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Battles Without Honor and Humanity

I've at last ventured into the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series (Japanese: 仁義なき戦い; also known in English as The Yakuza Papers). Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973), the first in the eleven-film series, is a chaotic, ultra-violent tale of the yakuza syndicates that formed in Hiroshima Prefecture during the years immediately after WWII. The story uncoils with a documentary-like style, sporadic omniscient narrator, and captions to show dates and names. And also with near constant action, from brawls to limb-lob-offs by katana to countless bloody assassinations—each terminated by a freeze frame and distressing (or distressed) horn-blaring, maybe trumpets.

In the film's first minute or two, when American G.I.s are trying to rape a girl out in the open in a crowded marketplace, it appears as if the cameras were being jostled about violently, which puts us, the audience, smack-dab in the pandemonium. I thought I'd seen the scene before, but no. Surely, though, there's a bit of Battles, this part especially, in Tarantino's Kill Bill movies, not to mention the battle for the Five Points at the beginning of Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002).

Battles is an ensemble piece but Bunta Sugawara most arouses the spotlight. He's got this tough as big rusty nails look with steely William-Munny-on-whiskey eyes and adamantium jaw—like if you punched him in the head you'd break your wrist. Apparently this film, maybe some of the sequels as well, is based on the memoirs of true yakuza member Kōzō Minō. And I read the actors and director Kinji Fukasaku got help from gangsters during shooting. On the flip side, it isn't hard to believe that real-life yakuza probably took a page or two from this series. At the very least, I'm sure they enjoyed it.


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