I love yakuza movies. Robert Mitchum and Takakura Ken, the man who never smiles, in the 1974 flick The Yakuza; ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano’s deadpan outings, from Violent Cop to Hana-bi; anything by Takashi Miike. But before we go any further, let’s get the word right, shall we? Ya-ku-za, not ya-koo-za or any other mis-stressed, vowel-stretched, English version of it. Ya-ku-za, with equal stress on three short syllables, no inflection. Trust me: saying ya-koo-za to a yakuza is not a good idea.
The official term for yakuza is boryokudan, or ‘violent groups’, but Japanese gangsters themselves prefer another term: gokudo, or someone on the Path of Extremes, someone willing to go the whole way. It is a samurai value: ‘when facing a choice between life and death, it’s easy –