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JAPANORAMA - Gang of 3 BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgBattles Without Honour and Humanity Kinji Fukasaku, Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Kunie Tanaka, Eiko Nakamura, Tsunehiko Watase, Gorô Ibuki, Nobuo Kaneko, Toshie Kimura, Tamio Kawaji, Yamamori, Shinjo, Shozo Hirono, Tetsuya Sakai

Battles Without Honour and Humanity (AKA The Yakuza Papers, Jingi naki tatakai, 仁義なき戦い): focuses on the inception, growth and brutal wars between various Yakuza clans in post WWII Japan (namely Hiroshima). This film starts at 200mph; limbs flying, fights, murders, rape, riots… not to mention that something dramatic happening at least every ten minutes. The energetic handheld style, fast cutting and brutal editing (there’s not one unnecessary frame in here) give the film an electricity, realism and urgency that grabs you for the duration – although paired with the sheer breadth of the story, you really need to pay attention. The acting does the expert direction justice, with several complex central characters – and many minor characters – but they’re all championed by Bunta Sugawara, with a magnetic intensity and stoic performance that is really something to marvel. For a 97 minute film, this feels like an epic saga: the story (set over thirteen years) is absolutely crammed full of more betrayal, deception, gang warfare, murders, and more drama / action than you could shake a katana at. Better still, it isn’t just about the gang stuff, boasting a strong social commentary on the power vacuum in post-WWII Japan, and how it eventually poisoned society. Based on memoirs from a Yakuza member, this film feels like the real deal, and was so well-received that is spawned 4 sequels, and the director – Kinji Fukasaku – would go on to direct some of Japans’s most domestically successful movies; ending his career with Battle Royale. Battles Without Honour and Humanity is a remarkable film, that is an absolute must-see for both world cinema and gangster fans alike.

Score: 9/10

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13 Assassins: a group of chosen samurai are tasked with killing an evil lord, for the future of Feudal Japan! The first hour is intense, but slow-paced – perked up with some token Takashi maddness / grotesque violence. Then you have the 45 minute long action scene, which starts as a tactical battle but quickly turns into a bit of a generic hack-and-slash – and you don’t see much action, just swords flying and splatter sound effects. Takashi does a good job of playing up / emphasising what outsiders most associate with japan: shogun, samurai, dynasty, honor, respect, code, infatuation with death etc… almost to a patriotic level. The biggest downfall was the focus and development of all 13 characters, which doesn’t count for much when they all have the same outfit, haircut and are pretty blurry in the battle. 13 Assassins is a solid ‘against-the-odds’ type story, but collapses a bit under its own grand finale.

Score: 6/10