The memorable Outlaw: Gangster VIP was the first in a string of films: there were five sequels built around the tragic hero Goro Fujikawa, all with Tetsuya Watari continuing on as the lead character. As was the custom with Japanese genre films in this era, these sequels were all quickly cranked out and released a few months apart from each other.
Thus, it was no surprise that such quickly-made sequels wouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel. As it developed, the Outlaw series would take a “variation on a theme” approach to its storylines but the first sequel, Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2, followed the original film closely with minimal variations.
In this film, Goro (Watari) reunites with his lady love Yukiko (Chieko Matsubara) and attempts to go straight. However, the widow of an old friend needs medical treatment and he soon finds himself in the middle of yakuza gangland struggles. He tries to mentor young yakuza and look out for a singer-turned-prostitute Yumeko (Kayo Matsuo) but treachery from the bosses ensures he’ll have to break out his short sword for revenge.
The result follows the first film’s structure as closely as possible, starting with a prologue re-run of Goro’s tragic childhood using the same footage from the debut outing and continuing through a string of betrayals, a doomed romance subplot for two minor characters and a bloody showdown finale. Even a scene depicting an assassination at a train station is repeated almost verbatim. Thus, Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 has trouble establishing its own profile as it is constantly living in the shadow of its predecessor.
That said, Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 remains a highly watchable programmer for yakuza buffs. The mix of Hollywood -style melodrama, Japanese themes of loyalty and honor and brutal bursts of action remains effective. The script also throws in the occasional dramatic surprise, like an excellent, moody dramatic scene where Goro and his prostitute friend discuss the concept of redemption. Director Keiichi Ozawa’s direction is slick and steady, keeping the heavy plotting on its feet and delivering flashes of individual style along the way: the best example of the latter quality might be the finale, which intercuts a brutal short-sword battle with an unexpected choice of event.
Most importantly, Watari remains a strong lead. Whether he is required to emote in scenes of high melodrama or be a badass in fight scenes, he carries the film effortlessly on his movie star charisma. Matsubara remains a likeable love interest and Matsuo brings the right note of poignancy to her supporting role. Japanese film buffs should also look out for future Female Convict Scorpion star Meiko Kaji in an early role.
In short, Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 is the least ambitious of the Outlaw series but remains a solid programmer for yakuza fans.
Availablity: This film was recently reissued by Arrow Video as part of their Outlaw Gangster VIP box set. It is presented in both blu-ray and DVD formats, with an excellent new transfer and uncompressed Japanese mono audio on the blu-ray. New English subtitles are included to go with the transfer. Extras for this title consist of a trailer and an image gallery but a visual essay on the entire series is included elsewhere in the box set.