Written by: Michael Den Boer on January 17th, 2016
Theatrical Release Dates: Japan, 1973 (Battles Without Honor and Humanity / Hiroshima Death Match / Proxy War), (Police Tactics / Final Episode) 1974, (The Complete Saga) 1980
Director: Kinji Fukasaku (All Films)
Writers: Koichi Iiboshi, Kazuo Kasahara (Battles Without Honor and Humanity / Hiroshima Death Match / Proxy War, Police Tactics), Koichi Iiboshi, Kôji Takada (Final Episode)
Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Tatsuo Umemiya, Tsunehiko Watase, Nobuo Kaneko, Sonny Chiba, Meiko Kaji, Jo Shishido
BluRay released: December 7th, 2015 (UK) / December 8th, 2015 (USA)
Approximate running times: 99 Minutes (Battles Without Honor and Humanity), 100 Minutes (Hiroshima Death Match), 102 Minutes (Proxy War), 101 Minutes (Police Tactics), 98 Minutes (Final Episode), 224 Minutes (The Complete Saga)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (All Films)
Rating: 15, 18 (UK), NR (USA)
Sound: LPCM Mono Japanese (All Films)
Subtitles: English (All Films)
BluRay Release: Arrow Video USA
Region Coding: Region A,B / Region 1,2 NTSC
Retail Price: $149.95 (USA) / £74.99 (UK)
Battles Without Honor And Humanity (aka The Yakuza Papers) is a five part epic yakuza saga that consists of Battles without Honor and Humanity, Deadly Fight in Hiroshima, Proxy War, Police Tactics and Final Episode. The series is loosely based on the serialized two-volume novel by Koichi Iiboshi that chronicles the Hiroshima gang war that lasted nearly twenty five years. The series revolves around Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara) an ex-solider living in Hiroshima after World War II. In the first film Battles without Honor and Humanity, Hirono meets Wagasugi (Tatsuo Umemiya) while he is serving in prison for killing a man. The two become blood brothers which lead to Hirono’s introduction into the world of the yakuza. Battles erupt as gangs as territories are fought for and Hirono quickly learns that betrayal and murder like loyalty are part of the yakuza code.
Deadly Fight in Hiroshima picks right up were Battles without Honor and Humanity left off. This film focuses most on the generational differences that help drive a wedge between old school and the new yakuza which helped ignite the twenty plus year war. Hirono’s role in this film is scaled backed as the main focus of the film is shifted too two characters Shoji Yamashiro played by Kinya Kitaoji and Katsutoshi Otomo played by Sonny Chiba. Unfortunately Chiba would not return for subsequent films and in later films in the series Jo Shishido would take over the role of Katsutoshi Otomo. In Proxy War the third film in the series Shozo Hirono returns to the forefront as several high ranking bosses’ double cross and switch sides as they try to position themselves for the recently opened position as the boss of Hiroshima’s largest gang. Alliances are formed and broken as the streets in Hiroshima and Kure explode into all out wars.
Police Tactics the fourth film in the series sees Hirono in a secondary role as the police under public disapproval over the recent gang wars demand that the police to clean things up. Japan after years of poverty after World War 2 is on its way to prosperity and the yakuza not wanting to lose its foot hold in the underworld wants to change its image. Hirono now considered an outsider by the two fractioning sides in the gang war is betrayed by his former boss and he is sent to prison for violating his parole. In the fifth final chapter in the series is simply titled Final Episode the yakuza tries to go legit and forms a corporation. The more the yakuza try to deny who they are the more out of control things gets as more bloodshed and killings this time by the more youthful and arrogant yakuza members. For thirty years Hirono has lived with the baggage that comes with being a yakuza and even as he retires he knows that the vicious cycle which began with him so many years before will never end as new recruits start new wars for no reason at all.
Bunta Sugawara portrayal of Shozo Hirono in the Battles Without Honor And Humanity (aka The Yakuza Papers) films is the glue that holds the whole epic saga together. Through out this series Hirono he is betrayed by those he helps time and again. He wants to change and his generosity always comes back to haunt him in the end. The series is full of degenerates and unsympathetic low life’s who profess loyalty one minute and betray their sworn brothers then next. There are so many double crosses through out the series that at times it is hard to remember who is on whose side. This series is blessed with an amazing ensemble cast many who had worked with Kinji Fukasaku in the past including Sonny Chiba. Even though he only appears in the second film Deadly Fight in Hiroshima his presence is undeniable as he steals the shows.
Battles Without Honor And Humanity (aka The Yakuza Papers) films are Japan’s answer to America’s The Godfather which was released a few years before. The yakuza and mobster are distant cousins that outside their language barriers they follow similar codes and are bound by a sense of honor to their boss. The Battles Without Honor And Humanity (aka The Yakuza Papers) series like Fukasaku’s other films are often classified as nihilistic for their sadistic brutality towards women and overall visceral violent tone. Fukasaku though never uses violence just for the sake of violence and his films like all true artists represent the reality that surrounds them.
Fukusaku adds to the films documentary style as he frequently uses hand held compositions that add to the films chaotic subtext. He also makes full use of the widescreen frame as he fills every inch of every frame with details. The editing in the films is razor sharp and well paced as the film flies by without ever dragging. Fukasuka’s films are filled with a kenotic energy that is bursting with enthusiasm. Through his cinematic landscapes he transcends language and culture with his universal themes.
Each film comes on their own 50 GB dual layer BluRay and each film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. The transfers used for this release were created from original preservation elements that were supplied by Toei. And when compared to Home Vision’s region 1 NTSC DVD’s these new transfer is a marked improvement in every way. With image clarity and black levels being the two areas which show the largest amount of improvement. Also Colors look stronger and there are no issues with DNR or compression.
Each film comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in Japanese and removable English subtitles have been included for each film. The audio sounds clean, clear and balanced throughout.
Extras for this release are spread over six discs.
Extras on disc one include, a trailer for the film (3 minutes 17 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), an interview with filmmaker Takashi Miike titled ‘Yakuza Graveyard’ (10 minutes 54 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles) and an audio commentary with critic and author Stuart Galbraith IV.
Topics discussed in the interview with Takashi Miike include, his own involvement in the Yakuza film genre, how Japanese audiences have changed over the years and how these type of characters are no longer as relevant in today’s world, Kinji Fukasaku and his legacy as a filmmaker, the differences between Fukasaku’s Yakuza Graveyard and his remake.
The audio commentary is a detailed and informative track that discusses, Kinji Fukasaku, cast & crew and other production related topics.
Extras on disc two include, (3 minutes 33 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), an interview with fight choreographer Ryuzo Ueno titled ‘Man of Action’ (10 minutes 44 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles).
Topics discussed in the interview with Ryuzo Ueno include, how he got into the film industry and more specifically his work as a fight choreographer, collaborating with Kinji Fukasaku on the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, on set memories for these films and how Fukasaku sometimes would gamble all night long.
Extras on disc three include, film (3 minutes 13 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), an interview with supporting actor and stuntman Seizo Fukumoto titled ‘Tales of a Bit Player’ (10 minutes 48 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles) and a documentary about the troupe of supporting actors who appeared throughout the series titled ‘Secrets of the Piranha Arm’ (35 minutes 46 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles).
Topics discussed in the interview with Seizo Fukumoto include, how Kinji Fukasaku was different from the directors that he had worked with before Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, how Fukasaku gave actors an incredible amount of freedom to create and other films that he has worked on, most notably The Last Samurai.
The extra titled ‘Secrets of the Piranha Army’ is an informative look as the lesser known players and their importance to the films that Kinji Fukasaku directed. This extra features interviews with original Piranha members Masaru Shiga and Takashi Noguchi, plus second-generation Piranha, Takashi Nishina and Akira Murota.
Extras on disc four include, a trailer for the film (3 minutes 38 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), an interview with Proxy War and Police Tactics assistant director Toru Dobashi titled ‘Fukasaku Family’ (15 minutes 29 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles) and a about director Kinji Fukasaku and his work tilted ‘Remembering Kinji’ (17 minutes 39 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles).
Topics discussed in the interview with Toru Dobashi include, how he got into the film industry, collaborating with Kinji Fukasaku on Proxy War and Police Tactics, locations featured in the film, interacting with the cast and how the cats were always involved in the clothes they wore.
The extra titled ‘Remembering Kinji’ is a well-rounded discussion about his legacy as a filmmaker and his cinema influences. This extra includes comments from Kenta Fukasaku and film critic and Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane.
Extras on disc five include, a trailer for the film (3 minutes 10 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), an image gallery with original poster gallery for the series and music from the film plays in the background, an interview with Final Episode screenwriter Koji Takada titled ‘Last Days of the Boss’ (18 minutes 49 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles).
Topics discussed in the interview with Koji Takada include, how he got involved in writing the screenplay for the ‘Final Episode’, how he began his career working predominantly in chivalry films and how he employed many of this genres staples into his screenplay for ‘Final Episode’, revisions that he made to the original screenplay that was written for ‘Final Episode’ and Kozo Mino’s diaries which lead to the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series.
Extras on disc six include is limited to an introduction by Complete Saga editorial supervisor Toru Dobashi (2 minutes 58 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles) who discusses all that was involved in taking five films and making them into a four-hour miniseries.
Rounding out the extras is a reversible cover art option for each film and 152-page hardback book with cast & crew information, an essay titled ‘Radioactive Yakuza Mutants Eat Japan’ written by Grady Hendrix, an essay titled ‘Bunta Sugawara: Modern Yakuza’ written by Patrick Macias, Paul Schrader’s classic 1974 Film Comment Essay ‘Yakuza-Eiga: A Primer’ newly annotated by Tom Mes, an essay titled ‘The True Account of the Jitsuroku-Eiga’ written by Chris D., a selected filmography of additional Jitsuroku-style Yakuza films and their predecessors written by Chris D., an essay titled ‘Mob Revival: How Video Saved the Yakuza Film’ written by Tom Mes, an essay titled ‘Family Honor: The Short History of Toei’ written by Jasper Sharp, an essay titled ‘Aftermath of Battles Without Honor And Humanity’ written by Mark Schilling, interview with Kinji Fukasaku by Mark Schilling, Jitsuroku my personal account of the screenplay by Kazuo Kasahara, story diagrams and information about the transfers. Also included with this release is a DVD that has the same content included on the Blu-Ray included as part of this combo release. Overall another extraordinary release from Arrow Video that covers all the bases and then some, highly recommended.
Note: This is a limited edition release, the UK is limited to 2500 units and the US is limited to 2500 units.