DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: June Bride: Redemption of a Yakuza



"June Bride: Redemption of a Yakuza" presents an international alternative to the Scared Straight programs that have become a fascination here in the United States.  No, not this one (though enjoy a quick laugh), but prison initiatives like those chronicled in A&E's popular "Beyond Scared Straight: Success Stories.  Rather than bombard subjects and audiences with fear, one man in Japan finds faith to be the greater answer.  Filmmaker Derek Shimoda's second documentary feature begins a one-week run in Chicago on May 6, 2016 at Facets Cinémathèque located at 1517 West Fullerton Avenue.

"June Bride: Redemption of a Yakuza" presents Tatsuya Shindo as its central figure.  Shindo is a reformed Yakuza gangster who is now the pastor of a small Christian church emanating from the June Bride, a dilapidated former bar and gangland haunt.  His origins, journey, and goals are woven together with nearly a dozen stories and testimonials of several of his congregants and followers.  Tattoos and incarcerations are not the only scares these men carry.  Shindo takes criminals in after their jail time, donates his book to prisons, and speaks to audiences with the goal to inform and garner support.  Through fellowship and assistance, the June Bride attendees have found new loyalties and new leases on life through the church.

Shimoda, working as the director, writer, producer, director of photography, and editor, constructs this documentary with artful observations to gaze about the subtle natural beauty parallel to the prison lifestyles and impoverish urban settings.  That proximity mirrors the placid lifestyle and self-esteem that is in reach for every reformed criminal if they make different choices to seek those qualities and improvements.  The congregant interviews bring vision to the changes they have made and the challenges still placed before them.

Dig deeper into the use of Scared Straight programs and you will find competing research that claims such practices do more harm than good.  From Shimoda's film, it is hard to argue with Tatsuya Shindo's open and giving approach.  Sure, even honest and challenging documentaries revise and highlight the successes before the failures, but "June Bride: Redemption of a Yakuza" carries a fine message worth emulating here in this country.  For a productive 80 minutes, take stock that other more peaceful and more effective approaches exist.

LESSON #1: THE ASSISTANCE AND FORGIVENESS FOUND IN CHURCH-- Say what you will about organized religions.  Some small settings truly work to improve people's lives.  Tatsuya Shindo stands as an example of what the Christian church should be, a place of forgiveness over judgment, empathy over rhetoric, and guidance over refusal.  

LESSON #2: THE COST OF FAITH-- As welcoming as a church can be, strong faith requires strong dedication.  Many of the former Yakuza men have to shake several physical and mental addictions and vices that go against the Christian lifestyle and prevent them from being successful working members of society as well.  Showing up isn't enough.  It takes hard work and change.  

LESSON #3: REASSIGNING LOYALTY-- The documentary opens and closes with a telling quote that states "loyalty to my yakuza boss is the same as the one to God."  At one time, these men were impressionable youths who were demanded to act with total loyalty to a criminal entity or face severe consequences (look up the ritual of "yubitsume").  Echoing Lesson #2, Shindo shows that pouring loyalty to God is just as total and demanding as the gang, but free of the inhumane punishment and wrongful actions.