“He always wanted to be a Yakuza, ever since he was a little boy” an unidentified interviewee says as a montage of black and white photos of future Yakuza Rikio Ishikawa (Tetsuya Watari) plays near the beginning of Kinji Fukasaku’s Graveyard of Honor. Filmed in 1975, it predates Goodfellas, which opens with Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill saying, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster” by fifteen years. It seems likely that Goodfellas director Martin Scorsese took inspiration from the original Graveyard of Honor.
Both films were inspired by the lives of actual gangsters. In the case of Graveyards of Honor, Fukasaku (who also directed the classic Battle Royale), the inspiration was a novel based on the real life Ishikawa (while Goodfellas is based on a non-fiction book chronicling the life of Hill). The two films diverge in their narrative structures. Scorsese incorporates the elements of a tragedy, focusing on how Hill’s fatal flaw eventually leads to his tragic downfall. Fukasaku and screenwriter Tatsuhiko Kamoi’s film tries to answer a question asked in the aforementioned opening interviews: “What turned this young man into a rabid dog?”