“NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY”
A Three Film Series
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.
– 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