Asian Society and the Japan Foundation Present Gamblers, Gangsters, and Other Anti-Heroes: The Japanese Yakuza Movie

March 6 - April 17, 2008

Asia Society and The Japan Foundation are pleased to present a special film series dedicated to Japanese yakuza films. Curated by author and critic Ian Buruma, Gamblers, Gangsters and Other Anti-Heroes features iconic films made by Toei Studios from the late 1960s to early 1970s, the era in which yakuza films blossomed. In these films, gangsters, gamblers, hookers, and cops lit up the screen to make yakuza movies some of the biggest box office hits of this time. Their tales of chivalry, revenge, betrayal, and the thrill of violence captured the spirit of the post-war generation and the loyalty of millions of fans. Although yakuza films have been hugely popular at home for decades, they are relatively unknown outside Japan.

What was it about these tragic figures that made them so popular with Japanese audiences? According to Ian Buruma, the appeal of the classic yakuza film lies in their fidelity to the pre-modern codes of chivalry, loyalty, and honor.
"Progress is bad, tradition good," he said. "The good boss wears a kimono and sticks to a moral code. The bad boss wears a business suit and cares only about money. In the new world of ruthless capitalism, the true yakuza hero, as a man of honor, only fights with a Japanese sword. He is also a loner who sacrifices himself in a hopeless last battle against cowardly modern guns."

In the later films, traditional values become meaningless.
"The yakuza myth was duly debunked by a new generation of filmmakers, who projected a very different image of the gangster," said Buruma. "Directors such as Fukusaku Kinji and Suzuki Seijun showed a much more cynical world of violent mobsters who killed for money or just for the hell of it. In these films traditional values have collapsed or are seen as a black joke."

To provide invaluable context for these dynamic films, Buruma and Japan film scholar Kyoko Hirano will hold a conversation on Japanese yakuza films on April 17 following the screening of Jingi Naki Tatakai (Battles Without Honor and Humanity).

About the Asia Society
Asia Society is the leading global and pan-Asian organization working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders, and institutions of the United States and Asia. The Society seeks to increase knowledge and enhance dialogue, encourage creative expression, and generate new ideas across the fields of policy, business, education, arts, and culture. Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Asia Society is a nonprofit educational institution with offices in Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Manila, Melbourne, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, and Washington, D.C.

The Japan Foundation
Established in 1972 under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japan Foundation is Japan's principal agency for international cultural relations. Through its headquarters in Tokyo and 19 overseas offices in 18 countries, the Japan Foundation conducts a wide range of programs concerning arts and cultural exchange, Japanese-language education, Japanese Studies and intellectual exchange, as well as consultation to various actors involved in international cultural exchange with Japan. In the United States, the Foundation is represented by its offices in New York and Los Angeles. For more information, contact the Japan Foundation, New York, 152 West 57th Street, 17th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10019. On the web at or
# # #

Contact: Elaine Merguerian at 212-327-9271