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Minbo: The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion, a Japanese comedy-drama film directed by Juzo Itami, released in 1992, was met with controversy and acclaim for its blunt treatment of Yakuza-related extortion in Japan. The film is an exploration of the Yakuza culture in the post-bubble era, with particular focus on their reliance on extortion tactics, particularly against the innocent and the weak.

The film is set in Osaka and follows the story of Shindo, a young lawyer called in to help a family-owned hotel from falling prey to a group of Yakuza thugs. Under the threat of physical violence, the customers and guests of the hotel are forced to pay ‘protection money’ to the Yakuza. The hotel's owner, meanwhile, feels hopeless and unable to fight back, given the country's worship of politeness and the Yakuza's general acceptance by society.

Shindo proves his worth by setting up a sting operation that is meant to catch the Yakuza in the act of demanding protection money, a move he hopes will empower the customers and the establishment’s employees instead of the Yakuza. But the Yakuza are not to be underestimated, and soon they unleash their most ruthless tactics to threaten and coerce the employees to join their ranks, pitting the hotel's staff against one another.

Minbo is a scathing commentary on the cultural norms that allow extortionist groups like the Yakuza to function and flourish, even in the modern age. The film’s dark comedy, while entertaining, makes its satirical commentary on the cultural practices of Japan more apparent. The film's title is derived from the Japanese term ‘minbo’ which refers to lawyers who specialize in defending against bullying and extortion.

The film makes excellent use of a talented cast, not least of whom is Nobuko Miyamoto, who portrays the hotel’s owner. Her performance captures the desperation and frustration of the hotel's predicament and how it is made more challenging by the cultural norms of Japan. This is particularly so when she is seen pleading with the customers to pay protection money, not out of malice or greed, but to protect them from the Yakuza thugs, which only adds to the ambiance of the film.

Yasuo Daichi brings an air of joviality to his role as the hotel's resident ‘fixer’ past his prime, who serves to introduce Shindo to the wider problem of Yakuza extortion in Japan. Daichi brings an excellent balance of humor to the film, which is necessary to provide some relief from the tense plot concerning an issue in Japan that remains prevalent today.

The comedy of Minbo is distinctly Japanese, focusing on the subtleties of language and culture, so much so that some of it might evade non-Japanese-speaking viewers. Still, the film's themes of standing up to oppression and corruption resonate through the language barrier.

The film's visual style is simple and unfussy, relying on the strength of the script and the actors to carry the story along. An overwhelming sense of claustrophobia is conveyed through the cinematography, accurately depicting the oppressive, constrained atmosphere that the establishment's staff finds themselves trapped in. One of the most notable technical aspects of the film is the recurrent use of the Yakuza code or symbols, either displayed physically or as part of the hotel decor, demonstrating the group's omnipresence in Japanese society.

While the film’s themes are heavy and the plot serious, Minbo is not a film that bogs down on its weighty content. On the contrary, the film entertains and educates, making it an excellent example of the alchemy of film when art and social commentary are combined in a manner that captivates the audience.

In conclusion, Minbo: The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion, is an essential watch, as much for its historical context as for its universal themes. It serves as a frank reminder of the potentially disastrous consequences of looking the other way when faced with systemic and inhumane societal practices, all wrapped in a polished, high-quality package of memorable performances and technical brilliance.

Minbo is a Comedy, Crime movie released in 1992. It has a runtime of 123 minutes. Critics and viewers have rated it moderate reviews, with an IMDb score of 7.4..

How to Watch Minbo

Where can I stream Minbo movie online? Minbo is available to watch and stream, buy on demand, download at Amazon Prime, Amazon. Some platforms allow you to rent Minbo for a limited time or purchase the movie for downloading.

Juzo Itami
Nobuko Miyamoto, Yasuo Daichi, Takehiro Murata
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