Onimasa is a 1982 Japanese crime drama directed by Hideo Gosha, based on the novel by Tomiko Miyao. This is a Yakuza movie starting in the Taisho era (1912-1928). The film covers several decades from 1918 to 1940, navigating the world of the Yakuza over those years.
It follows the life of a Yakuza boss named Onimasa, exploring the relationship he has with his daughters (Matsue who is adopted and Hanako who is his biological child). The film is themed around family, loyalty, exploitation, existentialism and the consequences of one’s actions.
With strong performances and a nuanced portrayal of the Yakuza, Onimasa is often considered a classic of Japanese gangster cinema and has been dubbed “The Japanese Godfather”.
How was Onimasa Received Critically?
Upon its release, Onimasa received a mixed reception from critics in the West.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times, for example, called the film “almost tolerable” and compared it to the excesses of Luchino Visconti’s films “Rocco and His Brothers”. Canby did however note that Onimasa was less excessive compared to Hideo Gosha’s other film, Goyokin (a 1969 action Samurai movie).
However, Kevin Thomas of the LA Times considered Onimasa a great gangster epic. He stated that it rivaled The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in America, calling it “an exceptionally robust and satisfying experience.”
Masako Natsume won Best Actress at the 5th Blue Ribbon Awards for her role in the film as Matsue. The film received 9 nominations at the 1983 Japanese Academy awards, including Best Film. It also won the award for Best Art Direction. Though not accepted as a nominee, Onimasa was Japan’s submission to the 55th Academy Awards (Oscars) for Best Foreign Language Film.
About the Director – Hideo Gosha
Hideo Gosha was a Japanese film director, screenwriter and producer, who was active from the 1950s to the 1990s.
He is considered one of the pioneers of Japanese action and crime films. Gosha is highly regarded for his Samurai and Yakuza-themed movies. Some of his notable works include Three Outlaw Samurai (1964), Violent Streets (1974) & Sword of the Beast (1965).
Gosha received several awards for his contributions to Japanese cinema and was also honoured by the Japanese government. He sadly passed away in 1992, at the age of 63 due to complications caused by oesophagus cancer.
Yakuza Movies by Hideo Gosha
Here are some more Yakuza-themed movies directed by Hideo Gosha.
- Violent Streets (1974)
- The Yakuza Wives (1986)
- The Wolves (1971)