Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama  |   Run Time - 99 min.  |   Countries - Japan  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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This complex, hard-driving yakuza opus is one of the crown jewels in Kinji Fukasaku's lengthy filmography. The Yakuza Papers is the kind of movie that might take a few screening to fully absorb because its screenplay is extremely dense with character and incident -- it's the kind of movie that will introduce five characters in the space of a minute -- and it never waits for the audience to catch its breath. Thankfully, it is as compelling as it is complicated. The storyline moves at a breathless pace, punctuated with often-shocking bursts of violence, and offers a fascinating, deglamorized glimpse into how the men involved in the yakuza lifestyle handle the internal battle between its code of honor and their own ambitions. The film is also effectively anchored by Bunta Sugawara, who gives a charismatic, star-caliber performance as Shozo. Despite his criminal status, Sugawara carries himself with a sense of dignity that makes him easy to sympathize with. It's also worth noting that Tatsuo Umemiya lends solid support as a veteran yakuza who befriends Hirono and Nobuo Kaneko steals many scenes as Boss Yamamori, a true Machiavellian who disguises his scheming mind with a comical exterior to effectively manipulate his men. Best of all, Fukasaku directs the film with tremendous verve; he makes extensive use of handheld camerawork and tricky editing to propel the story along, but he also knows when to hold the camera still so a dramatic realization can sink in. In short, The Yakuza Papers is a film that makes great demands on the viewer but also offers ample dividends to those willing to take it on its own terms. Anyone with even the slightest interest in the yakuza genre should see it.