Miike Takashi’s Graveyard of Honor is inspired by Fukasaku Kinji’s classic 1975 film about a gangster who violates the gang code with an impunity that ends in his downfall and death. Based on a novel by Fujita Goro and set mostly in the early postwar period, Fukasaku’s film was relentlessly dark. Watari Tetsuya played the hero, Ishikawa Rikio, as a hollow-eyed man who plunges through life like a wounded beast, longing for the release of oblivion.
Miike’s remake begins in the 1980s bubble era and unfolds in the post-bubble recession of the 1990s. The first close encounter of Ishimatsu Rikuo (Kishitani Goro) with the gangs is a shoot-out in a Chinese restaurant where he works. He ends up saving Sawada, the boss of the Sawada-gumi, and is rewarded with admission to the gang as an under-boss. Unfortunately, Ishimatsu has zero impulse control. Other gangsters get steamed when they don’t get their way: Ishimatsu explodes.
His only halfway human relationship is with Chieko (Arimori Narimi), a club hostess who becomes his common-law wife - and a constant target of his abuse. Sent to prison for whacking a gangster, Ishimatsu becomes pals with Imamura, an under-boss with the rival Giyu gang. When he gets out, after five years, Imamura and Chieko are waiting. Life, for next eight years, is good. Ishimatsu rises in the gang hierarchy, even as the economy falls into recession. Then, one day, sends several of his gang seniors to the hospital in a fit of rage. From here on, it all downhill - though Ishimatsu is determined to take as many of his enemies with him to hell as possible.
Director Miike Takashi is mainly known for films like Audition and Ichi the Killer that assault the audience with violence and gore, in quantities designed to turn even the most “ironic” stomach. But in Graveyard of Honor Miike proves he can generate emotions as well, with something resembling empathy and insight, even if his subject is closer to a clinical case than a romantic loner. Working from a script by Takechi Takenori, Miike may not explain Ishimatsu’s background - he is mad and bad from his first scene - but he goes deep into his tortured affair with Chieko. What seems at first a crude SM fantasy - a weak reed of a woman submitting to the strong will of her macho master - evolves into something stranger and more complex. These two, we come to see, need each other to live out their scenarios of self-destruction to the limit. As you degrade me, you complete me. The film is really a love story.