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This is the first movie in this series "Battles Without Honor and Humanity", the original title being "Jingi naki tatakai".
It left me feeling satisfied. The story had a beginning, middle and end after all. It left me feeling I had seen a very good movie, a very honest movie, an innovative movie and a complex movie whose makers had managed to pour into its 99 minutes of running time. The subtitles were very well done. The photography at times was very still, showing nice compositions. At other times there is fast editing and really boisterous fighting. Quite a bit of blood and violence, beatings too. The young men erupt into violence quite a lot, especially in the earlier part of the story.
This is a very fast moving movie initially, introducing many characters in one or two crime families. The action stops for a few seconds in naming a character and his position in the family. As we see the characters, mostly men, we get to know them. The story runs from about 1945 to 1953 and mainly concerns one yakuza family and its internal and external battles, and these are related at times.
Unlike most crime movies, this one doesn't show much at all of how the yakuza make their money. It doesn't show any police action to capture them. No detectives or anything like that. It mainly shows the men in the crime family, something of the family history and what happens to them, which includes quite a few deaths. Along the way, we see how they go into and get out of prison.
For one used to western tough guy movies, the characterizations in this one will come as quite a surprise. The head of the family at several points cries, pleads his weakness and need for others to do some deed, and begs them. Some of the men in the family are openly averse to risking their lives for family business. One gets excused for having a pregnant wife. Some are shaky in using guns or shooting.
There are instances of members going to another city and hiding out for a time without being really pursued. Cross family relations complicate loyalties quite a bit. Two men who have made themselves blood brothers are in two different families. There is a lot of plotting by the higher bosses in attempts to bolster their positions and gain allies in wars they otherwise cannot win. These plots are very fluid. This is mainly what the movie is about, showing how it reaches down to the lower levels. We see mainly characters at these lower levels and how they are used and react to these machinations.
The battles are indeed without humanity. There are attempts at honor, but in the end these fail and the characters realize that there was very little if any honor.
I'd rate this 7.5 if I could. Be prepared for a stirring, exciting time, lots of fast-moving action that launches the story, with nary a dull moment.
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