the Underdog (1971)
No list of Yakuza movies is complete without a mention of the classic Sympathy for the Underdog.
This movie plays into all the expectations of a Yakuza movie – big time.
It follows the life of Masuo Gunji, an old-school Yakuza boss whose gang is driven out of their territory in Yokohama by a powerful rival gang. Gunji is subsequently imprisoned.
After serving 10 years in jail, he gathers the few men who are loyal to him and they set out to take over Okinawa. However, they find out their operations are hampered by the previous Tokyo gang who drove them out and have set their eyes on Okinawa.
8. Sonatine (1993)
Sonatine is about a Yakuza member who’s starting to tire of his gangster life. He is then assigned by higher-ups to take his gang to Okinawa to settle a dispute between two factions.
When he arrives, he becomes rightfully suspicious as his role appears to be unclear and he finds that several of his men are dead. Retreating to a secluded beach house, he rescues a woman and becomes aware that he’s been set up.
As his clan slowly dwindles, he hatches a plot of revenge.
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9. Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima (1973)
The movie starts off with Shoji Yamanaka getting caught whilst cheating in a card game and becoming violent against several men. He goes to jail for 2 years and during his imprisonment, befriends Shozo Hirono.
Upon his release, he joins a new Yakuza gang and falls in love with his boss’s niece. As he becomes more deeply involved in the gang’s activities, he accidentally uncovers a conspiracy.
This movie is the second move in a 5-part Yakuza series.
10. Why Don’t You Play In Hell? (2013)
We saved the most unusual Yakuza movie for last. In a unique take on the Yakuza genre, ‘ Why Don’t You Play in Hell’ follows the an untraditional film crew, who call themselves the ‘F Bombers’, and their journey of capturing first-hand the experience of gang wars.
They initially get into contact with Muto, who wants to take revenge on a gang attack that happened 10 years prior. He agreed to work with the F Bombers so long as his daughter is the main character in the film.
Don’t be fooled by this outrageous storyline though, because this action comedy is still filled with the gorey violence you’d expect of a Yakuza film.
You may be used to or expect Yakuza movies to focus on cruelty and violence first and foremost, but many movies also elaborately and intricately intertwine characters who you find yourself suddenly rooting for before you know it.
Most movies are based off fictional works, but you’ll come across certain movies that are influenced by real life events.
For the next movie date, try one of these Yakuza movies!
And for more movie inspiration, check out our selection of the 14 best Japanese movies of all time!