To western audience, Kinji Fukasaku is best known for his crossover hit, the satirical horror movie Battle Royale – but prior to that, he had a long and distinguished career. In the Sixties he was celebrated for a series of interlinked yakuza movies dubbed the “Battles without Honor and Humanity” which traced the rise of a street thug to the upper echelons of the Yakuza. With producers eager to replicate the success of those films, Fukasaku was tempted back by producers to direct three further movies using (broadly) the same cast but all-new characters and settings. Dubbed the “New Battles Without Honor and Humanity”, these three films are now being made available for the first time in a box set.
To watch these movies, Cinematic Universe was invited to PimpShuei, London’s premier kung-fu-themed drinking establishment, for the first ever UK screening of the middle film in the trilogy: The Boss’ Head. Along with the other two films, New Battles without Honour and Humanity and Last Days of the Boss, it explores the lives of street-level Yakuza thugs and their trials in attempting to lead profitable – if not necessarily productive – lives.
These films marked a noticeable shift from Fukasaku’s past style, dispensing with social commentary in favour of bold, imaginative action unlike the cinema of the time. Replete with tonal shifts that jump from extreme violence to slapstick in a moment, seat-of-your-pants action and nuanced, well-drawn characters, all three films paint a picture of a director with a huge level of confidence and the abilities to back it up. Although far from tight, these pictures are raw and quickly made, but all the more exciting for it.
The Boss’s Head is undoubtedly the best of the three, as the trilogy’s star, Bunta Sugawara , plays a low-level Yakuza who takes the rap for a bungled hit in exchange for a tidy sum when he’s released – only to find that his former boss is now a burnt out junkie in no state to give him the money he’s owed. As such, he figures he’ll just have to get it himself.
The others see Sugawara playing alternately, a construction worker forced into the criminal underworld when his father is killed in a gang dispute (in Last Days of the Boss) and an imprisoned Yakuza who, even in jail, is caught between the two families hoping to off one another (in New Battles Without Honor and Humanity). These are strong, well-realised ideas that hold up even decades after their release.
The box set itself is also super high quality, with six disc in total (three DVDs and three Blu-Rays) all loaded with extras, both contemporaneous and newly-created. There’s also an illustrated booklet with a history of the films, which is – as you’d expect from Arrow – an indication of the care taken in putting together this collection. As someone with no specific interest in the japanese crime genre and only passing familiarity with Fukasaku’s work, we’re confident calling this a great package, and one that does plenty of justice to its subject matter.
The collection is out now, and you can buy it direct from Arrow Video here.