Best Yakuza Movies


  • Yakuza movies have been a popular feature in Japanese cinema for decades, depicting violence, traditions, and style associated with Japanese crime gangs.
  • Films like Dead Or Alive and Rainy Dog showcase the absurd and action-filled world of Yakuza, with over-the-top endings and complex relationships.
  • The Yakuza genre has also been explored in American-made films like The Yakuza, which brings the grit of 70s cinema to a Japanese setting, creating a cult classic.

The gangster film has been a staple of world cinema since the 1920s when America’s prohibition laws were introduced and organized crime was elevated to mythological levels. Most countries have organized crime gangs, with unique customs and traditions, but few have captured the cinema-going public’s imagination quite like Japan’s Yakuza.


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The Japanese movie industry is one of the oldest in the world and Yakuza movies have been a popular feature for almost as long. Sometimes taking inspiration from American gangster movies, Yakuza films depict all the violence, traditions, and style associated with the famous Japanese crime gangs, and in doing so, have created some all-time cinema classics.

10 Dead Or Alive

IMDB Rating: 6.7

Two leads looking cool with sunglasses

  • Directed: Takashi Miike
  • Released: 1999
  • Running Time: 1h 45 mins

Takashi Miike is one of Japanese cinema’s most prolific and controversial filmmakers. Often directing three films a year, his heroic output has produced some of the most memorable films in world cinema. Miike’s films often deal with the breakdown of society, commonly depicted through the eyes of a foreigner living in Japan.

Dead Or Alive is an energetic, action-filled extravaganza, as two men wage a personal war with each other that borders on the absurd. A Chinese-descent Yakuza squares off against a Japanese Cop, which culminates in one of the most over-the-top endings in cinema history.

9 Dragnet Girl

IMDB Rating 7.0

Couple with a gun

  • Directed: Yasujirô Ozu
  • Released: 1933
  • Running Time: 1h 40 mins

Yasujiro Ozu was one of Japan’s most respected filmmakers. Throughout his career, he never strayed far from his unique style of cinema. Characterized by his often static, low-angle shots and scenes where characters talk directly into the camera. Ozu became a master of his craft.


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Ozu was already well-established as a filmmaker when he directed the silent film, Dragnet Girl. The film is an early example of film noir and follows a small-time gangster and his girlfriend as they try to find redemption. The film is a far cry from the family dramas Ozu would later be known for but is a classic tale of crime, regret, and love from the early days of Japanese cinema.

8 Rainy Dog

IMDB Rating: 7.0

Man in rain pointing a gun

  • Directed: Takashi Miike
  • Released: 1997
  • Running Time: 1h 35 mins

Another of Takashi Miike’s most controversial films, Rainy Dog, is the second part of his Black Society trilogy. A series of films connected by theme rather than story and includes Shinjuku Triad Society and Ley Lines. Each film deals in different ways with the conflict between two of Asia’s most notorious organized crime gangs, the Yakuza and Chinese Triad gangs.

Rainy Dog follows an exiled Yakuza, Yuji, living in Taiwan and working as a hitman for a local Triad boss. The story unfolds with all the twists and actions of a Yakuza film, but the heart lies in the relationship between Yuji, his mute son, and his girlfriend/hooker.

7 Under The Open Sky

IMDB rating: 7.1

Man looking out of window

  • Directed: Miwa Nishikawa
  • Released: 2020
  • Running Time: 2h 6 mins

The newest film on this list, Under The Open Sky, tells the story of a Yakuza recently released from prison after 13 years. Now older, he travels to find his mother, who abandoned him years before. Throughout the film, he struggles to adapt to the outside world and life away from crime.

Under The Open Sky deals with the notion of the Yakuza and their diminished stature within Japanese society, as well as the anti-social nature of criminal life. The lead character struggles to connect with others, hold down a normal job, and reintegrate into society as he has spent most of his life in prison.

6 Tokyo Drifter

IMDB Rating: 7.1

Man standing over body with gun

  • Directed: Seijun Suzuki
  • Released:1966
  • Running Time: 1h 29 mins

Tokyo Drifter tells the story of Yakuza hitman Phoenix Tetsu. After his boss suddenly disbands his criminal empire, Tetsu attempts to go straight. These dreams are soon dashed when his old accomplices come calling and want his help in fighting a rival gang.


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Tokyo Drifter is a colorful and violent thriller that brings all the swinging styles of 60s cinema to the Yakuza genre. The film deals with themes of corruption, the excesses of power, and loyalty that are synonymous with the world of Yakuza.

5 The Yakuza

IMDB Rating: 7.2

Two men looking to do violence

  • Directed: Sydney Pollack
  • Released: 1974
  • Running Time: 1h 47 mins

The Yakuza is a rare American-made Neo-noir movie set in Japan and follows Private Eye Harry Kilmer, played by Robert Mitchum, as he searches for his friend’s kidnapped daughter. The film was directed by Sydney Pollack, who would go on to direct the classics Tootsie and Out Of Africa.

Initially released to mixed reviews, it has since become a cult favorite and acts as a perfect introduction to Yakuza films for a Western audience. The Yakuza brings all the grit of 70s cinema into the Japanese setting, creating a classic of the genre.

4 Sympathy For the Underdog

IMDB Rating: 7.4

Three men looking at something important

  • Directed: Kenji Fukasaku
  • Released: 1971
  • Running Time: 1h 33 mins

This 1971 crime epic is the classic tale of warring rival gangs fighting for their lives and territory. The film follows Masuo Gunji, as he and his gang are driven from Yokohama and imprisoned. Years later, Gunji is released from prison and sets out to rebuild his lost empire.

Directed by Kenji Fukasaku, most known for his controversial masterpiece Battle Royale, expertly crafts this Yakuza classic with all the flourish and skill of his later films. Sympathy For The Underdog has solid performances from its cast, most notably from Kôji Tsuruta in the lead role, and is a must-watch for fans of Yakuza movies.

3 Sonatine

IMDB Rating: 7.5

Man pointing a gun at another

  • Directed: Takeshi Kitano
  • Released: 1993
  • Running Time: 1h 34 mins

Legendary actor Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano is more widely known in Japan as a comedian than for his Yakuza films. But in the West, he has become renowned for his gritty thrillers, such as Boiling Point, Violent Cop, and the classic Yakuza film, Sonatine.

Sonatine follows gang boss Aniki Murakawa, played by Kitano, as they are sent to Okinawa to settle a local dispute. Ambushed and forced to flee to a beach house, the film delves deeper into the everyday lives of the gang members as they pass the time waiting for their inevitable violent end.

2 Drunken Angel

IMDB Rating: 7.6

Man about hit someone with a bottle

  • Directed Akira Kurosawa
  • Released: 1948
  • Running Time: 1h 38 mins

One of Japan’s most famous cinematic names, Akira Kurosawa, directs this post-war Yakuza film during some of the strictest censorship by the occupying USA. Drunken Angel tells the story of two unlikely men who form a strong bond. An alcoholic doctor and a Yakuza suffering from tuberculosis.


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The film was the first collaboration between Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, who would go on to make 16 films together, which included the classics Rashomon and The Seven Samurai. Despite the strong censorship at the time, Kurosawa managed to include several references to the US occupation of Japan in the film, something that was strictly prohibited at the time.

1 Pale Flower

IMDB Rating: 7.7

Man and woman looking serious

  • Directed: Masahiro Shinoda
  • Released: 1964
  • Running Time: 1h 36 mins

This classic of the Japanese New Wave follows Muraki as he is released from prison and discovers the world he once knew has drastically changed. Falling for the charismatic Saeko, a gambling addict. Together they delve into a dangerous relationship that begins to spiral as Saeko seeks bigger thrills and falls deeper into the underworld of Japan.

Pale Flower is a stylish film noir that tells the story of the perils of gambling and crime. The two central performances ooze seduction and cool and bring all the tension of a high-stakes game to the screen.

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