Chances are, if you're reading this, you've already seen the first two installments or have a vague idea of what The Yakuza Papers are all about. Battles without Honor and Humanity. That sums up the yakuza lifestyle pretty well, and even though I haven't done any research on the actual yakuza, there's a palpable sense of gritty realism in Fukasaku's crime sagas that is very convincing.
Proxy War is another chapter in the long series of betrayal, scheming and chaos among the rival families of Hiroshima. Alliances are formed only to be broken the next second and rival parties are renonciled only to go at it again the next day. Without going into much details, Proxy War details the chronicles that led to the Hiroshima battle between the Yamamori and the Akashi families in the early 60's. There's a semblance of honor among thieves here, but it's just a semblance. These people lack the warped sense of honor and loyalty the Cosa Nostra had. As Hirono says, "he just wants a safe ground to stand". The same could be said for all of them.
Once again, Bunta Sugawara steals the show as Shizo Hirono, and there's also a welcome cameo by the beautiful Reiko Ike (a pinku regular). There's not as much blood as in previous installments, but when violence erupts, you feel it. Fukasaku's direction is solid and keeps the convoluted plot going on a steady pace. The fights and shootings are gritty and raw, there's no Guy Ritchie glamour or glorified violence here. It kind of reminds me of the urban guerilla film-making of a Cassavetes or Mean Streets-era Scorsese. Coupled with a haunting score, and great performances all around, PW doesn't dissappoint.
There's a semblance of honor among thieves here, but it's just a semblance. These people lack the warped sense of honor and loyalty the Cosa Nostra had. As Hirono says, "he just wants a safe ground to stand". The same could be said for all of them.
My only gripe is, that plot-wise, there's no counter-balance to the scheming and back stabbing. Unlike The Godfather and other crime epics about the Italian mob, we never get to see the criminal side of the Yakuza. Money-laundering, smuggling, drug trafficking, prostitution, they're the bread and butter of any self respecting mob. Yet we never get a glimpse of that world in The Yakuza Papers. And if the unrelenting violence and interesting plot were enough to make the first two installments amazing, it gets repetitive here. People gather around tables to discuss their plans, form alliances, break alliances and that's it for most of the time. IMO it would be more interesting if the two aspects were combined. As it is, it feel kind of incomplete. The Akashi family, for example, butt in to help Uchimoto, but it's obvious that apart from defending the honor of their sworn brother, in the same time, it serves as a way of getting in the Hiroshima underworld. Yet we never witness what makes said underworld a place worth risking their men over.
All in all, this is strongly recommended to people who enjoyed the first parts of the series. If you're a newcomer, start with the first one. The plot, characters and motivations will make more sense. And you'll know by the point you reach Proxy War, if this is your cup of tea or not.
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