NYAFF and Fantasia 2015 Review: Battles Without Honor and Humanity

Bunta Sugawara as a gangster in the 1973 Japanese film Battles Without Honor and Humanity, which is being shown at the 2015 Fantasia Film Festival.

Bunta Sugawara as a gangster in the 1973 Japanese film Battles Without Honor and Humanity, which is being shown at the 2015 Fantasia Film Festival.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity! What an appropriate title! Many yakuza films would have us believe that there are rules to be obeyed, a code of conduct to be followed, that there is, in fact, honour among thieves. This film just laughs at such silly notions . . . beats them to a pulp, and throws them right out the window.

And the various rituals and ceremonies? When it’s time for someone to give up a finger, no one is quite sure how it’s supposed to be done. A woman says “I saw it in Osaka, once.”

Battles Without Honor and Humanity was made in 1973, though the story it tells begins just after World War II, in Hiroshima. Japan is under U.S. occupation, and U.S. soldiers are running wild and acting like animals. The local crooks almost look civilized in comparison, which is quite the feat.

The film mixes conventional scenes with parts that are like a vintage version of 60 Minutes, with a narrator describing feuds and alliances, and onscreen text telling us how and when certain people were killed.

Gangs struggle for supremacy within the city, and gangsters struggle for power within their gangs. A boss cries poor so he can get away with underpaying his underlings. There’s lots of yelling and arguing; fights are not elegantly choreographed. Not one of these guys seems like a criminal mastermind.

Frankly, I couldn’t keep track of all the lying, plotting and double crossing that was going on. I could have used a family tree and a score card. Maybe that’s because the film is based on the memoirs of a gangster and real life can be more complicated than fiction? Battles Without Honor and Humanity was also part of the lineup at the recent New York Asian Film Festival.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity

Crime / Thriller / Classic / Retro Japan 1973, 99 min., DCP, Japanese (with English subtitles)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kazuo Kasahara, Koji Shundo, Koichi Iiboshi
Cast:Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Nobuo Kaneko, Kunie Tanaka, Goro Ibuki, Tatsuo Umemiya, Tsunehiko Watase, Seizo Fukumuto

Saturday, Aug 1, 2015, 2:50 p.m., Concordia Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 5, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com

 

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