New Battles Without Honour and Humanity box set consists of three stand-alone films in the seminal Yakuza franchise.
The New Battles films are follow-ups to the groundbreaking Battles Without Honour and Humanity series that rocketed Bunta Sugawara into super stardom and ushered in a new type of gangster epic, the jitsuroku eiga (actual record film).
In each movie of the series, Bunta Sugawara plays varying shades of gangster scumbag.
The first of the three films, New Battles Without Honour and Humanity, continues the story from the previous series. Bunta Sugawara plays Miyoshi, a low-level Yakuza who is promised riches if he assassinates a big shot.
Things go wrong and Miyoshi ends up in the clink. While in prison, a power struggle erupts between the two alpha’s of his syndicate, Aoki and the boss of the Yamanori gang. Upon Miyoshi's release, he becomes a pawn in a deadly chess game between these two foes.
In the second movie, The Bosses Head is an original story in which Bunta plays Kuroda. Like the first film, he is involved in a hit for which he ends up serving time.
Under the pretence that he is going to get what he is owed on his release, Kuroda takes serves his time diligently. When he gets out, his drug-addicted partner in crime has ruined his reputation with the gang and Kuroda's hopes of a big payday are no more. Kuroda becomes the Agitator, manoeuvring, threatening and cajoling until he gets his money.
In the third movie, The last days of the Boss, Bunta plays a slightly different character, Nozaki. This time Bunta is less of a scumbag and more reserved in comparison to his two previous roles in the series. He is caught in the middle of a gang war which could cost him everything and harbours a secret that will turn your stomach!
Much like in the original series, Kinji Fukasaku casts a very bright and unflattering light on Japan’s underground. One of the things that may shock (and appeal) is the way Fukasaku refuses to pull any punches.
He doesn’t go out of his way to create redeeming characters, seeming very happy to show you exactly who they are down to the most shameful acts. Fukasaku's characters repeatedly treat women with disrespect, backstab and murder with reckless abandon. There are unflattering racial tensions between the Japanese and Korean characters and explicit shots of hard drug use, ultra violence and extremely foul language.
Fukasaku wants to show us the true representation of gangster life and how its hierarchal system, based on honour, is really a sham. These guys are painted as drunk nuisances who pay lip service to concepts like loyalty and honour, while constantly plotting to stab each other in the back.
There is a lot of joy to be had from these movies. I particularly like the mise en scene of 70's Japan. I love the pompadour haircuts, the massive lapels and the cars, all captured on gritty celluloid.
And let’s not forget Bunta Sugawara, who anchors all three films with a confident swagger. Plus the rest of the cast that reprise (sometimes wildly) different roles throughout all three movies. Look out for Lone Wolf and Cub’s Tomisaburo Wakayama and Lady Snowblood herself, Meiko Kaji, as the sexy but deadly Misako.
These are a must-have for any fan of Yakuza movies and fans of gangster epics in general. Their influence and style can not be understated. Any fan of Tarantino or Scorsese is going to eat these up.
EXTRAS: The bonus features are a fascinating look into the reasons behind the creation of this series, why it's different from the original and why there is a greater focus on female characters. They are an absolute must-watch if you want to know more about the production of these movies and the time in which they were made. The features consist of: Beyond the Films: Battles Without Honour and Humanity (09:25), which looks at why the films got made and why women play much bigger role in this series; Koji Takada: New Stories, New Battles (12:36), in which writer, Koji Takada talks about the new wave style that permeates the New Battles Without Honour and Humanity; and Koji Takada: Closing Stories (17:26), where Takada discusses why The Last Days of the Boss has a different tone to the other two movies and why he focused on female characters.