New Battles Without Honor and Humanity

| August 29, 2017

The Yakuza Papers series is an accomplishment in both Toei Studio’s history, as well as an impressive work on behalf of Kinji Fukusaku. The series was a massive hit in its native Japan and also managed to influence many filmmakers such as William Friedkin and Quentin Tarantino. Yet, with all of this, the films in the series can be quite an undertaking to watch, with sprawling storylines and multiple actors playing various roles throughout. Shortly after the series ended, Kinji Fukusaku wanted to explore different themes within the yakuza genre, but Toei wanted to continue the series outright. The end result is the New Battles Without Honor and Humanity, a loose trilogy that comprised of many of the same actors of the previous franchise, but lead in a new and bold direction. Never before released in the U.S., Arrow Video brings this incredible series that acts as a wonderful companion piece to the original series.

The first film in the series, New Battles Without Honor and Humanity, we follow Makio (Bunta Sugawara), a low-level thug in the Yamamori clan that gets sent to prison for botching an assassination attempt. Once he’s released, he must try to figure out to whom he owes allegiance to, his boss Yamamori (Nobuo Kaneko) or his sworn brother Aoki (Tomisaburo Wakayama). This film acts as a “sequel” to the original series. Due to the characters of Aoki and Yamamori, this is the only film that technically takes place within the same timeline as the very first Battles film. With focusing on another character, this entry sets the tone for the rest of the New Battles series. The character arc and overall story of Makio is one of ascension, rather than the rise and eventual downfall in most yakuza films. This entry alone makes the New Battles series feel like a fresh take on the material and the subsequent film is another step in the right direction.

The Boss’s Head is uncharted territory for Kinji Fukusaku’s seminal yakuza series. Bunta Sugawara plays Shuji, a low-level assassin that teams up with Kusunoki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) to kill off a boss from a rival gang. Shuji takes the fall and does 8 years. Once he gets out, he finds that Kusunoki is a washed up heroin addict and the boss doesn’t want to repay the debt that Shuji is owed. Shuji is left with no choice but to find the means of taking out this new boss that doesn’t wish to honor his debts. None of the films up to this point show a direct assassination attempt directly on a major figure like the Oyabun of a yakuza family. The fact that it shows not just one, but two makes this entry all the worthwhile. The Boss’s Head almost feels like a revenge film, that Bunta Sugawara’s been wronged and we just wish to see him get everything that he deserves. Not only this, but the action and staging in this entry are much more dynamic, with car chases and gun battles that mirror things from Hollywood films of the era.

The final film, Last Days of the Boss, brings Bunta Sugawara back for one final time as Suichi Nozaki, a laborer who’s pulled into the criminal underworld for a revenge scheme. But when he finds out that his sister is involved in the killing of his former boss, things get very complicated in the final installment. This last film really ties in the familial elements together, much like how the original series did. While the original relied on the bonds of “family” through the eyes of a yakuza group, we see here in Last Days of the Boss and even in The Boss’s Head how much of a role that blood ties matter. It plays out in the beginning as a murder mystery that reels one in, much like Suichi is sucked into the drama of the Yakuza gang life.

The features on the set for New Battles Without Honor and Humanity are pretty slim. Each disc contains interviews, the first one containing an interview with Sadao Yamane, Kinji Fujusaku’s biographer and the last two films contain interviews with screenwriter Koji Takada about his contributions to the series. The interview with Yamane provides insight as to why the series was created, while Takada’s interview portions are mostly about what he was trying to accomplish with this second series, as well as his working relationship with Fukusaku. There are also six wonderful essays that come in the booklet from the likes of Tom Mes, Stephen Sarrazin, Heyley Scanlon, Marc Walkow and Toshiko Adilman. Each of the essays offers much insight to both this series and Fukusaku’s body of work.

This boxed set from Arrow Video is an astounding release for the New Battles Without Honor and Humanity. While it can stand on its own, these films are a much stronger work if one has seen the original Battles series, so I’d only recommend it to die hard enthusiasts or fans of Yakuza cinema.  

About the Author:

is a graduate from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Audio for Visual Media. He works as a freelance location sound mixer, boom operator, sound designer, and writer in his native Chicago. He's an avid collector of films, comics, and anime.
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