• New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Complete Trilogy



    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: August 29th, 2017.
    Director: Kinji Fukasaku
    Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Nobuo Kaneki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Sonny Chiba, Meiko Kaji
    Year: 1974/1975/1976
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    The Movie:

    Kinji Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor And Humanity five film series was a huge commercial success in its homeland. While Fukasaku never planned on continuing the series, Toei Studios talked him into coming back for another trilogy, resulting in the three New Battles Without Honor And Humanity series, once again with the inimitable Bunta Sugawara in the lead roles. The three films are not connected, though they do deal with some of the same themes and all take place in the underworld setting that you’d expect if you’re familiar with the original five movies.

    Arrow Video now give these three vintage Yakuza films their official English language home video debut in this Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack boxed set release.

    New Battles Without Honor And Humanity:

    In the first pictures, Bunta Sugawara stars as Miyoshi Makio, a remarkably loyal member of the Yamamori Clan, led by Yoshio Yamamori (Nobuo Kaneki), who works as an assassin. After an attempted hit goes wrong, Miyoshi winds up going to prison. With Miyoshi behind bars, clan member Aoki Naotake (Tomisaburo Wakayama) stages a coup and tries to take Yoshio off of the family throne.

    As Yoshio does what he can to stay in control of the operation, Naotake does what he can to lure Miyoshi over to his side of the struggle. As the skirmishes intensify, Miyoshi, now out of prison, finds himself pulled back and forth between the two sides. While he may now be a free man, he’s clearly caught in a power struggle that he’s not sure he can resolve. While all of this is going on, Miyoshi also falls for a beautiful woman.

    Written by Fumio Konami, who penned Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 and Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs, this film was put together quickly and as such, at times it feels like the filmmakers just took a bunch of tried and true clichés and plot elements from the earlier run and through them into this picture just to get it out there quickly. That’s not to say that the movie is bad, because it’s not, but you get the impression that we’ve been here before. The plot moves nicely for the first third, slows down a bit in the middle stretch and then picks up again nicely for the big finish. There’s definite entertainment value to be had here and the movie retains that grim, gritty, hardboiled edge that is so often associated with Fukasaku’s work within the genre.

    What really makes the movie worth checking out, and this will not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with his work, is Bunta Sugawara in the lead role. He’s as cool as them come – tough as nails, a hit with the ladies, and a hard edged man who takes his job very seriously. He’s great in the part and seeing him share the screen with Lone Wolf And Cub’s Tomisaburo Wakayama is reason in and of itself to want to see this movie.

    The Boss' Head:

    In the second film, Sugawara plays Shuji Kuroda, a man with a bit of a gambling problem who has a loose affiliation with the Owada Yakuza family. When a junkie assassin named Kusunoki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), an official member of the family, botches his latest job Kuroda steps in and kills the target. He just couldn’t resist shooting up before he was supposed to make the hit, so it’s no surprise that it goes wrong and he misses his mark. Shuji’s intention is to help out Owada’s who in turn promise to take care of him once he’s done his time. Regardless, Shuji winds up in prison while Kusunoki remains a free man able to spend time with his beautiful wife Misako (Meiko Kaji), the daughter of his boss Tokuji Owada (Kō Nishimura).

    When Shuji gets out, Owada goes back on his word. There will be no financial compensation for Shuji as promised. With nothing left to lose, Shuji decides to take it upon himself to get revenge against the family he took the fall for – and things get appropriately violent. All of this happens while rival Yakuza Aihara gets involved with a beautiful but dangerous woman with a mysterious past of her own.

    Sugawara is in top shape here in the lead. He’s eternally pissed off in that awesome way that he was in his best Yakuza roles, and while he’s little more than an underling in this installment, he’s still supremely cool. Tsutomu Yamazaki is also quite good as the smack shooting family assassin, adding a fairly skeezy vibe to his character that works well. Meiko Kaji is pretty much great in everything she appeared in during this period, and this film is no exception. She’s a beautiful, tragic character forced to watch her husband succumb to his addiction. Kō Nishimura is solid as the head of the family, while Sonny Chiba has a small part as a bartender in the film.

    As to the story itself, written by Susumu Saji and Kôji Takada (who penned The Street Fighter), it’s quite a bit better than the first movie in the set. The pacing is spot on, the action is intense and frequent (there’s an absolutely killer car chase in this one that’ll have you on the edge of your seat) and when the violence happens, it carries with it some serious impact. This one is a pretty tense watch, a slick and exciting film made in Fukasaku’s trademark style and featuring an impressive cast.

    Last Days Of The Boss:

    In the third and final film in the set, Sugawara is cast as Shuichi Nozaki, a manual laborer who is taken under the wing of a yakuza crime boss. Shuichi quickly proves to be a very loyal soldier and after the boss is assassinated, turns out to be his unlikely successor. Understandably shaken up by the assassination, Shuichi’s first order of business is revenge but given that there are currently negotiations going on with the rival families for control of the coast line, he’s forbidden by the other members of his family to take action.

    Unable to depend on anyone in his own clan, Shuichi sets out plotting revenge without their help. However, once his sister Asami (Chieko Matsubara), whose husband is a member of the gang Shuichi suspects of the murder, arrives for a surprise visit things get complicated. Some of Shuichi’s underlings start spreading rumors that their relationship is more than just familial. It all unravels from there.

    This third film is the strongest of the three in terms of storytelling. The flow to the picture, which was written by Kōji Takada, is less chaotic. The film is more streamlined, and the plot is a bit more linear because of this. Shuichi’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for revenge keeps the plot pushing ever forward. We get the feeling very early on that it won’t end well, but watching it all play out is pretty fascinating. Violence can only beget more violence. Our central character may be driven by noble and, yes, honorable intentions but he and the rest of his ilk are clearly caught in a vicious circle, the movie tells us.

    We also get some interesting character development, particularly with Asami. One of the central characters of the film, she’s an interesting player. She has more of a conscience than her brute of a husband, but at the same time she’s capable of toughening up when she feels she needs to. Matsubara (who also appeared in Tokyo Drifter and Kanto Wanderer to name only a few) is damn good in this role. She is both fragile and unbreakable and she shares with the persistently tough as nails Sugawara some really great moments. Fukasaku saved the best for last – this is the most impressive of the three films in the set.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    All three films are presented on their own 50GB Blu-ray disc courtesy of Arrow Video on a 50GB Blu-ray disc. The first film is framed at 2.45.1, the second at 2.40.1 and the third at 2.45.1. The widescreen transfers are all presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The literature that accompanies this release notes that these were authored from transfers that were ‘remastered in high definition and supplied for this release by Toei Company, Ltd.’

    The picture quality here is good, quite solid actually, but not reference quality. The image is clean showing very little print damage outside of the opening credits scenes which do show some debris. Colors do look just a little faded at times and black levels can occasionally (though not always) look closer to dark grey than pure black. Contrast is uneven, sometimes things look a little too hot or too warm, other times they look spot on. Detail is a bit soft in spots, though this could have to do with the photography employed during the shoot. Skin tones look natural enough and the image is free of any obvious digital tinkering like sharpening or noise reduction.

    The Japanese LPCM Mono soundtrack is clean, clear and free of any hiss or distortion (save for a few spots in The Last Boss where some minor distortion is audible) although there is some sibilance in the higher end from time to time. Optional English subtitles are included that are easy to read and free of any typographical errors. The score for each film comes through with enough power behind it that it accentuates the more intense scenes of the films, but they never bury the performers or their dialogue. The same comment applies to the foley and the sound effects. As far as older mono tracks go, these sound alright.

    Extras for this set are spread across the three discs as follows:

    DISC ONE:

    The main extra on this disc is a nine and a half minute featurette entitled Beyond The Films: New Battles Without Honor And Humanity which is a new video appreciation by Kinji Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane. He explains how the success of the first series of films led to Toei’s desire to see Fukasaku return to the Yakuza genre for another round and then goes on to offer some thoughts on what makes the three films in this set worthwhile. He also makes some interesting points about the importance of the female characters in this trilogy compared to the very ‘male-centric’ approach of the original five films.

    The first disc also includes a teaser, a theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.

    DISC TWO:

    Koji Takada: New Stories, New Battles is a new twelve minute interview with screenwriter Koji Takada who details his work on the second and third films in the set and who talks about what it was like to work alongside Fukasaku on these two movies.

    Disc two again includes a teaser, a theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.

    DISC THREE:

    Koji Takada: Closing Stories is a seventeen minute long continuation of the interview from the second disc wherein Takada talks more about collaborating with the film’s director on the last two movies in the set and how they worked together to bring it all to a finish.

    Disc three also includes a theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.

    Arrow has also provided reversible sleeve art for each movie featuring original one sheet art on one side and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist on the other side. Included inside the sturdy cardboard slipcover is a thick, full color illustrated collector's book that features essays on the films, the yakuza genre and Fukasaku's career that are written by Stephen Sarrazin, Tom Mes, Hayley Scanlon, Chris D. and Marc Walkow.

    The Final Word:

    Arrow’s Blu-ray release of New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Complete Trilogy is a good one and if it isn’t as jam packed with extras as some of their releases, the featurettes provide some welcome background information and context for the films. The presentation here is solid and the movies themselves, if not quite as good as the original Battles Without Honor And Humanity films, are absolutely worthwhile for fans of vintage Yakuza films.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!




























































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