A Family or Yakuza and the Family is a Japanese crime-drama film written and directed by Michihito Fujii and starring Gô Ayano, Hayato Ichihara, Hayato Isomura, Hiroshi Tachi and Shinobu Terajima, alongside other cast members.
Taken in by the yakuza at a young age, Kenji swears allegiance to his old-school boss, pledging to adhere to the family code amid ever-changing times.
Kenji’s life falls into disarray when his father dies at the hands of a stimulant drug. However, a fated celebratory dinner puts him right in front of Hiroshi Shibasaki who takes him in and gives his life direction. Riddled with crime and corruption, does Kenji come out of the other side alive?
A Family is another film about the yakuzas – something that you might have seen multiple times in the past. Yet, there’s a stark difference; this film packs a lot of realism with the drama that comes with gang movies. There’s a lot of violence, obviously, politics and business talk. However, what sets it apart is the realistic portrayal of these topics. At no point do you feel like what you’re seeing is improbable or too dramatic. Thus, it touches your heart and makes you take notice.
On the other hand, the emotional and more dramatic moments cut through the otherwise serious “business” tone and provide a place for the heart. You feel close to the yakuzas and their problems (although, yes, they are a crime syndicate). I am not saying that the film has a “woe be me” attitude, but it’s still quite sympathetic.
Another thing that the film portrays beautifully is the concept of family that is prevalent in organisations like these. A Family explores and portrays them, but it’s subtler yet ever-present. When Shibasaki tells Kenji that the latter is now a part of the family, it feels effortless. At other moments, the film’s portrayal of “family” happens without saying anything. As they say – actions speak louder than words.
What I’m trying to say is, A Family looks at the problems within the yakuza and the difficulties that they face with a magnifying glass and portrays it wrapped in a humane blanket. Sometimes, people just don’t have a choice and you can’t really blame them for everything that’s wrong.
A Family also brings to light the different sides of the characters, especially Kenji. He goes from being a directionless and angry man at the beginning to a ruthless and cool-as-a-cucumber member of the yakuza. But, even in these roles he portrays different flavours that make us understand him and form a connection.
There’s a scene in A Family where Kenji, Ohara and Shibasaki are driving and having a very light-hearted conversation. There’s some seriousness and a little bit of fun teasing involved that is so sweet to watch that it touches you. However, when a precious member is killed right after, you cannot help but feel helpless watching Kenji’s helplessness. It’s good stuff.
Then there’s the portrayal of “the times are changing”. When A Family starts off, the yakuza come across as an organisation that is and people who are very powerful. But as the film moves towards the end, we see how exactly the changing times have brought about so many changes in roles.
There’s a lot of blood and torture in A Family so if that is something that bothers you, this probably might just become a difficult watch. Within the first couple of minutes there’s a brutal beatdown and lots of blood. Like other gang-related movies, there are bare and tattooed asses on display sometimes, so it’s also quite NSFW that way.
Anyway, A Family has some fantastic performances, especially by the protagonist Gô Ayano. He really portrays the various shades and emotions of his character Kenji really well and after a while, post the traumatic incident, you feel attached to his character not just because it’s well-written, but also because how Ayano portrays it. Other than him, Hayato Isomura and Hiroshi Tachi are great too their respective roles.
Summing up: A Family
Without spoiling anything in my A Family review, I’d say that this film is very emotional and heartbreaking and showcases the struggles and problems of the yakuza without showing off the flashy parts. Being in organised crime is no joke, and the film portrays that beautifully. Although I don’t know a lot about the yakuzas, this film showcases the other side of organised crime that not a lot of films do and that’s a plus in my book.
A Family is streaming on Netflix.