Road Rash Reviews

PRISON WALLS: ABASHIRI PRISON I-III (Masters of Cinema) Special Edition Review*****

Cert 15 | 267 mins | 1965

5 Star

The Start of a Long Journey.

Prolific Japanese filmmaker Teruo Ishii (Female Yakuza Tale, Gensen-Kan Inn) brings us Abashiri Prison. Based on the 1956 novel of the same name by Hajime Itō, Ishii wrote the script as a remake of the 1958 American film The Defiant Ones. This is the first recognized Yakuza film, starting a long-running series of films that rocketed the lead actor Ken Takakura (Black Rain, THE BULLET TRAIN [SHINKANSEN DAIBAKUHA], GOLGO 13) to stardom and became affectionately known as “Ken-san” by audiences. This spanned an amazing eighteen films, and this release by Eureka is a great gateway into the life and times of Yakuza man Shinichi Tachibana.

They call it Abashiri, the place that is nowhere.

A train chuffs its way through a desolate snowy landscape. As it pulls up at the Abashiri station, the gateway to hell for the prisoners onboard the train, they dismount into the -20 degree C daylight, before they are put onto an open-top truck and transported to the prison. On board the truck is Shinichi Tachibana, a twenty-seven-year-old awaiting the start of a three-year sentence.

With thirty to a cell you have to get to know your elders, as they introduce themselves, and it is apparent to Tachibana that Ôtsuki Gonda (Kunie Tanaka, The Last Ronin, The Hidden Blade) is going to cause him trouble over the next three years.

The prisoners are expected to work outside cutting down trees, for logging. It is cold and with no reward, except the occasional cigarette butt to share around. It is on one of these trips back to the prison that Gonda decides that it’s time for an opportunist prison break, as their planned break had been foiled. Unfortunately, he is shackled to Tachibana. They must survive the bullets, the cold and each other. Dramatic scenery, harsh conditions and harsher cons.

Following the events of the first film, Tachibana finds himself a free man, and along with ex cellmate Ôtsuki they plan to go straight and earn an honest wage, but this is Tachibana’s life and things don’t go that easy, as they are plunged into the aftermath of a brutal gem heist. With a femme fatale and jewel thieves on their tail, they will have their work cut out to survive this one.

So what? Mistakes lead to improvement.

Whilst Tachibana was in prison, his mother was gravely ill, and now she has passed away and it is time for him to visit her grave and pay his respects. But old rivalries and the actions of brash young Yakuza have left lasting scars in his hometown.

A man gets mad only once in his lifetime.

This is it!

All these films are linked together by Shinichi Tachibana’s life, and the haunting songs “Abashiri Bangaichi” and “A Man’s Sad song” are both sung by the man himself, Ken Takakura.

PRISON WALLS: ABASHIRI PRISON I-III is a cracking introduction to the world of a Yakuza, and Eureka brings it to you on Blu-ray. This is the one to start your collection with.

PRISON WALLS:ABASHIRI PRISON I-III  to be released on 27 May 2024 in the UK, and from 28 May 2024 in North America



Limited edition O-card slipcase featuring new artwork by Tony Stella [First print run of 2000 copies only] | 1080p HD presentation of all three films from restorations of the original film elements supplied by Toei | Optional English subtitles newly translated for this release | Original Japanese audio (uncompressed LPCM mono) | Brand new audio commentary tracks by Tom Mes, Chris Poggiali and Mike Leeder & Arne Venema | Tony Rayns on Abashiri Prison – brand new interview with critic and Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns | Brand new video appreciation by Jasper Sharp and Mark Schilling | Trailers | PLUS: A collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Mark Schilling

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DirectorTeruo Ishii
GenreCrime, Action
StarringKen Takakura, Kunie Tanaka, Michiko Saga, Kanjûrô Arashi, Hiroko Sakuramachi
Available to buy on : Own PRISON WALLS: ABASHIRI PRISON I-III (Masters of Cinema) Special Edition on Blu-Ray