Films are a manifestation of the social, economic and political situation in society. With the passage of time, change was inevitable, and the conservative Japanese society shifted. Yakuza films were not left behind. They too changed and film directors dumped the old conservative ways, and adopted scenes of moral decay in society in films as was the case during the time the movies were acted. Therefore, moral squalor in society has been portrayed in the Yakuza films that largely featured in the 2000s.The much love associated with the films died as social, economic, and political shifts were witnessed from 1990s to the subsequent years towards mid 2000s thereby rendering the films nonconsensual to the slow changing conservative to democratic society. Yakuza culture, as presented in the films, is not only symbolic, but also confer real benefits in the criminal underworld. Symptomatic approach, as applied in analyzing this paper involves providing an explanation of the Yakuza situation in society based on the character of the doer of actions in the film. This paper argues that the changing nature of the Japanese society in the 2000s led to dislike and subsequent death of the art of Yakuza films by portraying Yakuza and its members as blood-thirsty and sketchy group.
Yakuza group began in the Tokugawa Shogunate period and had two different groups. The first group was tekiya who moved from one village to other selling goods of low quality to earn a living. The second group was the bakuto who engaged in gambling as a primary source of income. Since then, the Yakuza group has been a dominant part of the Japanese culture. At the onset of the formation of the groups, society regarded them as social organizations meant to foster peaceful stay in society. When one community wrong another one, they would consent to the symbolic offering of the small finger as a means of settling dispute amicably. Where controversy existed that could not be agreed upon, each Yakuza group would bring their best fighter to compete in a fight to solve the issue. At some point the fighter would die. The death of the fighter would be attributed to the sacrifice of the Yakuza for the greater good of society (Schrader 3). People loved and identified with the Yakuza. The emergence of the film industry to further show the goodwill of the Yakuza, and received remarkable support from society. In most of the films, the Antagonist would die or be imprisoned for the sake of his community.
As time goes by, so does change crop in, and in the years after the Second World War, Yakuza had lost track of their initial ways of carrying out business and protecting society. Instead of being the custodian of peace, they were the instigators of moral decadence. Having made alliances with the ruling party and the government, Yakuza, conducted illegal business without much restriction. With the economic decline in the 1990s, the Yakuza thrived more in prostitution activities. They could easily acquire pornographic actors and actresses for filming. Besides, due to their financial endowment, they started strip clubs, hotels and brothels where prostitution would be carried out. The movies of the early 2000s, written from the backdrop of moral squalor in Japanese society at the time portrayed Yakuza and its members as a blood-thirsty and sketchy group through symbolism such as violence, drugs, sex as well as stereotypes such as tattoos, formal attires, and fancy cars. Besides, the gangs are rich organizations with their wealth rooted in criminal activities such as prostitution, women and drug trafficking, and money laundering.
The political situation in japan helped shape the social and economic activities as presentenced in Yakuza films (Treverton and Gregory 111). According to Treverton and Gregory, the police used Yakuza groups to maintain peace and order, and it is the symbiotic association with the police that helped it to survive (112). In films such as Dead or Alive 2, and outrage, we see gang leaders publicly and freely conducting illegal business in marked premises. Use of symbols such as Dragon tattoos on doors is evident in Tokyo and other cities. According to Treverton and Gregory, Yakuza offices are clearly marked with the symbol of the gang, hence making it easy to locate the gang offices (117). In Dead or alive 2, Mizuki Okamoto is hired to assassinate a Yakuza gang leader who resides in an office with red Dragon drawings on the door. The use of symbols both in the films and in reality show how much the government and the police force know about the presence of the gangs but do not take lawful actions.
Gambling is another feature that best identifies the Yakuza group. The gambling activity of the group traces back to more than a hundred years ago The bakuto group is one of the groups that constitute the Yakuza group and it is primarily associated with gambling. In the early 2000s, the main gambling activities of the Yakuza group were to run the gambling joints in the entertainment centers (Hendry). At such places, they could easily attract and retain their customers, which was their primary goal. Yakuza clans get income from gambling rooms (Schrader 6) In Japan, gambling is prohibited; therefore, the gambling joints were frequently raided by the police. But this did not stop the gambling culture of the Yakuza as they were professional gamblers who would not cheat. Therefore, honesty would retain their customers. Besides, alliance with the police meant little disturbance. Apart from carrying out betting activities in Sumo Wrestling, and horse races, the group also included pachinko parlors in their dealings which have been profitable since pachinko is legal in Japan. In the 2000s, the gambling halls had been turned into brothels and points for exchanging drugs (Treverton and Gregory 112). In the Yakuza films of 2000s, the same phenomena is evident.
Piracy is another feature that defines Yakuza group. Piracy by Yakuza involves production of pornography videos either by unauthorized copying of existing content or by acting new ones. Treverton and Gregory reports that during the 2000s peiod, an illegal pornographic film cost three times more than a pirated one (116). Treverton and Gregory further reports that Rakudaine Yamaguchi –gumi, a Yakuza group in the 2000s conducted underground pornography activities as a basic source of revenue to supplement other sources such as women trafficking (116). The situation in society is transformed and acted in Films of the 2000s such as Tokyo Decadence. In the film, Ai, a submissive prostitute is involved in pornography filming with Yakuza crew, as instructed by the gang leader. The northern side of Nihonbashi in Osaka is a thriving ground for electronic shops that discreetly sell pornographic films for Yakuza groups, while the southern part of the town is largely occupied by hotels and bars that are used for prostitution (Treverton and Gregory 117). The presentation of pornography for sale in the film is a true manifestation of the illegal pornography business and porn movie production activities in Japanese brothels and hotels in the 2000s.
Prostitution is another feature that is identified by the Yakuza group. The group has largely invested in the business due to the profitability of the industry (Hendry). As a result of Yakuza investment in prostitution, it has led them to take part in human trafficking and pornography. Regarding the aspect of human trafficking, the group lures the foreign young women from abroad to Japan and they are forced to work in the sex industry. Also, the Yakuza engage in pornography where they produce and sell pornographic material that even sometimes includes underage girls. In movies of 2000s, the yakuza crew are used to safely transport prostitutes from one territory to another.
Violence also known as sokaiya in the Japanese culture, it is the act of disrupting the shareholders meeting using different means such as aggression or any other forms of disruption. In other cases, the shareholder members are forced to pay the Yakuza groups to stop them from disrupting their meetings. To access the meeting, the Yakuza buy shares in the companies of the interest and they end up threatening to disrupt the meetings if they are not paid or even reveal the secrets of corporations. Due to the fear of unsightly revelations, most of the demands of the Yakuza are met by the corporations’ members (Varese 117). Extortion has proven to serve best in earning big and easy money by the Yakuza. This is because the corporations that are humiliated are unlikely to report the incidences to the authorities due to the fear of Yakuza revealing their secrets. In Dead or alive 2, Mizuka Okamoto and Shuichi Sawada are violent assassins who are hired by Yakuza group to kill a gang leader from China. Their violence and ruthlessness is portrayed when Sawada manages to assassinate the gang leader under Okamoto’s watch, who is also ready to make the kill. In the documentary marked death of the Yakuza, Akihicho Ekenuchi, a Yakuza leader confesses to have been involved in unnecessary violent collection of taxes.
Another culture that is associated with the Yakuza is drug dealing. The group mainly deals with amphetamines. After the Second World War, these stimulant drugs were legal and common as they were used by both the soldiers and civilians. Since then until the early 2000s, the Yakuza has dominated the drug industry in Japan as they have the manpower and resources that boost their ability to handle the illegal business. Most of the Yakuza involve in the drug dealings to earn them a living as it is a very lucrative industry but other members are only consum