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A Three Film Series

Amos Lassen

In 1973 and 1974, Kinji Fukasaku made a three film series known as “Battles Without Honor & Humanity” (after the title of the first installment), in which he traced the complicated infighting of Hiroshima gangs from 1946 to 1970. In Fukasaku’s world, yakuza adhere to codes of honor when it’s in their best interest, but otherwise they bully and kill indiscriminately.

Fukasaku begins the series with a still picture of an atomic blast, establishing the series as a critique of the “in-the-ruins generation” that was born in the rubble of World War II. The series starts in the Hiroshima refugee camps of 1946, where a group of young men get involved with the black market and ally themselves with the region’s crime “families.” Bunta Sugawara stars as the toughest of the lot, who watches his friends’ idealism get swamped by the job’s necessities. Over the next four films, the story doesn’t change. For 25 years, the yakuza families swap loyalties and butcher each other, while Sugawara does his best to stay out of their and make a living.

Altogether we get some seven-hours of double-crossings and random hits that make it hard to understand alliances even when a helpful narrator explains the action. Broken up into its component parts, though, the series becomes invigorating with “wild and tacky” violence. In a typical Fukasaku fight sequence, a man picks up a severed hand and slaps his enemy with it, in a shot that lasts less than a second. To bring some order to the chaos, Fukasaku frequently freezes the film so that we can identify the players. Fukasaku used a documentary style and unflinching bloodletting in an attempt to “understand peace through violence.” He openly questions whether the legendary Japanese sense of duty was wiped out by the atomic bomb, or whether it was always just an ideal for tourists and old movies, never meant to be taken seriously.

In the early 1970s, “Battles Without Honor & Humanity”, the series was a trememndous hit in Japan, and it began a trend in realistic, modern yakuza films based on true stories. Although Fukasaku had intended to end the series, he was convinced by the studio to continue it with leading man Bunta Sugawara, telling separate, but fictional stories about the yakuza in different locations in Japan.  In the following paragraphs, we look at three of the films.

In the first film, Bunta Sugawara is Miyoshi, a low-level assassin of the Yamamori gang who is sent to jail after a bungled hit. While there, family member Aoki attempts to seize power from the boss, and Miyoshi finds himself stuck between the two factions with no honorable way out. 

In the second film, “The Boss’s Head”, Sugawara is Kuroda, an itinerant gambler who steps in when a hit by drug-addicted assassin Kusunoki goes wrong, and takes the fall on behalf of the Owada family. However, when the gang fails to make good on financial promises to him, Kuroda targets the family bosses with a ruthless vengeance. 

In the “Last Days of the Boss”, Sugawara plays Nozaki, a laborer who swears allegiance to a sympathetic crime boss, only to find himself elected his successor after the boss is murdered. Restrained by a gang alliance that forbids retributions against high-level members, Nozaki forms a plot to exact revenge on his rivals, but a suspicious relationship with his own sister (Chieko Matsubara) hurts his relationship with his fellow gang members.

SpecialFeatures include:

– High Definition digital transfers of all three films

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

– Original uncompressed mono audio

– New optional English subtitle translation for all three films

Beyond the Films: New Battles Without Honor and Humanity, a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane

New Stories, New Battles and Closing Stories, two new interviews with screenwriter Koji Takada, about his work on the second and third films in the trilogy

– Original theatrical trailers for all three films

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist

– Illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing on the films, the yakuza genre and Fukasaku’s career, by Stephen Sarrazin, Tom Mes, Hayley Scanlon, Chris D. and Marc Walkow 

Disc 2 – Integral Version – Limited Edition Exclusive

– Integral version [105 mins]

A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema – brand new featurette looking at the many various cinematic incarnations of writer H.P. Lovecraft’s work

“HOOKED”— Homeless Gay Youth


Homeless LGBT Youth

Amos Lassen

Jack is a homeless teenage prostitute who has a smart mouth and who is impulsive. Daily he has had to deal with a world of reckless johns between New York City and Miami. He is desperately seeking a better life with his boyfriend Tom. 

We see a harsh world where even good intentions can cause terrible results. Without pointing fingers at any particular group, the documentary, “Hooked” shows how even the gay community is contributing to the perpetuation of the LGBT homeless youth problem. However, not all is sad or bleak and there is hope to be found through the humanity in both the leading couple and even though a married closet case named Ken.

 We meet Jack in New York, turning tricks on the evening before his eighteenth birthday. He spends most of his time in a world that is often abusive and filled with rich eccentrics. His only ally is his boyfriend Tom. They live together in a shelter, but their safety there is often compromised by the threat of Tom’s father finding them. Jack sees an opportunity to make a better life for himself and Tom by taking a trip to Miami with a “john” named Ken.

At first, Ken appears more honest and caring than the usual john, even winning Jack’s trust until Jack finds him on a Skype call with his never-mentioned wife. His faith in humanity is once again smashed and Jack steals Ken’s drugs and handgun. He eventually embarks on a drug- binge and encounters the sleaziest and slimiest characters of Miami and he falls deeper into the hole than he himself began. started.

In the United Stated today, LGBT youth are 8 times more likely to end up homeless as a direct result of homophobia. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, LGBT homeless youth are 7.4 Times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than their heterosexual counterparts. Over 58% of these kids have been sexually victimized. Their suicide rate is more than two times higher as well. It’s even common for “normal” shelters to simply refuse to serve transgender kids. 

It’s apparent that LGBT kids need a place they can go to be safe… to find guidance from people who actually identify with the things they are going through. It’s not special treatment, it’s a necessity. The shelters that exist have small budgets .

“It’s apparent that LGBTQ kids need a place they can go to be safe to find guidance from people who actually identify with the things they are going through. It’s not special treatment, it’s a necessity”. “Hooked” tells a poignant and moving story that focuses on an often-ignored issue in the LGBTQ community. The film strives to help this by making us aware and guaranteeing that50% of the film’s proceeds will go to LGBTQ youth homeless shelters.


“The Blue Curtain” by L.G. Metcalf— Love, Destiny, Magic and Seduction

Metcalf, L.G. “The Blue Curtain” Moleyco Press, 2017.

Love, Destiny, Magic and Seduction

Amos Lassen

Seventeen-year-old Emily Bliss is devastated when he father is murdered but she is also determined to find those responsible even after everyone else has given up. Once she tries to follow their trail, she meets a very mysterious stranger at a party; a very handsome man with great wealth, an intimidating presence and what looks like physical prowess. Yet Emily senses something else, a sense of torment that she cannot understand. She later realizes that this man has stolen her heart and that she is falling in love with him. In fact, she is obsessed with him and will do whatever she needs to do to get him to stay with her. Then she received a birthday gift that her father left for her and it reveals secrets of her life that were buried hundreds of years ago; secrets that will take her into darkness and a world she never dreamed of as she moves toward a great destiny that she must stay alive to reach.

In this modern paranormal narrative, two stories come together. Before he died, Emily’s father told her that her next birthday present will be special and hidden in a special place but she had little patience and rushed to open nearly a year before her actual birthday. What she finds is an old desk that she thought was worthless but once her father was murdered, she understood that the desk was her key to listening to secrets and not only tell her who she really is but also open new worlds.

We go back in time to feudal wars and a young man threatens the current ruler so that he can gain land for his father. He did not know that he had to power to unleash war and as he lay wounded and near death, a hooded character appeared and granted him eternity during which he is to grieve over what he has brought about through the mistakes that he has made.

You are probably wondering how the two stories come together but you will not get that from me. Indeed, they come together otherwise I would not have mentioned them but for now, it is enough to say that the novel is fantasy. When we return to contemporary times and meet Emily, something just does not seem right but we are unsure what it is. Emily has pages that explain everything to her but she does not share them and we see her as childish and selfish.

The novel is filled with twists and turns and it is a bit difficult at times to keep things straight but it all works out. There are sections of the book that are totally enjoyable but I must confess that I found it hard to keep track of all that was going on. I have to wonder if that is because in the last few years that has been a plethora of paranormal stories and I have had my fill. It is written well and the characters are drawn well but it just did not speak to me. However, it is an interesting read and so I recommend it as such.



“PROM KING, 2010”— Looking for Love

“Prom King, 2010”

Looking for Love

Amos Lassen

Christopher Schaap is the writer/director/star of “Prom King, 2010”. He plays Charlie, a college student New York City who loves the thought of love. However he cannot seem to find the love that he is looking for. He’s apprehensive about moving out of his comfort zone but he finally gives into his best friend, Thomas (Adam Lee Brown), to hook up with Ford (Frans Dam), a hot waiter at a local hotspot, who is both taken and interested in him and this really messes up his mind. Every encounter starts to worry Charlie that his homosexuality is an irreconcilable element to the classic Hollywood romance he’s hopeful for.

Charlie is about to turn 21 and is desperate to find a boyfriend birthday who is desperate to find a boyfriend so that he can finally “go all the way”. When he and Ford date, he finally achieves one of his goals, but Ford is neither physically or emotionally available. Charlie loses his virginity to Ford and ends up with a broken heart.

Every time Charles goes home to visit his very supportive parents, they ask him if he has met anyone yet. This depresses him further but this is not a sad story. Charlie is so likable that we root for him.Schaap embraces Charlie’s aimlessness and turns it into “an opportunity for unhinged curiosity to come alive”.  

“THE PULITZER AT 100”— The Best in Journalism and the Arts

“The Pulitzer at 100”

The Best in Journalism and the Arts

Amos Lassen

For the last century, the Pulitzer Prize has been the symbol of excellence in journalism and the arts for this country. In honor of having turned 100, we have a new documentary that looks at the importance of words and language in a free democracy. Behind the honors that come with the Pulitzer Prize are extraordinary people with powerful and riveting stories. These stories in many cases deal with immigration, race and identity and that is what the Pulitzers honor— storytelling at its very best. This documentary shows what it is to have the courage and face the struggles to get at truth. We hear about Vietnam, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and we understand that newspapers are the first draft of history. We especially understand that now as the Trump administration compromises journalists every day. Free speech has become more important than ever before.

Oscar and Emmy winning director Kirk Simon’s documentary that tells the stories of the artists that have won the prestigious prize and it includes readings by Helen Mirren, Natalie Portman, Liev Schreiber, John Lithgow and Yara Shahidi. We hear from and see journalists Carl Bernstein, Nick Kristof, Thomas Friedman, David Remnick, writers Toni Morrison, Michael Chabon, Junot Díaz, Tony Kushner, Ayad Akhtar, musicians Wynton Marsalis, David Crosby, John Adams, as well as many others who share the stories behind America’s most beloved works in arts and letters.

The Pulitzer at 100’ is an independent look at the prestigious prize in all its variations. The prize has become part of the social history of this country. We become very aware of the commitment to art and reportage and are reminded of the importance of both on-the-ground reportage and then the more impressionistic side, the distraction of the arts and the power of words that both open and close doors. Trump’s presidency has already threatened free speech and the freedom of the press making us aware of the financial hobbling of journalism as it struggles to adapt, fiscally at least, to an online world. While we really do not learn anything new here, we do get the social history around the prize and this alone makes this film fascinating.

The Pulitzer is a revered national award and has had tremendous impact on the American sensibility during the past 100 years. When we add the stories of those who have won it, we see something very special. We also see how the awards are selected and learn more about its twenty-one categories.

The biggest joy I fond here was learning about Joseph Pulitzer, the man who created the award. He came to America to fight as a mercenary in the Civil War. He left money to Columbia University upon his death in 1911odf which a portion of his bequest was used to found the School of Journalism in 1912. The school was to not only elevate the professionalism and to improve the craft of reporting but also to establish the Pulitzer Prizes which were first awarded in 1917. Today, both the iconic prizes and the prominence of the School of Journalism at Columbia represent the very “highest standards of integrity and excellence in writing”.

Today, there are more than a thousand recipients of this award including journalists, novelists, poets, musicians and photographers. Among those featured in the film are:

Carl Bernstein, The Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, 1973

Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting & Affairs, 1983,1988 & 2002

Martin Baron, Editor of The Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, National Reporting and Explanatory Journalism, 2014, 2015 & 2016

Robert Caro, Pulitzer Prize for Biography, 1975 & 2003

David Remnick, Editor-in-Chief of The New Yorker, Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, 1994

Sheri Fink, Pulitzer Winner for Investigative Reporting, 2010 & 2015

Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting and Commentary, 1990 & 2006

Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Prize for Public Service and National Reporting, 2014 & 2015

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars, Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 2012

Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 1999

Paula Vogel, writer of How I Learned To Drive, Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1998

Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2008

Wynton Marsalis, Pulitzer Prize for Music, 1997

John Adams, Pulitzer Prize for Music, 2003

Nick Ut, Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography, 1973

“The Incest Diary” by Anonymous— Father/Daughter Sex

Anonymous. “The Incest Diary”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

Father/Daughter Sex

Amos Lassen

During her childhood and adolescence, the anonymous author of “The Incest Diary” was raped by her father. To the outside world, her family appeared to be normal yet she grew up with secret this which lasted until she was in her twenties. Even after she broke away and became an independent and adventurous young woman, she continued to seek out new versions of the violence, submission, and secrecy, the very things she had fought so badly to leave behind.

Now she has written a graphic memoir, in which she shares her early traumas as what came afterwards. She shows how this sexual liaison shaped and in fact still continues to shape her. During those years, she not only was a sexual object but she was also a detached observer, a dutiful daughter who guarded her secret. Now she shares her story through a series of very intensive vignettes. This is a shocking story that leaves nothing to the imagination. It is short, only 132 pages and reads quickly even though it is a very difficult read. However, it is impossible not to think about what is here. We can easily see why the author struggled in deciding whether she should write down her experiences. Let’s hope that those experiences will help other incest survivors.



“The Hour of Daydreams” by Renee Macalino Rutledge— A Folk Tale Reimagined

Rutledge, Renee Macalino. “The Hour of Daydreams”, Forest Avenue Press, 2017.

A Folk Tale Reimagined

Amos Lassen

Renee Macalino Rutledge’s “The Hour of Daydreams” is a modern fairytale based on a Filipino folk tale and it lush both in plot and in prose.

Manolo Lualhati, a respected doctor in the Philippine countryside, Manolo Lualhati has come to believe that his wife, Tala, is hiding a secret from him. Tala and Manolo’s story takes to where they met the first time and we go into their marriage with them and see its complexities. The story is related from a variety of perspectives including those of Tala’s siblings, her new in-laws, and the couple’s housekeeper that explore the secrets that exist between lovers, friends, and family members. In any relationship, distances exist between those involved and in the distance between Manolo and Tala is this story. Bringing mythology, Filipino culture and everyday lives and events, writer Rutledge explores marriage, culture and gender roles. Before they got married, Manolo spied Tala wearing wings and flying to the stars with her sisters each evening. He begins questioning her and finds gaps in her stories, causing him to become suspicious about the woman he loves and married.

To tell this story, many characters from the past, present and future come together to give us an intergenerational look at myth and realism coming together. We embark on a journey that is lyrical and is filled with surprises thus making this a difficult book to review without giving something away and ruining the read for others. The boundaries between fairytale, imagination and reality come together and are blurred. All of our lives have been enhanced by fables that we heard growing up and I soon found myself returning to my youth as I read. Life is really all about our connecting with others while slowing those with whom we are allowed to have some space.

I realized that this is a story that can be read from two different angles— as a beautiful and well-told story or as a look at the value of storytelling. We are each free to decide which of these suits us or we can do as I did— read it once for the story and then read it again for the challenges. In fact, as I write this, I am thinking that I want to read it again… and again.


“THE PENGUIN COUNTERS”— Climate Change and Penguins

“The Penguin Counters”

Climate Change and Penguins

Amos Lassen

Ron Naveen has had a love affair with Antarctica for 30 years and in this documentary he shares his love for his work on climate change. Naveen maintains that penguin populations may hold the key to human survival. Ron Naveen lays bare his 30 year love affair with “the world’s most pristine scientific laboratory: Antarctica”.

The film follows Ron and his team of field biologists as they track the impact of climate change and ocean health by counting penguin populations. Directed and produced by Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon, the film takes us from the tip of Argentina to Deception Island on a journey fulfilling dreams of conserving this region for future generations. The documentary chronicles the efforts of a team of biologists in Antarctica as they count the penguinsin Antarctica at the same as giving us an important message about the effects of global warming.

Naveen is not only passionate about his vocation, he also tells us that “Penguins are my passion!”. He has devoted nearly thirty years in counting penguin populations. He has found an indication that global warming has significantly reduced the numbers of penguins. The film is most effective when it chronicles the efforts of Naveen and his team. The cinematography is gorgeous and the supporting cast of penguins and sea lions is amazing to watch yet the harsh landscape remains important throughout. We see enthusiasm of the men as they perform their tasks and we realize what an important job this is especially now with the new presidential administration’s decision to oppose the idea of climate change.


Every shot of wildlife, mountains and seas is magnificent. There is no romanticization and the footage that we see is awe-inspiring and scary at the same time. We also see some wonderful old from earlier expeditions. Even though we are made aware of distressing speculation about global warming, “The Penguin Counters” stays hopeful throughout.

The journey takes us to some of the harshest corners of the planet.The penguin counters are haunted by the stories of explorers who lost their lives in Antarctica and are charmed by the eccentricities of the penguins. We are asked as we watch about what we can learn from penguins regarding climate change?


“Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past”

Learning About Giordano

Amos Lassen

Vince Giordano is a jazz and swing musician and bandleader. In this new documentary by co-directors Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards, we learn about Giordano’s career as a musician, his childhood and his personality. I suppose I must have been out of the county when he was popular here in America because I knew nothing about him before seeing this film.

Born and based in Brooklyn, Mr. Giordano, 64, has for forty years been leading his 11-piece band the Nighthawks that specializes in the pre-swing era music. Giordano himself plays several instruments, including tuba, string bass and bass saxophone, and sings. He gained popularity playing hotels and today he has a group of young fans that come to his concerts dressed in the style of the earlier period. His music has been featured in Woody Allen’s movies and the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.” It is said that he has made his music new again and this is because of his devotion to stylistic authenticity.

Giordano is a collector and has some 60,000 big-band arrangements that he has found in his extensive search for original manuscripts and radio transcriptions of music that here is called “hot jazz”. What the singer, pianist and cabaret performer Michael Feinstein is to vintage popular songs, Mr. Giordano is to hot jazz.

“There’s a Future in the Past” is a ground-level exploration of this historian at work, leading the Nighthawks or one of their satellite ensembles and traveling the country to examine and rescue old arrangements that have turned up in radio station archives and musicians’ basements. What others would dismiss as trash is the equivalent of discovering gold to Mr. Giordano.

This documentary goes deeply into Giordano’s world to show us the “drudgery and headaches of being a bandleader” and that includes juggling personnel, scheduling, dealing with unions and carrying instruments. This is not a “get rich quick” profession but rather one that is based on loving what one does.

We see persuasive revivals of tunes and arrangements and solos from the 1920s and ’30s and understand how difficult it is to do this. — and the great present-tense effort it takes to pull them off. Giordano doesn’t just lead his band, he also finds vintage arrangements from the days of Fletcher Henderson and Paul Whiteman, handles bookings, checks that all his band members and their instruments have gotten onto the bus. Giordano also has to break down his band’s setup before he’s finished hauling it to the stage..

Regular gigs, even for small crowds, are invaluable to the sharpness of the band. I wish that the film considered the value of the painstaking recreations that Giordano provides. The music is not improvised but rather the band tries to discover what it might have been like to hear those bands of yore.

Giordano has been keeping vintage big-band jazz alive in concert venues and onscreen. He has devoted his life to doing so. What we really see are the basics of the band’s perseverance as working musicians.

The documentary follows Giordano over a three-year period capturing the bandleader and multi-instrumentalist as he makes the radio rounds and leads his 11-piece band through their twice-weekly shows at a Manhattan theater-district hotel. There is a new set for every show and as many as 2,500 arrangements on tap thus the musicians on their toes. It’s a challenge they welcome and a gig that makes them proud.

We see and hear a rousing rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue” and an engaging “Boardwalk Empire” recording session with David Johansen. We also see a dwindling audience yet the film ends on an especially satisfying high note.

Giordano’s passion is his preserving and curating history through the archives in his side-by-side Brooklyn houses. He brings new energy into older pieces of music and is masterful as he does so.

The directors present the struggles and the hard work that go along with Giordano’s career. He is aperfectionist and that is a difficult task and it is upsetting to see his minor meltdown onstage at the New York Hot Jazz Festival over a missing piece of equipment. During this, the camera observes discomfort in the band members’ faces. Moments later, however, we see a brilliant performance.

“UNDER THE TURBAN” What It Means To Be Sikh


What It Means to Be Sikh

Amos Lassen

 Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion, yet most of us know very little, if anything, about it. Directors Satinder Garcha, Michael Rogers and Meghan Shea take us into the world of the Sikh and we learn that there are diverse communities of Sikhs all over the world. In “Under the Turban” we meet maharajas, cheese makers, fashionistas, farmers and scholars who are part of the religion. This exploration began as an answer to Zara Garcha’s question to her parents, Satinder and Harpreet Bedi about what being Sikh means. In order to better explain the religion, they decided to show her and set off for Parma, Italy where they met Sikh cheese makers. Their next stop was Amritsar, Sikhism’s holy city and home of The Golden Temple where they learned about the historical foundations and social history of the religion. Continuing on to the United Kingdom, Argentina, Canada and America, the Garchas and viewers of the documentary gain a better understanding of modern Sikh communities and the fundamental aspects of their religion.

If you are curious like me, you ask yourself how this family could be members of a religion and not know much about it. Looking into myself, I realized that many of us do not know all we have to know about the religion that we are members of. Having been born and raised Jewish, I don’t remember asking my parents questions about the faith, I just did what I was supposed to do without question or if I had questions, I kept them to myself. In fact, I only begin questioning some of the laws and practices after graduating from college. In our house, we did not talk about religion. Obviously the same is true of many others who went through life observing without questioning.

Bedi and her husband, Satinder Garcha were not sure how to answer their daughter’s question and so they decided to explore the religion as a family. They invited a camera crew to join them and thought about making an educative film for Sikhs and others about the philosophy and values behind Sikhism that go beyond the rituals. This exploration involved traveling to seven countries and asking people about Sikhism. They met some fascinating people including the already mentioned cheese maker, members of a Sikh motorcycle club and the oldest marathon runner in the world. As I watched and listened, I had questions about my own religion and wondered why in Orthodox Judaism one cannot pray unless in a community of ten men and why we light two candles (and not three or four) to mark the Sabbath and other holidays.

Upon visiting the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, they went to the temple that had been targeted by a hate crime where many American Sikhs were shot at and killed. Speaking to the people there, Zara who was then fourteen-years-old spoke to victims of and witnesses to that incident and she learned how terrible discrimination againstbdifferent religions can be. More importantly, she learned about her religion and herself and so did we as we watched.

Let me share here a few things that I learned. Sikhism came into being some 500 years ago and there are some twenty-five million Sikhs all over the world. The religion is centered on oneness and Sikhs believe that the Divine or God or the Supreme Deity is present in all humans and therefore everyone is equal. The Sikhs have no clergy and leadership is open to all people. One of the main concepts is that of loving self. In finding love within leads us to practicing that love. Serving society is a major aspect of Sikhism that has three core beliefs—truthful living, service to humanity and devotion to God. Almost 100% of those wearing turbans are Sikhs but that turban, unfortunately, became a “contentious identity symbol often met with hate and discrimination” after 9/11 and it still “remains a sacred and integral part of Sikh identity”. Now here is a fun fact, the largest peach, pistachio, raisin and okra farms are owned by American Sikhs in California.