Big Time Gambling Boss Blu-ray Review (Radiance Films)

A prestige yakuza drama

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In the vast number of ninkyo (yakuza) gambling pictures to come out of Japan, Big Time Gambling Boss (Bakuchiuci: Sôchô Tobaku) is still the big time boss for the culture’s political drama and intrigue. Directed by Kôsaku Yamashita, the film tells the story of a yakuza clan in 1934 that is going through a transition period after its leader has a stroke and needs to be replaced; though Nakai (Kôji Tsuruta) is a shoo-in for the role, he wants to wait for the next-in-command Matsuda (Tomisaburô Wakayama) to get out of jail so he can accept the position. Unfortunately, due to ulterior motives in the higher ranks of the yakuza, Matsuda is passed up for the underling Ishido (Hiroshi Nawa), which causes massive strige with Matsuda when he eventually does return to his yakuza life; he vows to never accept Ishido as leader, and makes it his mission to sabotage the upcoming retirement/succession party where Ishido will officially accept his new title.

Big Time Gambling Boss brings the viewer directly into the culture and honorary system of the yakuza; it’s a deeply personal film, and at its heart is a story about honor, politics, and duty within the family. Instead of sustained action sequences or warring between factions, Yamashita focuses more heavily on the character drama – specifically between Nakai and Matsuda, who are bonded brothers within the yakuza family. Matsuda’s quest for vengeance creates a schism between them, with Nakai trying to quell Matsuda’s bloodlust until he can no longer side with him.

The film has a foreboding sense of inevitability throughout; since neither Nakai or Matsuda will be able to relent (as Nakai says, all they really have is their yakuza clan in their lives), the slow but boiling tension clearly has to come to a head at some point. With Yamashita’s direction, the film inches along toward its bloody conclusion, leaving this yakuza clan in tatters and showcasing the way internal strife can ruin more than just friendships.

For some, the film may work a bit too slowly; if one is expecting bloody action akin to Battles without Honor and Humanity, they will surely not find it here. But Big Time Gambling Boss is surprisingly tense and cathartic throughout its political discourse, and it ultimately comes to a number of tragic and surprising twists that cement it as one of the best yakuza movies of its era.


New upstart Radiance Films has begun its US release schedule with Big Time Gambling Boss on Blu-ray, releasing this picture with a high-definition transfer of unknown source provided by Toei. One will notice that this master has a medium-bodied grain scale that often suffers from flickering, but overall detail is very good (noticeable in the women’s clothing textures and kimono kanji) and color grading is fairly consistent throughout. Very little damage is noticeable. This is a very good representation of Big Time Gambling Boss that should serve fans well.

Audio is presented with an LPCM 1.0 Japanese audio track, with accompanying English subtitles. While the dialogue and musical score sound perfectly fine, there is a noticeable hiss throughout the film that’s not overtly loud. While this shouldn’t pose too much of a distraction, it’s important to note that it is there. However, no other issues to report with this mono offering.

Extras include a new visual essay from Mark Schilling, which does a quick recap of the ninkyo genre starting with its early offerings and moving into the more ultraviolent films of the ’90s and ’00s. Another new visual essay from Chris D. looks at the start of Toei’s yakuza films and then provides much more specific context on Big Time Gambling Boss and its cast and crew. A trailer and gallery of promo stills is also included on the disc.

The packaging also contains a new booklet with a lengthy essay by Stuart Galbraith IV on director Kosaku Yamashita, taking its source material from his posthumous memoir. Hayley Scanlon provides detailed cast notes for the major players in Big Time Gambling Boss as well.

Extra Features

  • High Definition digital transfer of the film
  • Uncompressed mono PCM audio
  • NEW Serial Gambling: A video essay by Chris D., author of Gun and Sword: An Encyclopedia of Japanese Gangster Films 1955-1980, on Big Time Gambling Boss‘s origins in the Toei studio’s serialized yakuza movie production and what sets the film apart (1080p; 25:24)
  • NEW Ninkyo 101: In this video essay, Mark Schilling, author of The Yakuza Movie Book, delves into the history and impact of the classical style of yakuza film, the ninkyo eiga or “chivalry films” (1080p; 14:35)
  • Gallery of original promotional stills (chapter breaks; 0:12)
  • Trailer (1080p; 3:07)
  • NEW Reversible sleeve featuring original and commissioned artwork by maarko phntm
  • NEW Limited edition booklet featuring writing on the film by author Stuart Galbraith IV, and critic Hayley Scanlon
  • Limited edition of 2000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings


Big Time Gambling Boss is a great start for Radiance Films in the US, with a good transfer and a number of extras that show the quality of the label’s work. For those looking to get into yakuza film, this is a great place to start.

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