Film / Battles Without Honor and Humanity

Ah, yes: the Yakuza film. A story about honor, brotherhood, tradition, and loyalty. Well that was until this film series came around. Battles Without Honor and Humanity note  is a series of films, directed by Kinji Fukasaku, director of the Japanese portion of Tora! Tora! Tora! and Battle Royale. They are set in post-war japan, just following the end of the war. In particularly, it centers on a certain former soldier, named Shozo Hirono (played by Bunta Sugawara), as he navigates the Yakuza underworld and claws his way to the top, surrounded by liars and schemers. The series is adapted from a series of newspaper articles, by journalist Kōichi Iiboshi, that were rewrites of a manuscript originally written by real-life Yakuza, Kōzō Minō, while he was in prison. giving the movies a documentary or biographical feel.

The films are, in order:

  • Battles Without Honor and Humanity
  • Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Hiroshima Deathmatch (or Deathmatch in Hiroshima)
  • Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Proxy War
  • Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Police Tactics
  • Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Final Episode

Following these films, Fukasaku directed yet a another series. These include:

  • New Battles Without Honor and Humanity
  • New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss's Head
  • New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss's Last Days
  • Aftermath of Battles Without Honor and Humanity, the series finale, a Big Budget Beef-Up directed by Eiichi Kudo instead of Fukusaku.

What is so striking about these films, is the gritty world they present, a stark contrast to period pieces that were the Yakuza films that came before. It presented a dark vision of modern Japan that influenced Japanese cinema from then on. The series was such a success, it is commonly called the "Japanese Godfather."

Provides Examples Of:

  • Ate His Gun: "Born loser" Shoji Yamanaka in the second film.
  • Applicability: The film's themes of the poor eating their own under unfair economic conditions are seen as case study in "trickle-down" economics by film academics.
  • Ax-Crazy: Katsutoshi Otomo ,played by Sonny Chiba, provides a realistic portrayal of this trope, being extremely histrionic and unstable.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Really, no one is good in this series. For one thing, they're all Yakuza, which makes them evil by default. But there is really not a single decent person in the cast. While some, like Hirono, do actually cherish the Yakuza honor code, they find it nearly impossible to keep it in the immoral surroundings they find themselves in, and even they turn to assassinations, and murder just to stay alive.
  • Blood Knight: Shoji Yamanaka. Spends the entire film begging to kill Katsutoshi Otomo. He doesn't. Eventually his Blood Knight behavior makes him kill the wrong man out of delusion that his fiance is cheating with his friend from prison. This ultimately leads to him getting a stakeout put on him and him committing suicide.
  • Boring but Practical: Knives and sticks aren't as cool looking as Katanas, but they get the job done, quickly and efficiently.
  • Camera Abuse: The filming during fight scenes goes wild, with Fukasaku making the camera tumble, shake, jar...
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Pretty much averted, as the yakuza lifestyle is shown to be essentially a fairytale.
  • Dirty Coward: Boss Yamanori, a whiny, cowardly,conniving loser of a mob boss whose Dragon Lady wife seems to hold far more authority at times. His solid skills with bribery and bureaucracy and Affably Evil nature are what makes him the boss however.
  • End of an Era: The final film in the first series is all about the transformation of yakuza into corrupt businessmen from disillusioned Former Regime Personnel.
  • Enemy Civil War: "Proxy wars" have smaller subfactions of the bigger Yakuza gangs battling it out for supremacy.
  • Genre Deconstruction: This series deconstructs everything about the Yakuza. Instead of the loyal brothers they were in older films, here they are conniving, greedy, vicious lying bastards, willing to sell their own sworn brothers down the river. The Yakuza code is portrayed as a joke, and every time honored tradition of the Yakuza is seen as outdated, foolish, or even just plain crazy. The main character is a man who actually wants to hearken back to the old ways and honors the code, but soon finds that such ideals have no place in the dirty world he finds himself in.
  • Double Tap: Actually more like There Is No Kill Like Overkill. In this series, almost nobody gets shot just once. More like two to ten times. Justified, in that almost no one dies with one bullet, and most of the cast prioritize getting the shots off over accuracy.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Once again, everybody is guilty of this. Bosses backstab their underlings, underlings backstab their bosses, underlings get backstabbed by the people they were backstabbing with, etc
  • Combat Pragmatist: There is no fair fight in any of these films. Its almost always somebody jumping somebody else.
  • Crapsack World: Japan, post-war, is portrayed as chaotic, lawless place, where a man can't walk down the street without risk to his safety and well being. Even in his own home, he may be shot in his sleep. The Yakuza have politicians in their pocket, and the police are initially at a loss to keep up. By the end of the series, things have gotten better for Japan as a whole, but there are still indications that the Yakuza are just as disadvantaged yet backstabbing as when they began.
  • Former Regime Personnel: Many former soldiers from Imperial Japan make up the Yakuza in these films, including Shozo Hirono
  • Gullible Lemmings: Poor Hirono was this in the first film, and spent years behind bars for it. Thankfully, he learned by the end of the film.
  • Instant Death Bullet: A very notable Aversion. One shot sends most Yakuza fleeing and bleeding, and even after two or three they are writhing in agony and screaming in pain before finally expiring. Especially apparent in the fourth film.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Averted. While the Yakuza do use them, they are hard to hide, making knives more practical, and guns just work so much better. This is made apparent in the first film, where Hirono goes after a Yakuza that is using one. Hirono's answer? A pistol.
  • Last of Their Kind: Shozo Hirono and Takeda are very much the last of the old school "shogun" yakuza by the end of the film series.
  • Loan Shark: The first death in Final Episode is one of these.
  • Overtook the Series: In that the films were no longer Based on a True Story after the second. This actually was a good thing, since Fukusaku and Koichi Iibochi were allowed to up the stakes.
  • The Red Stapler: After the film's success, Hiroshima dialect as spoken by the yakuza in the film became "hip" among Japanese teens and young adults.
  • Sequel Escalation: The third movie is all about this. Since the movies were no longer based off newspaper articles, Fukusaku could explore a more indepth story. The story uses the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as a backdrop and key plot point, the events are more spread out, there are almost Jacobean levels of personal drama, and more time is spent on trying to parallel the yakuza struggles with "actual" history.
  • Sleazy Politician: Work with the Yakuza from time to time.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Shozo is this in the second and first half of the final film.
  • The Other Darrin: Toshie Kimura died during the production of the last two Battles, so her character's role was taken up by someone else.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Hirono has to, if he wants to survive
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: Of The Godfather. Both are movie franchises that tear apart their respective countries' gangs' idea of a code and are Genre Deconstruction of gangster movies.
  • Trope Maker: For jitsuroku-eiga, a deconstructive sub-genre of yakuza films that were far more cynical than 1960s ninkyo films which were filled with far more idealistic takes on yakuza.
  • World War II: The series starts just after war ends in Japan, and carries on for decades afterward.
  • Yakuza: Duh.