Wednesday, July 1, 2015


This is not a really a review of Battles… but more an appreciation. The reason it’s not a review is that I want to do a series of pieces on the entire series and so I don’t want to do a review of the film until I can do all the films.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity was a huge game changer in the crime film genre in Japan. Its spawned 5 sequels with the same cast and crew and another 6 or so sequels in a second series. It’s the film that effectively drained the idea of a good yakuza from Japanese films.

The plot of the film follows Shozo Hirono in the years after the Second World War. The country is in chaos and the ability to earn a living or even to get by is tenuous at best. In desperation Shozo falls in with his friends into various criminal enterprises. As time goes by Shozo and his friends go up the ranks of the organization- swearing loyalty as they go- but as success comes so does the chance to score big-if one is willing to screw over friends. Time and time again the men who claim to be loyal and honorable abandon their friends and their scruples for a buck or more often just for personal survival.

Ugly nasty and unpleasant, even 40 years on Battles Without Honor… is a punch in the face. It is, along with its immediate sequels, one of the greatest gangster films ever made. It’s a film (and the series as well) are one of the highest points in the career of Kenji Fukasaku. There is a reason that the film is still rattling around after all these years. To put it another way, once you’ve seen it you’ll suddenly realize how most of the Japanese gangster films of the last 40 years simply copied it and played on its themes.

I can’t say enough good about it.

If there is any flaw in this first film it’s that the ending feels odd. When you se it odds are you’re going to get the feeling that something is wrong with it- and you’ll be right. The ending is awkward which is the result of last minute reshoots. What happened was that the studio saw the finished or near finished film and realized that they had a hit on their hands. They knew they could get a sequel or two out of the film but they had to keep the anti-hero alive so they went back and reshot things.

The film plays on July 3rd at NYAFF in a restored version and is an absolute must see. For tickets and more information go here.

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