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Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima – Review

by Dane Benko

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Time traveling back into the years 1950 – 1953, we enter the same world through a separate door by focusing on the Yakuza from the perspective of two rivals, Shoji Yamanaka playing protagonist as the ex-convict brought into the Muraoka family, foiled by Katsutoshi, the sadistic son of the Otomo family. The two meet and get into a fight at the diner run by Muraoka’s niece Yasuko, the fateful event that pulls Yamanaka into the Muraoka family and the arms of Yasuko and determines for him a vendetta against the insane Katsutoshi. Luckily for him, Katsutoshi is so involved in breaking off from his father with his father’s brother Tokimori, that Yamanaka has time to gain respect in the Muraoka family after his almost disbarment for his relationship with Yasuko, but of course things are always happening beyond the level of Yamanaka’s control that have ripple effects on just about everything and everybody connected in this story over a four year period.

After the scope of the introductory film, it seems Kinji Fukasaku reins it in a bit with this second installment, though how much is ‘reined in’ may not be nominally measurable. Battles without Honor and Humanity was a quite top-down story on how the lives of individuals were made or destroyed by the business decisions of the Yakuza, and by extension how it affected the history of Japan after World War II. Deadly Fight in Hiroshima is a bottom-up story about how one man’s love for a boss’s niece and hatred for a rival Yakuza son affects the Yakuza families and then, by extension, how it affects the history of Japan after the Korean War. In one sense it’s a smaller and more focused story than the first installment of the series, though it clocks in at a minute longer. This is because Fukasaku actually provides some breathing room and emotional consideration to his lead character, as well a subtle stylistic changes to how the violence and logistics of the movie work as a whole.

Here, the battles and fights are often as messy as the previous installment, but occasionally become more elegant and poetic for those moments of triumph for Yamanaka, especially when he assassinates Muraoka’s rival Waka. Love and family are no longer treated histrionically as manipulations for the wider business concerns but are now truly intimate relationships that have to be worked out for business to continue productively. And whereas Battles had a calculated nod to the ninkyo eiga genre (the popular Yakuza film where one character’s loyalty to his family is tested by his friendship to a member of a rival family) in the relationship between Shozo and Wakasugi, here that genre is more closely adhered to in the relationship between Yamanaka and series protagonist Shozo Hirono.

Both movies are paralleled by an early prison sentence where Shozo makes a new friend but in this movie, that friendship plays a wonderful new role. Shozo now operates more like a floating observer to the drama of this new dynamic play, what we know about his careful certitude of character and building disenchantment with the Yakuza aiding in the contextualization of the manipulations and violence we are seeing in this new movie. Shozo is now unbiased judge even though he is still wrapped up in his closely tied contracts to the Yamamori family and has created his own small and broke Hirono family in Yure. Shozo also ties up the movie in another dramatic parallel with a closing funeral, but keeping in mind that this second funeral is set before the one shown in the previous movie, viewers shouldn’t expect quite so symbolic an outro.

Finally, an interesting new element comes into play in this movie, as the police get involved. In the previous movie, prison seemed almost elective, the sacrifice a character would make to serve the family but never a process of actual law enforcement. After a bloody drive-by shooting by Katsutoshi, the police chief announces his detachment from the Muraoka family and the manhunt begins for Yakuza during actual screen time, leading to an ultimate and tragic showdown between Yamanaka after his escape from a life term in prison. Otherwise, the police are not shown characteristically or stylistically different from any of the other Yakuza families. They speak the same aggressive and power-parlaying language, and their uniforms aren’t much more uniform than Katsutoshi’s red leather toting gang. Their break-off with Muraoka indicates their previous association with him, and the announcement is made over a meeting like any other Yakuza deal made in this series.

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Author: Dane Benko

Dane is an independent filmmaker and freelancer in Albuquerque, NM. Japanese cinema is a particular fascination of his.

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