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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.