Known as the “Japanese Godfather” series and with justified parallels The Battles Without Honour series was released in 1973, less than a year after the American “The Godfather” was released, and is based on a series of newspaper articles by Kōichi Iiboshi which in turn were rewrites of the manuscripts from real-life Yakuza Kōzō Minō.
Limited to only 2,500 copies and due for release on December 7th this collection carries all 5 films from famed director Kinji Fukasaku’s series that he made over a period of only 2 years.
I was unaware of these films but as I do love good gritty, if slightly over the top at times, Japanese films so even if though I entered this series blind it turns out I was not going to be disappointed.
The five films in order are
Battles Without Honour and Humanity (1973)
Hiroshima Death Match (1973)
Proxy War (1973)
Police Tactics (1974)
Final Episode (1974)
The series follows Shozo Hirono played by Bunta Sugawara and starts in Kure, Hiroshima in 1946 at a camp set up following Japan’s surrender during World War 2. Shozo helps his friend during a fight with a Yakuza but wants revenge afterwards so seeks out upcoming but powerful Yamamori family for help.
In the end Shozo kills the Yackuza himself for which he is sent to prison where he meets a Doi family member that has the Yamamori post bail.
From here the Yamamori Yakuza family is born headed by the ineffective, weasel like Yoshio Yamamori and his equally weasel like wife.
Loved watching these two and their manipulative tactics to get everyone to do what they wanted especially resorting to crying from head weasel every chance he gets.
Although based around Shozo, who I’ll refer to as Hirono from now just as he is in the films, one of the deliberate traits in this series by Director Fukasaku is that there wasn’t any lead actors.
In one of the interviews made just for this box set with fight choreographer Ryuzo Ueno and mentioned in other of the specially made interviews was that the director didn’t want the minor actors to stay in the background thus having the films focus only the leads.
He encouraged them to come forward into shot and be as important as the leads were.
This worked incredibly well. Always ready to defend their boss and their families honour you’ll see them shouting and getting in the faces with the main characters in some really quite manic scenes.
The fight choreographer also explains the fight scenes.
These aren’t like your slick samurai fights. These are all in with an over the pace that the filmmakers were trying to show how a real fight would be between 10 men.
Violent and messy to watch but in tune with the overall energy of the films with lots of blood at times.
Lots of blood
We all like a bit of blood especially if it is of the very red Hammer-esque sort.
Hirono despite being the focal character doesn’t appear too much in the early films nor in the final and again this works in the series favour. He might be a bit (or lot in most cases) smarter than everyone else or certainly gains an understanding of Yakuza life very easily and is probably the most likeable person, no doubt helped by Bunta Sugawara’s charm, yet even he isn’t someone you could call a “good guy”.
Everyone in these films are scum. No other way to put it.
Either cold blooded killers or schemers only concerned with more money and more power.
How else could you portray Yakuza?
Due to the very quick turn around of films that normally would impact on a series quality.
Anyone who’s played any Ubisoft games knows what I’m talking about.
Here it is something that again works for the series and not against it. Each film is more like a new chapter rather than a sequel. Taking place shortly after the last; they manage to retain the look and style throughout and while we do keep a few of the actors mostly there is a constant influx of new faces only to meet their just deserved end.
Overall the series is consistent even the last film Final Episode that looks to be one too far given how Police Tactics seems to wrap everything up did give me a satisfying ending.
Filmed with an almost documentary style narrative that lets you not only know who this person is but also what their status will be it also lets you know the names of those killed or explains important plot points through the use of text, stills, voice overs and almost guerilla type documentary footage.
Very helpful for me who would have had a harder time placing the name to the person or what their position within the Yakuza is.
There are some nice and informative interviews included that give an insight into how the films in Japan were made at the time as well as a couple of documentaries with the Piranha Gang, who were some of the minor actors at the time that got together to drink mainly because at the studio they were sort of outcast, being a good watch.
I am very pleased I gave this a chance.
It is going to draw parallels with the Godfather given how this is about gangsters and the life of one person within this world working his way up the ranks and so on but unlike the Godfather series which I did enjoy I would watch Battles Without Honour and Humanity again.
If you like Japanese cinema or films from the 70’s then Give it a go.
The Blu-ray transfer gives a very good quality picture but while the sound shows some age this isn’t the transfers fault that adds to that old film and gritty feel and isn’t bad at all.
As you’ll be watching the subtitles they are clear if sometimes go off too quickly and maybe Arrow could’ve gone over them to fine tune them a bit (as well as localise them for those that speak real English) but the odd Engrish here and there is rare and you’ll easily follow what is being said.
If still available give this a go.