The precarious balance of the post-war yakuza society begins to crumble in Sadao Nakajima’s jitsuroku eiga, Operation Plazma in Osaka (実録外伝 大阪電撃作戦, Jitsuroku gaiden: Osaka dengeki sakusen). The Japanese title might more accurately be translated as “shock tactics in Osaka” which is a neat encapsulation of the turf war which arises when a larger gang from Kobe decides to muscle in and take over the city while a small upstart continues to agitate contemplating taking the whole prize for themselves.
Inspired by a real life turf war which took place in Osaka in 1960, the film opens with classic jitsuroku voiceover revealing that a precarious balance had been held in the local underworld since the Meiji era in part because the city is simply too big to be ruled by any one gang. But times are changing, yakuza conglomerates are in style, and so it is that the Kawada gang mounts a largely political campaign to claim the city without bloodshed, as boss Yamaji (Akira Kobayashi) puts it, by convincing the smaller gangs to join up with them. According to the voiceover, however, it wasn’t Kawada that upset the balance but a small upstart group that came out of nowhere, Soryu.
The screen then cuts to a map of Osaka, while the stills behind the credits feature the Tsuruhashi Market in Korea town. The thing about the Soryu group is that many of its leading members are ethnically Korean which sets them apart from most of the other mobsters in town. Even so, it’s hotheaded Yasuda (Hiroki Matsukata) that first gets them in trouble by getting into a fight with Takayama (Tsunehiko Watase) at a boxing match after climbing into the ring himself when the guy he bet on looks like he’s about to lose. This sets up a conflict between the Soryu and the Nanbara gang who run the boxing hall, but it never takes off because the recently released Daito suddenly announces that he’s bought the “Dance Hall” the ring is being run from and wants to turn it into a cabaret bar. It seems clear that someone’s backing Daito, but no one quite knows who.
As Yamaji had said it would be, it starts of as a very modern silent war in which he slowly seduces various yakuza gangs convincing them that they’re stronger together with a slight note of join us or die. Yasuda and Takayama are two men who don’t like being told what to do and each end up exiled from their gangs thanks to their opposition to Kawada. Having failed to assassinate Yamaji, boss Nanbara pathetically rolls over and decides to join him instead while the Soryu gang is sent on the run leaving Yasuda and and Takayama to form an unlikely brotherhood brokered by Yasuda’s odd decision to gift his nightclub singer girlfriend to his sometime rival leaving Takayama permanently in his debt and touched by his selfless gesture.
Even by the standards of the jitsuroku, Operation Plazma in Osaka is rabidly misogynistic and often sleazy with an early scene seeing the Soryu gang cause trouble by stripping a hostess naked as one pours alcohol over her body and another drinks it from between her legs. Naked women are repeatedly fondled by fully clothed men, while nightclub singer Yoshiko (Yuko Katagiri) is treated largely as a pawn, a tool used to mediate the latent homoerotic desire between Yasuda and Takayama. Then again, everything in this world is extreme. The conflicted Miyatake (Tatsuo Umemiya) who had once tried to protect Takayama eventually tries to boil a man alive to get him to reveal Takayama’s location while Nakajima’s anarchic handheld camera desperately tries to keep up with the increasingly nihilistic violence.
The resolution arrives not with death but total defeat, the traditional yakuza forced into submission by the corporatising giant with the survivors realising they will live the rest of their lives in subjugation making an “unconditional surrender” to changing times. Yasuda had claimed that the Soryu gang was a “free democracy” standing in opposition to the latent fascism of traditional gangsterdom which then finds its way into the corporate and the extreme hostile takeover Yamaji has just performed on the city of Osaka. Suddenly all that’s left of traditional yakuza is a pinkie in a jar, a grim a reminder of what happens when those in a position to resist back down in the face of an authoritarian power.