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Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Final Episode – Review

by Dane Benko

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The Yakuza Papers: Final Episode is hardly final. It opens with the conglomeration of several families into the Tensei Coalition, registered with the nation as a political organization, and headed by Shozo Hirono’s compatriot Takeda. Though Takeda’s goals are to legitimize the coalition and distance its reputation from the Yakuza, the recurrent power plays among the upper echelons and boiling passions of the new recruits sets the stage to explode.

Each Yakuza Paper episode has two main power players that disturb the waters to create the ripples of violence. This time around it is the Coalition headed by the young and brash Matsumura in Takeda’s stead, against the Otomo family’s vie for power instigated by the newly released Ichioka. Yamamori pokes his ugly head in for another devilish grab for power, resulting in a nearly 50/50 split in Tensei. The balance breaker, unfortunately for everyone involved, is our hero Hirono.

Shozo Hirono has become the enfant terrible of the network. A year from completing a seven year term, his loyalty to the Akashi family puts him at odds against the Tensei Coalition while the residual resentment of the Yamamori family and their ilk set him at odds with his former brothers in the Yakuza. His leaderless family acts out on the street, stirring up trouble with Tensei after a frustrated assassination attempt on Underboss Makihara from Yamamori family devolves into slapstick spectacle. With tension building, Matsumura takes the initiative and preemptively offs Ichioka and Otomo, which gets the police involved and delegitimizes the Tensei Coalition as a political party. So as Takeda returns to attempt closure, Hirono is released back into another tense situation, and the two have to question whether the violence will ever really end.

Such is the heart of Final Episode and really the buildup of the whole series. Hirono becomes wise but he never really becomes smart, and as such is the ultimate scapegoat for everything that happens during the whole series. As he exits yet another prison term, he discovers to his dismay that a third generation of Yakuza have entered the mess, and are as ready to fight and kill as ever. Takeda laments, “I cannot handle the need to kill or be killed anymore” while Hirono observes that the political struggles of the upper strata results in death of the young.

The Yakuza Papers is often compared to the Godfather film series, and it is in this theme that they correlate the most. Takeda and Hirono are the last men left standing on the attempt to legitimize an early dream of success through mostly productive and peaceful methods. Takeda tries to groom Matsumura for that role but Matsumura turns out to be more of a technocrat, pragmatically using any tool from violence to genuine outreach to get what he feels necessary done. Hirono’s blood grudge against Yamamori is never resolved, but his underlings’ assassination of Makihara destroys everything Takeda was trying to ferment, making Hirono the ironic cause of his own jadedness. Throughout the series he is always willing to face the survivors and victims of the conflicts he’s involved with until this movie, where he is no longer able to emotionally handle a confrontation with one of his foot soldier’s family. Final Episode refers to the fact that the game is up for Hirono, despite the fact that it continues with new blood 25 years after the first fighting started.

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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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