Yakuza films, and much of Japanese cinema for that matter, derive tension from competing duties and loyalties, and the clash of personal obligation over one's obligation to society as a whole. At the beginning of Bloody Territories, the Onogi clan is forced to make a choice. concede defeat and accept the dissolution of the crime association which binds them to their fellow Yakuza clans, or to maintain their clan as a rogue element outside the protection the association affords. Boss Onogi, old-school to the hilt, walks out of the meeting, instantly making them outcasts among the Tokyo yakuza.
It doesn't take long for this decision to haunt them. Almost immediately a rival gang tries to goad them into a violent clash; without the backing of an association, the Onogi clan is forced to submit to a costly arbitration which virtually bankrupts them. To make matters worse, the Onogi clan finds themselves set against an alliance between a rival Yakuza clan and a corporation with which they once had faithful ties. In fact, one of the Onogi has gone legit and now works for the company, serving as an ad hoc middleman between the two organizations. As tensions rise, Onogi strongarm Yuji (played by 60's leading man Akira Kobayashi) and Boss Onogi's right hand man Seiichi find themselves fighting for the survival of their clan.
To be truthful, Bloody Territories is a fairly standard example of 60's yakuza film. Director Yasuharu Hasebe injects the film with intensity and tension, but lacks the visual polish or inventiveness of the more stylish Seijun Suzuki. Of course, Hasebe was also known for the over-the-top lava-lamp epic Stray Cat Rock series as well as the 70's kaiju series Spectreman, so Bloody Territories can be seen as a rare foray into straight cinema, somewhat to its detriment. While a director like Kinji Fukasaku can pull off something this straightlaced, Hasebe seems to play his cards too close to his chest.
By the time the film enters its final, fatal act, however, Hasebe seems to find his footing. As the various plot threads (many of which leave you scratching your head for much of the film's running time) come together, tanto knives are unsheathed and blood begins to flow. The final, rain-soaked showdown (is there any other kind in yakuza film?) takes place amongst an incongruous arrangement of laundry lines strewn with white sheets ripe for staining with blood. And stained they are.
The slyly handsome Akira Kobayashi easily steals the show. In reality, he's one of only a handful of memorable characters in the film. The other, a sinister yakuza rabble-rouser who begins the film at cross-purposes from Yuji but ends up one of his strongest allies, is also a crowd pleaser, if for no other reason than to see how he and Yuji's quest for vengeance ends. A typical yakuza revenge film? Yes. but entertaining nonetheless - particularly if, like me, you're a fan of the genre and await every similar release with baited breath. I can't say the uninitiated will find much to love here, but yakuza fans shouldn't pass it up.