Starring Robert Mitchum as the American Harry Kilmer in Japan seeking to rescue a friend’s kidnapped daughter, the melancholy gangster thriller, The Yakuza (1975) provided Mitchum’s last great role and remains one of director Sydney Pollack’s best films. A projected 2007 remake (co-written by the talent behind Philadelphia Experiment II) can only evoke wry exasperation and the question, “why?”
In keeping with the pared down, introspective and sombre tone of the film Dave Grusin’s score (his first of many for Pollack) is largely a work of precise, often sparse, atmosphere, rich in imaginative orchestrations and inventive use of Japanese instrumentation. Bells, chimes, drums and tuned percussion abound in a series of set-pieces unlike any previous Hollywood attempt at a Japanese sound-world. ‘Get Tanner’ is particularly remarkable in this regard, but simply one highlight from a remarkably rich score delivering film music which successfully bridges the divide between East and West. Happily the recording has a wonderful sense of clarity, space and detail which allows Dave Grusin’s music to be fully appreciated in every finely considered detail.
String suspense music is starkly astringent and modernistic in a way which calls to mind Jerry Goldsmith at his most uncompromising, as in the darkest passages of Papillion just the year before (1974) - try ‘Breather/Final Assault’. While ‘The Big Fight’ is a nightmarish dreamscape of shakuhachi, percussion and remarkable tonalities generated from an assortment of instruments. Indeed, shakuhachi features heavily in the score, then entirely appropriate and an instrument rarely heard in American film.
At the romantic heart of the score, particularly in the ‘Main Title’ there is a similar orchestration and melancholy feel to David Shire’s ‘Farewell, My Lovely’ – which may not be entirely coincidental given that film was Mitchum’s other release of 1975. In keeping with the era, when the rhythm section enters the theme takes on a more modern vibe comparable in sound and sensibility to the MOR aspects of John Williams’ scores such as Earthquake (1973) and The Towering Inferno (1974), yet it still takes life as a deeply moving melody infused with a well of sadness. The piano led ‘No Secrets’ and the jazz sax featuring ‘Sayonara’ continue somewhat in this vein, yet equally manage to combine authentic Japanese elements.
The FSM CD features the premiere release of the complete score (there was no previous soundtrack album), together with assorted bonus cues, the most notable of which are two excellent jazz cues running a total of 16 minutes, as well as a song with Japanese vocals, ‘Only The Wind’, which shares its melody with the film’s love theme. The beautifully appointed booklet contains detailed music notes by Jon Burlingame and a superior essay by noted film and film music historian and producer Nick Redman.
A very fine album of a beautifully melancholy score, and an essential addition to any serious film music collection.
Film Score Monthly News Release:
The Yakuza (1975) was a beguiling American film set amongst the yakuza (gangsters) of Japan. Robert Mitchum plays an American P.I. who sets foot in Japan for the first time in years to help a friend (Brian Keith) extricate himself from a yakuza affair; there, Mitchum reunites with his former lover (Kishi Keiko) and her serious-minded brother (Ken Takakura), setting into motion a tragic chain of events that lays waste to lives and relationships. In a stunning climax Mitchum and Ken bond due to their shared belief in giri (duty or obligation) -- "the burden hardest to bear."
The Yakuza was directed by Sydney Pollack and scored by Dave Grusin, their first of many collaborations as director and composer (On Golden Pond, Tootsie, The Firm). The film is unusually stylish and romantic, aided in great measure by Grusin's haunting and moody score, a synthesis of Western melody and Eastern color.
For the film's backstory and character relationships, Grusin conjures up an achingly beautiful, subtly jazzy sound world with a central melody that plays to the film's almost unbearable emotions of guilt and nosalgia. The action sequences and gangster plot are, on the contrary, treated with the disorienting alien sounds of Japan -- shakuhachi and percussion. The result is a mature score coursing with melody that speaks to the film's emotion and atmosphere in a manner utterly devoid of gimmickry -- the work of a major artist.
Despite its loyal following this is the first-ever release of The Yakuza soundtrack, here presented in complete form remixed and remastered in stereo from the original 2" multitracks. Certain bonus selections, such as the Japanese vocal of the main theme performed as source music, only survive in mono. For the liner notes, '70s film authority Nick Redman contributes a new essay and veteran journalist Jon Burlingame a comprehensive production history including interview material with Pollack and Grusin.
- Prologue 2:42
- Main Title 3:16
- Samurai Source 2:02
- Tokyo Return 1:26
- Scrapbook Montage/Scrapbook Epilogue 2:10
- Kendo Sword Ritual/Alter Ego/Night Rescue/Amputation/Amputation (alternate) 3:16
- Man Who Never Smiles 1:48
- Tanner to Tono/Tono Bridge/The Bath 2:26
- Girl and Tea 1:32
- Pavane 1:09
- Get Tanner 1:38
- Breather/Final Assault 4:41
- The Big Fight 5:50
- No Secrets 1:31
- Sayonara 2:00
- Apologies 2:08
- Bows/End Title (Coda) 1:41
Total Time: 45:19
- Shine On 9:44
- Bluesy Combo 6:18
- 20 Year Montage/Scrapbook Montage (film mix) 4:58
- End Title (film version) 1:08
- Only the Wind 2:49
Total Time: 25:08