And talking about convoluted plots, I really doubt anything matches Kinji Fukasaku’s (深作欣二) legendary Battles Without Honor And Humanity a.k.a. The Yakuza Papers (Jingi naki Tatakai). Fukasaku made a total of 5 films in the series and the double dealings and change in alliances between the yakuza oyabuns, captains and their families are horrendously difficult to follow. The amazing and amusing thing about this is it does not detract from the enjoyment of the films at all. (Home Vision Entertainment’s DVDs include a nice diagram to highlight the allegiances).
During its time, Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor And Humanity was supposed to reveal the yakuza for the scum and thugs that they really were; the more traditional Japanese yakuza films normally portray the underworld as a place where honor and loyalty meant everything. Fukasaku turns this notion upside down with his Battles Without Honor and Humanity films, and the often weak looking bosses turn out to be nastiest schemers who control the more physically commanding captains of the underworld families. Of course, today, the films come across as nothing more than entertainment – but very riveting gangster films these are!
The star of the series is of course the iconic Bunta Sugawara. But I particularly liked Hiroki Matsukata’s Sakai from the first film – he wears the cool Japanese gangster look (with shades and trenchcoat) that surely must have fueled the imaginations of many a Japanese youngster.
So far I have seen the first 3 films in the series. The first film traces the forming of the modern yakuza families after Japan’s defeat in WWII and how they used the black market to build their families. The second film (subtitled Deadly Fight in Hiroshima) is a minor detour that features a young Sonny Chiba. The third film (subtitled The Proxy Wars) gets back on track with Sugawara’s Shozo Hirono once again taking center stage.
All 3 films are excellent. Highly recommended.
Bunta Sugaware as Shozo Hirono
Hiroki Matsukata as Tetsuya Sakai