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Battles Without Honor 5 Final

Before I start I must apologise for not putting that many reviews up this month, the reason being is that I’m trying to watch all of the IMDB Top 250 movies which has meant that I haven’t really watched that many Asian movies. Anyway onto the review:

It’s the beginning of the 70’s and Shozo Hirono is in prison after the events of the last movie (Police Tactics) and the yakuza groups have changed tactics since the police were putting a lot of pressure on them. The yakuza in Hiroshima reinvent themselves as a politicial organisation such as the Tensei Organisation. Despite trying to put up a front to the public that they’re all respectable people now, behind the scenes there is turmoil brewing. The chairman Takeda tries to stop his underlings from being violent but it’s hard for some of them to change their ways and as a result of various actions Takeda finds himself in prison for several years. The substitute chairman Matsumura finds the Tensei Organisation collapsing all around him as various factions start bickering amongst themselves with the leader of the Otomo group allying himself with other factions to try and take over from Matsumoto. Hirono’s sworn brother Ichioka is also stirring up trouble in order that once Hirono is out of prison he can walk back into Hiroshima and take control. With Hirono’s imminent release, the Tensei Organisation is nervous about what to do with him. Do they persuade him to retire or take him out?

Battles Without Honor Final Episode screenshot

The final movie in the 5-part Battles Withour Honor series whilst intriguing is not as good as some of the other entries I’ve seen. It’s more of a talky movie and although there are several violent skirmishes throughout it’s not as bloodthirsty as previous installments. The usual fragile alliances and backstabbings which formed the backbone of the movies continues in this one. The main protaganist in the other 4 movies – Shozo Hirono is barely seen for the majority of this movie and only takes a main part in the storyline during the last 30 mins. The plot this time round is more or less showing us the changing of the guard in the yakuza. Old timers such as Takeda and Shirono who may have wielded great power 25 years ago just after the end of the World War II are now coming to the end of their reign and the young pretenders are beginning to take over. I expected seeing as this was the final episode in the series to see an epic conclusion but I was disappointed more than anything. It ends with a whimper instead of a bang. I thought the story might build up to a big yakuza battle at the climax but there’s nothing of the sort taking place. I was expecting an ending to Hirono’s grudge against his enemy Yamamori but it stays unresolved. The main problem is that with Hirono out of the picture the movie is just not as interesting when he’s not around and when he finally does take a major part to play his mindset is different. The time he’s spent in prison and writing his memoirs has made him realise that the bloodshed that’s been spilt over the years just isn’t worth it anymore. Even with the old guard stepping down, the violence in Hiroshima continues with the younger members vying for control of the various gangs. Director Kinji Fukasaku has to be congratulated for managing to weave such a complicated plot throughout the 5 movies which takes place over a course of 25 years. It is so easy to find yourself lost with all the characters that the viewer is introduced to with many perishing in the violence that takes place. One wonders how the yakuza recruit so many inept members as they cannot seem to kill properly with several scenes in this movies showing how useless they are. They manage to miss their targets regularly when firing off their guns and even then it seems to take them a round of bullets to finish somebody off!

Although he’s not in the story for long, Bunta Sugawara delivers another great performance as Hirono who has wisened up considerably whilst in prison. He can see how futile it is to continue being a gangster. He’s not that young anymore and if he continued in the game he’d more than likely end up with a bullet in his head. The rest of the cast are effective in their roles with the standout being chipmunk faced Jo Shishido who goes OTT as Otomo, a yakuza boss who flies off easily in a rage.

Barring the disappointing final entry, the Battles Without Honor & Humanity franchise has been an incredible set of movies and their popularity would see Kinji Fukasaku unveil another yakuza trilogy called New Battles Without Honor & Humanity from 1974-76 with Bunta Sugawara but playing an entirely different character. I’m looking forward one day to checking them out.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

 

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It’s the year leading up to the Tokyo Olympics and the yakuza gangs jostling for supremacy in Hiroshima who have been fighting amongst each other shows no sign of abating. The public though have had enough of the violence and bloodshed on their streets and pressure the police to crackdown on the yakuza gangs. The leader of the Hirono gang Shozo continues to harbour a grudge against his old boss Yamamori and he has bought in reinforcements in order to try and kill him once and for all. Other elder yakuza leaders wants a peaceful solution to end all the aggro but the younger members eager for a war on the streets makes the situation worse with tit-for-tat murders taking place. Eventually an all out war starts between the gangs but the police are ready and start arresting all the leaders. Will this lead to peace on the streets of Hiroshima?

The 4th in the Battles Without Honor and Humanity saga brings about a conclusion of sorts to the Hiroshima yakuza gangs story which the previous 3 movies have been chronicling during an 18 year period. There is an air of change in the plot for this movie. The police haven’t had much of a presence before, only glimpses of them have been shown. In this movie, they have more of a presence and thanks to massive pressure from the public who wants them to smash the yakuza rings they unleash the full force of the law as they begin to dismantle the gangs. Naturally the leaders in charge think they are above the law and send out their underlings to do their dirty deeds even if it means they’ll be arrested. As long as they remain in their comfortable position at the top of the chain it doesn’t matter. Shozo Hirono though is different from the rest and insists on carrying out his own business. His men though insist on taking care of his problems in order to protect him. Hirono probably seems to be the only boss who still tries to live by the old yakuza code of honour. The other leaders such as Yamamori are seen to be weak and whiny, avoiding decisions but are the first to take credit from others. As with the theme from the previous movies – short alliances are swiftly broken, double crossings happen and blood continues to be shed.

Director Kinji Fukusaku gives us a fast paced story with plenty of street fights with guns, knives and political maneouvering between the various gangs. He carries on with the style associated so far with the saga – freeze frames with the deaths of important gang members and a voice over explaining a situation that’s going on. As there’s so many characters in the storyline, some of the more interesting ones get lost in the shuffle and only get some brief screentime. There’s certainly more violence involved in this story and I’d say this is the bloodiest movie in the franchise. Examples of this include a man getting his nose cut off by a knife, a gang member stabbed in his hand and other nasty incidents such as a rifle being used as a bayonet to kill a man. As the violence escalates, the main protaganist Hirono is taken out of the equation and arrested by the police for a minor offence. By the time the movie comes to it’s conclusion, the days of the yakuza gangs running wild and free in Hiroshima has come to an end and the final voice over brings us the total number of deaths, wounded and arrests that have taken place over the years.

This is another worthy entry in the Battles Without Honor franchise and I’m eager to watch the last episode. Hirono and the other leaders maybe in jail by the climax of this movie but you can bet that their story isn’t over yet.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Chuji is a young Okinawan man who works behind the bar at a live lounge club but also deals in drugs for a gang. He is a gifted harmonica player but only plays in his own private time. One day Chuji helps an ambitious yakuza member named Kenji who’s being chased by some people and also bumps into a bubbly woman Tokiko who becomes his girlfriend. Chuji is encouraged by one of the owners of the bar who leads a band and his girlfriend to perform on stage. After just one performance with the band, Chuji is a big hit and soon a record producer is knocking on his door willing to sign him up. Meanwhile Kenji rewards Chuji for the help he had by giving him some money. They soon become friends despite their loyalties to opposite gangs but what Chuji doesn’t know is that Kenji has more than friendly feelings towards him. Chuji can’t believe his luck when Tokiko announces that she’s pregnant with his child. It seems his life is on the up and he can perhaps soon give up his drug dealing ways. But Kenji’s close friend in the yakuza who harbours feelings for him and is aware of Kenji’s love for Chuji strikes a deal with a rival gang that unwillingly puts Chuji right in the middle of a yakuza battle that goes way over his head with tragic results.

It doesn’t matter how many movies I see from Takashi Miike, all of them apart from Ninja Kids which I didn’t like have been so enjoyable and Blues Harp isn’t any different. It’s an amazing movie. The story is about a man trying to move on from his troubled youth as he didn’t have much of a life growing up on Okinawa. His mother was a prostitute so he was left out on the streets for most of the time. Years later and working in Tokyo behind a bar, he expresses himself through music in playing the harmonica. He may be a part-time drug dealer but he’s always hoping that one day he can stop doing that. Even though you wouldn’t normally associate blues music with Japan or it’s culture, this uniqueness to the storyline only adds to the greatness of the movie. The other half of the story involves a yakuza man who hatches a plan to be the top man in his group by killing his boss. Chuji and Kenji’s fateful first encounter when Chuji discovers Kenji lying on the floor outside his bar in an alley as he’s being chased by a rival gang sets up a chain of events that ends in tragedy for the two men. This could have been a gritty yakuza movie but it’s not and instead we have a compelling character driven storyline with an emotional depth to it which is perfectly paced by Miike. He adds a sweet and simple love story to the proceedings and in the character of Tokiko who’s an overtly bubbly sort of person, she’s provides a great foil to Chuji. They are completely opposite in personalities to each other but somehow they have a connection and their relationship works. The movie has 2 memorable leading characters with the actors in their roles giving it everything. Hiroyuki Ikeuchi stands out more as Chuji and he’s a character you grow to care for. When you see Chuji take to the stage in the bar and wow the audience with his harmonica it’s enough to get you tapping your toes. The movie is peppered with a couple of scenes that shows off some great blues numbers and they’re a treat to listen to. Although not as outrageous and shocking as some of Miike’s other movies, it still has some flashes of gore and violence to jolt you.

Blues Harp is an excellent movie with two plotlines that link together and combine seamlessly to make for an unforgettable experience. Another winner for me from the maverick director. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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In the 2nd of the Battles Without Honor movie series it is 1950 and Shozo Hirono is in prison after the events of the first movie. Here he meets Shoji Yamanaka, an angry young man who has been thrown in prison for assaulting a group of people in a gambling den. Yamanaka manages to get parole after 2 years but soon crosses the path of crazed yakuza Katsutoshi Otomo. He and his gang of hoodlums beats him up and Yamanaka swears revenge. His actions soon bring him to the attention of the head of the Muraoka family and he accepts their invitation to join their ranks. However he is soon making a mistake of falling in love with his Muraoka’s niece Yasuko. Punished for doing this as her former husband was a WWII hero, he given a chance of redemption in killing a construction company boss. Katsutoshi Otomo gets even more power hungry and plans to wipe out the Muraoka family with his own little gang. A gang war breaks out on the streets of Hiroshima but which side will come out on top?

It’s been a while since I last watched one of the Battles Without Honor movies, last October in fact when I saw the 3rd in the series Proxy War so there was always a chance I’d come back and see the 2nd movie. This movie instead of focusing on the “hero” of the 1st movie Shozo Hirono we follow a new character Shoji Yamanaka although Hirono does appear in many scenes but the character mostly takes a back seat in this instalment. He’s more of an observer than one who gets involved in a gang war. Director Kinji Fukasaku has refrained from just rehashing the plot from the first movie and has tweaked some things in order to make the storyline more interesting for the viewer. It still retains the freeze frame moment whenever a character is introduced or dies in the story. This is more of a tale of a young man who learns the hard way what it means to be a yakuza. Although revenge is Yamanaki’s driving force in the movie, he also wants the hand of Yasuko but it proves to be difficult and ends on a tragic note. This movie has still got the usual betrayals, violence, bloody shootouts etc that made the first movie so popular. The violence is brutal and unforgiving and thanks to the gritty cinematography of Sadaji Yoshida the viewer finds themselves at times slap bang in the middle of the fighting that goes on. Director Fukusaku manages to get across his point that all this violence is completely pointless.

There’s quite a strong cast for this movie from the fantastic Sonny Chiba as the psychotic nutjob yakuza Katsutoshi Omoto who wants to break away from his father’s empire. A man who loves to spread chaos and anarchy wherever he goes. I was surprised to see Meiko Kaji also involved in this movie. Don’t come into this movie expecting her to play one of her more familiar roles as a badass woman because her character is more meek and definitely less intense than what the majority of viewers are used to seeing her. Seizo Fukumoto gives a great performance as the brooding and impulsive Yamanaka and Bunta Sugawara is more restrained as Hirono this time round.

Deadly Fight In Hiroshima moves the overall storyarc of the series very well and having seen the 3rd movie, I guess it’s high time for me to take a look at the 4th movie very soon. The fast moving plot filled with thrills and sudden bursts of violence is well worth watching.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Hoshi Izumi is a 16 year old schoolgirl whose father has recently passed away. A woman named Mayumi turns up at her apartment with a letter from her late father stating that Mayumi was his mistress and he would like Hoshi to become friends with her. One day whilst Hoshi is at school, a group of yakuza personnel turn up at the gates demanding to see her. It seems that Hoshi’s father was the leader of the Medaka group and Hoshi is the next successor. However, the Medaka group isn’t that big, in fact it only has 4 members and they’re in the middle of a turf war with the 40 strong Matsunoki group who is looking to take over the Medaka group’s territory. Hoshi reluctantly accepts the leadership post and it’s up to one of them Sakuma to teach her all about yakuza etiquette. Things are about to hot up as Hoshi’s apartment is trashed with the Matsunoki group looking for a stash of stolen heroine that they believe her father had taken from them. A police detective Kuroki is also on the case. When one of the Medaka group is killed by Matsunoki, Hoshi decides it’s time to take the fight to them but will that plan backfire on her?

Sailor Suit and Machine Gun is a satire on the yakuza movie genre, you honestly wouldn’t think that a naive young teenager could take over a yakuza group in real life!! It’s one of the biggest Japanese cult films of the 80’s. I was already familiar with the story having watched the 2006 drama series which was pretty good. Sadly this movie isn’t a patch on the drama and I thought it was disappointing on the whole. This movie is supposed to be a drama comedy but I failed to see where the laughs were supposed to be coming from. I expected to see a movie with some decent action and funny comedy but I didn’t get any of them. I found it incredibly boring at times and there are some segments which adds nothing to the storyline. It does get better by the climax but it’s a case of too little too late – most viewers will have switched off or fallen asleep. It takes somebody with a lot of patience to enjoy it. I just felt that the movie wasn’t pierced together too well, it’s like a jumbled mess. The directing isn’t that good with poor pacing. The long one-shot takes which was a trademark of director Shinji Somai are impressive though. The storyline/script needed more work on it and the acting is shabby at best though Hiroko Yakushimaru is the only one that did OK in her role as Hoshi who’s a likeable character.

Hiroko Yakushimaru who plays the main character Hoshi Izumi got her big break on this movie and went on to become (and still is) a very successful actress. If you’ve watched the Always trilogy then you’ll recognise her as Mr Suzuki’s wife in those movies. During the 80’s she was a ‘super-idol’ to the masses and if it wasn’t for one word she uttered in this movie she probably might never have been so popular. That word comes near the end of this movie when she enters a room full of yakuza and sprays the place full of bullets with her machine gun before sighing and saying “kaikan” which roughly means exciting or feel’s good. It was a defining moment in Japanese cinema at the time as suddenly everybody starting copying the way Hoshi said the word in the movie!!

I really wanted to like this movie. I would advise people to catch the drama series instead, it’s way better than this misfiring mess.

Sadako’s Rating: 2 stars out of 5

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A yakuza family starts to fall apart after its leader is killed. In a bid to consolidate his position in the vast Tenseikai syndicate, Kaito plans to absorb the rival Yokomizo and Shirane families by replacing their implacably opposed leaders with puppets who will be willing to merge the families and bring them into his control. Yet when Kaito sends assassins to murder the elderly Yokomizo, he does not reckon on Higuchi, an unruly gangleader who will never ally himself to his godfather’s killers – nor on Kenzaki,  a young maverick squadleader whose willingness to take extreme action is outweighed only by his absolute loyalty to Higuchi, and whose remaining followers will readily give up their own lives in his service. An all out war is on the cards between the various families.

For a Takashi Miike yakuza movie, this is quite a restrained piece of work by him as it does not contain the usual ultra violent content you normally associate with his yakuza classics. It’s also a long 2 and a half hour epic (there’s apparently a 200 min cut floating around as well) which takes it’s time to get going – slow and conventional this movie may be but it’s never boring. Is there such a thing as a boring Takashi Miike movie? The closest we come to see Miike’s insanity is at a nightclub where a yakuza member repeateadly sticks a microphone up a woman’s ass and funnily enough the character doing this is Miike himself who has a cameo role in his own movie. This was one of 4 movies he directed in 2001 and this is probably the weakest of them. That’s not to say that Agitator isn’t any good because I enjoyed it immensely. Miike sticks to what he knows best in his gangster movies – honour, loyalty, betrayal and power struggles in the yakuza families and because this is different from his other yakuza movies he concentrates more on the plot and character development rather than the ultra violence (even though we do get to see some violence in the movie). As we come to the climax, the usual yakuza theme of revenge and retribution rears it’s head. Agitator is a solid movie from Takashi Miike. It’s well made, it had me hooked, the storyline is interesting and engaging and the cast deliver fine performances especially Masaya Kato as the character of Kanzaki.

If you want to see Miike at his imaginative best then Agitator will not be for you but if you’re like myself and want to try and see all of his movies then you won’t be disappointed. It’s a good example of his diversity and range as a director. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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In the 6th Red Peony Gambler series, Oryu searches for a blind female child Kimiko she left behind years ago. She finds her as an adult in Tokyo and now a petty thief. She tries to help her and finds the head of the Teppokyu yakuza clan, an old friend of hers who is willing to take her in as his own daughter. A rival clan, the Samezuno is trying to push into Teppokyu’s territory in Asakusa. The head of the Samezuno is using the marriage of Kimiko and one of their clan as an excuse to do this. He wants to take over the Tokyo Theater currently owned by Teppokyu. He plans to use any underhanded tactic to get his objective but sees Oryu as a threat. Teppokyu’s leader is tricked into going alone somewhere and is stabbed to death by some of Samezuno’s goons. This is a perfect excuse for an all out war between the two clans. Oryu has plans for her own revenge mission and she will not back down until she has killed the Samezuno leader.

If you’re wondering why I’ve gone straight for the 6th in the 8 movie series, it’s because this one in the Top 100 Kinema Junpo list. The Red Peony Gambler series centres on a 2nd generation yakuza boss from Kyushu called Oryu whose character was a chivalrous gambler. The genre was popular in Japan during the late 60’s but faded as a new, chaotic and more vicious yakuza movies (The Battles Without Honor series) started to appear in the early to mid 70’s. I found this to be an interesting and compelling yakuza movie with a difference. You won’t find any modern looking yakuza in this movie at all. No flashy looking shirts and that stuff. All of the requirements for a good yakuza movie are present here: finger chopping, gambling, swordfights, gunplay, honour, loyalty, brotherhood, righteousness etc. For fans of old fashioned yakuza movies this movie is very good. Tattooed female yakuza who brandished guns and swords were few and far between in Japanese cinema of the 60s/70s but there was one person who stood out above the rest and Junko Fuji as Oryu was it and apparently still remains to this day the measuring stick by which all other yakuza actresses are judged. She was the complete package: beautiful, graceful, charismatic, violent, nurturing, stern and emotional. She is excellent as Oryu and delivers a wonderful performance in this movie. She’s a type of yakuza leader who’s cool, calm and collected and who only resorts to violence when pushed to the very limit. However when she does have to fight she is no slouch. She hides a shortsword in her clothes which only comes out when necessary and Oryu is highly skilled with the weapon. Unlike other female yakuza movies of the era, the lead character Oryu never goes naked and is more of a dignified person. It would have been easy for the filmmakers to have made the series into more of an exploitative affair but with Junko having a bit of clout with Toei Studios as her father was a film producer with the company that avenue was snuffed out. Makes a nice change actually but even with nudity not present the violence aspect is high and there’s plenty of gore on show here especially as we enter the 2nd half of the movie.

Those that love yakuza movies and expect to see a beautiful woman just going on a revenge mission and slicing and dicing some bad guys for the majority of the movie’s running time are going to be disappointed here. That stuff does happen but it’s limited for the final third of the movie. For an old fashioned-type yakuza movie I really enjoyed it and it’s certainly worth seeing.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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