Reviews of Battles Without Honour and Humanity (1973) and related work

Battles Without Honour and Humanity (1973Moving picture, 99 minutes)

Japan: a country where a badass can knock on the door of his comrade’s widow and ask to pray for his soul at the family altar. Criminal gangs beat themselves bloody in post-war Hiroshima from 1946 onwards. As stated in the intro to the second film, “For Hirono and a group of young men who had returned from the war, violence was an outlet for their rage as they confronted the chaos of defeat.” Here in the first film, the first shot pans across a photo of the mushroom cloud. The first scene is of American soldiers chasing a Japanese woman to rape her. Hirono Shouzou helps intervene but is later tricked by his yakuza masters and goes to jail until 1954. In the end (1956?), he expresses his thoughts on the state of the mob at the funeral of a man he was sent to kill.

Crime and action in a realistic mode, opposed to earlier yakuza-as-modern-samurai fiction. This was the start of the Yakuza Papers pentalogy, which spans several decades. This particular entry is a general description of the honourless underworld and the main character’s initial place in it.

Stylistic innovations include frequent stills, superimposed labels documenting significant appearances and deaths, and perfect musical themes. The Homevision DVD set comes with a good bonus disc of documentaries. The original title, Jingi-naki Tatakai, means battles without humane, just or dutiful conduct, especially with regard to or formalized as a criminal gang’s “code”.

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Deadly Fight in Hiroshima (1973Moving picture, 100 minutes)

Muraoka all but governs Hiroshima in 1950. A gambler named Yamanaka meets Hirono who’s serving time for murder. Paroled in 1952, Yamanaka falls in love with Muraoka’s niece, serving the family as a hit man. However, the niece was married to a suicide attack pilot and is not allowed another man except for the dead hero’s brother. Yamanaka breaks out of prison after a murder conviction to prevent that new marriage. Hirono is less active, as a semi-independent scrap guard with his own little gang in Kure.

Relatively romantic, focused on a side story. Lovely music. The massive melee half an hour into the film is impressively realistic and the “press conference” at the one-hour mark neatly ridicules public and tabloid romanticism. The battleship Yamato was built in Kure, adding resonance to the first shot of Hirono’s scrap heap; cf. In This Corner of the World (2016).

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Proxy War (1973Moving picture, 119 minutes)

A return to the main plotline in 1960. Two large families mirror the great powers of the Cold War, stirring up bloody trouble among lesser players. Hirono is drawn back into the game, and back under Yamamori’s thumb.

Some action sequences seem to be shot on amateur film for extra grain and glare, before the Zapruder footage was released.

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Police Tactics (1974Moving picture, 101 minutes)

The great feud continues in 1963. Popular disapproval prompts police action, removing Hirono and others from an impending, futile showdown.

A bit more like television. Less time is covered. Slow first half. The scene where a young bookmaker makes up his mind is pure beauty.

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Final Episode (1974Moving picture, 100 minutes)

One faction tries to legalize itself as a political coalition to avoid the public’s hatred of yakuza. Hirono is eventually released and survives to retire, but as of 1970 the bloodshed continues.

Unusually talky, but there’s no shortage of brutal street killings. Promises more, and indeed there have been many more films in the franchise after the pentalogy.

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