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Film / Battles Without Honor and Humanity

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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 particular, 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 Death Match (or Deadly Fight in Hiroshima)
  • Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Proxy War
  • Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Police Tactics
  • Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Final Episode
  • Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Complete Saganote 

Following these films, Toei commissioned 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: Last Days of the Boss
  • Aftermath of Battles Without Honor and Humanitynote 

In 2000 and 2003, a new duology was released, with a similar title to the second trilogy, directed by Junji Sakamoto (the first film) and Hajime Hashimoto (the second).note 

  • Battles Without Honor and Humanity Another Battle
  • Battles Without Honor and Humanity Another Battle/Conspiracy

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:

  • Anyone Can Die: Pretty much throughout the whole series. A main or supporting character can be introduced in a film and is likely dead by the end of it.
  • Apparently Powerless Puppetmaster: Yamamori comes across as a snivelling coward most the time and Shinkai claims that without the underbosses propping him up he has no power. Doesn't stop him from playing the various factions against each other until he and The Dragon Makihara are the only ones left standing.
  • Ate His Gun: "Born loser" Shoji Yamanaka at the end of the second film.
  • Backstab Backfire: Kanbara betrays Hirono, forcing him to get arrested to avoid being killed. This earns him a bullet in the skull from Wakasugi.
  • Bash Brothers: Hirono and Wakasugi become bonded brothers in prison and remain loyal to each other through thick and thin, despite being in different families.
  • Ax-Crazy: Katsutoshi Otomo, played by Sonny Chiba in Hiroshima Death Match 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. Otomo is arrested for manslaughter instead. Eventually his 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.
    • Otomo is also this in the same film. He still has it in the last one, but this, along with his greed, is what gets him arrested again.
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Despite being one of the more important secondary characters, Yamamori's wife is nowhere to be seen in the last movie.
  • Combat Pragmatist: There is no fair fight in any of these films. Its almost always somebody jumping somebody else.
  • Continuity Reboot: New Battles Without Honor and Humanity is a remake of the first film that shares an almost exact plot. Averted with its sequels, which have completely invented plots.
  • 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.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The civil war between the Sakai and Shinkai factions of the Yamamori family. The only losses on the Sakai side are the assassinations that start it, once it gets going all the casualties are on the Shinkai side with The Dragon, Arita getting arrested and Shinkai getting stabbed to death as he tries to flee spelling a quick end to the whole affair.
  • 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, their guns frequently jam, and most of the cast prioritize getting the shots off over accuracy.
  • Dirty Coward: Boss Yamamori, 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. Elsewhere, most of the Yamamori underbossses follow his example. In fact, during the war with the Doi only Hirono and Wakasugi are willing to take the fight to the enemy.
  • 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 War has smaller subfactions and allies of the bigger yakuza gangs battling it out for supremacy.
  • The Film of the Book: The first four movies are based on the memoirs of gangster Kozo Minou "Hiroshima Yakuza · Ryūketsu 20-nen no Kiroku: Jingi Naki Tatakai" (The Hiroshima Yakuza: Record of 20 years of bloodshed: Battles without moral codes) released in a Japanese newspaper, highly popular in their homeland for detailing the Yakuza underworld, including the first two Hiroshima Conflicts without any censorship.
  • Fingore: Iconically, Hirono commits yubitsume (cutting off his little finger to show remorse) very early on in the first film after he started a fight in a gambling den with Toru Ueda, a blood relative of another gang's leader.
  • Former Regime Personnel: Many World War II vets make up the yakuza in these films, including Hirono. Additionally, a lot of old guard Hiroshima yakuza flock to the Tensei Coalition in Final Episode, with them serving as the higher-ups trying to keep the younger greasers from ruining their new reputation as "honest" citizens.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Yamanaka at the start of Hiroshima Death Match is just a broke Butt-Monkey. By the end he's a suicidal, borderline insane, hitman.
  • 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.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The Akashi family and Shinwa Group serve as this in Proxy War and Police Tactics, being Japan's biggest yakuza syndicates. Apparently the gang wars in Kure and Hiroshima are just more flashpoints in the two gangs' attempts to curb power for themselves across Japan.
  • Gullible Lemmings: Poor Hirono was this in the first film, and spent years behind bars for it. Thankfully, he learned by the end.
  • 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. Then in the fifth, the soon-to-be boss of the new yakuza gets shot up by three rogue thugs; yet this only sends him into a brief coma.
  • Hegemonic Empire: While indeed causing much of the chaos and bloodshed of the third and fourth films, both the Akashi and Shinwa also try to make friendly ties with local gangs. This leads todivisions within the Kure/Hiroshima organizations.
  • Karma Houdini: Despite being an absolute piece of shit and the slimiest character of them all, Yamamori survives the whole series. The worst he gets is one-and-a-half year of jail time at the end of the fourth movie, and he gets out on bail.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Averted. While the yakuza do use them, they are hard to hide, making knives and sharp sticks more practical, and guns just work so much better.(Most of the time.) This is made apparent in the first film, where Hirono goes after a yakuza that is using one. Hirono's answer? A pistol shot to the head.
  • Last of Their Kind: Hirono and Takeda are the last of the old-school yakuza by the end of the first series. The rest are either rotting in the slammer, retired, or dead.
  • Loan Shark: The first death in Final Episode is one of these. His daughter of all people takes up the job from her old man and ends up into a fling with the up-and-coming new boss.
  • Mob War: Three, in fact.
  • Series Fauxnale: Fukasaku and Kasahara intended Police Tactics as this, which ended up wrapping Hirono's story by having him thrown in jail again while he rest of the Hiroshima yakuza form the Tensei Coalition.
  • Setting Update: Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Another Battle is a loose reimagining of the first film in modern-day Osaka, instead of Hiroshima.
  • Sequel Escalation: The fourth movie is all about this. 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.
  • Shown Their Work: While the characters are mostly expies of real-life yakuza, the events shown in the films did happen. There really were three separate Hiroshima gang wars, and the bigger gangs did try manipulating the local organizations into fighting these wars.
  • Sleazy Politician: Several work with the yakuza from time to time and even share drinks. Until the bosses decide to axe them when needed.
  • Smug Snake: Yamamori just oozes smug. Takeda is this as well, until the end of Police Tactics.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Shozo is this in the second and first half of the final film. Interestingly, the characters who take over from him are both played by Kinya Kitaoji.
  • The Alcoholic: After being released from his jail, Otomo is now perpetually this. Doesn't stop him from driving the Tensei Coalition to the brink of civil war.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Hirono at the start, out of necessity. Yamanaka in the second film as well.
  • 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.
    • The Valachi Papers was also a strong influence, since both of them are film adaptions of non-fiction autobiographies of gangsters.
  • 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 tales about honor, brotherhood, tradition, and loyalty.
  • World War II: The series starts just after war ends in Japan, and carries on for decades afterward.
  • Yakuza: Duh.