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Based on a true story Battles Without Honor is a kick ass trip through the rise of the yakuza in post war Japan. Beginning in 1945 and traveling through the next 12 or so years this is the tale of a group of friends who come together in order to survive the cruelties of post-war, and post-bomb Japan and then spend the next decade killing each other as they change sides in a perpetual gang war.
This film has just about everything. Moments of violence, hysterical comedy (The finger), drama, and there is even hints of romance as a moll tries to hide her beau. Its brutal and nasty and probably very close to reality.
Some reviews paint this as having come in the wake of the Godfather, but while that may have gotten the movie made, the tone is different. There is no honor, there is no loyalty, there is only violence, violence and more violence, usually ex-friend on ex-friend. Despite there being "gangs" its really everyman for himself. American and European films of the same period often painted things as much less cut throat and that there really was familial loyalty, that idea is somewhat alien here as people switched sides if it kept them alive.
This is a near perfect film in many ways. It picks you up from the opening minutes and carries you along to the end. Its wonderfully of a time and place and extremely well acted all around.
There are only two problems which are minor. First, I think the film requires a bit more familiarity with what was going on in Japan post war. While I have had some knowledge of that, I was a tad lost at the start since I wasn't instantly aware of what I was seeing. The second minor flaw is that its jump through time story telling can be a bit disorienting. Its not that the plot threads are lost, its just that it takes a minute to know who the older people are.
Over all a great film.
8 out of 10, although it probably should be 9 out of 10, since I'm just in a down mood.
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