In the wake of a big police crackdown, Akira Kobayashi's icily sun- glassed Takeda attempts to transform the Hiroshima yakuza families into a legitimate political organization: The Tensei Coalition. When the young Matsumur... more »a ascends to the chairmanship of the coalition, the older, hardened yakuza led by Jo Shishido (BRANDED TO KILL) seize one last opportunity to stir up chaos and bloodshed. Culminating with the arrests, deaths, or retirement of the first postwar yakuza generation, this milestone series draws to an ambivalent close.« less
""The Yakuza Papers" consists of five sequential films made in the 1970s and only now making their U.S. debut, in this killer six-DVD set from Home Vision. Comparisons to the first two "Godfathers" seem inevitable, but "Yakuza" is a singular film experience -- deeply rewarding for those with the stomach for its kinetic violence; overwhelming in scope and complexity.
The set thoughtfully provides a printed chart that helps viewers track the Japanese crime families that do battle over the quarter-century covered in the series. They'll need it. "Yakuza" rarely pauses to allow for reflection -- this is a dizzying eight-hour hell-ride through a time and place as foreign as they come.
William Friedkin, whose talking-head interview kicks off the extras disc, calls director Kinji Fukasaku "a master," comparing "Yakuza Papers" to James Joyce's "Ulysses." No doubt a contemporary influence on the frantic hand-held camerawork was Friedkin's own "The French Connection," which the U.S. director says "very easy could have been done by Fukasaku."
Fukasaku looked past the stars of romanticized old-school yakuza films to find his lead, Bunta Sugawara, with whom he had just worked on "Street Mobster" (also out via Home Vision). No one in "Yakuza" gets off easy, but Sugawara's existential Hirono character comes closest to a traditional hero as he makes his way from the streets to the top of the underworld. More typical is weepy crime boss Yamamori (Nobuo Kaneko), a cross between Don Corleone and Floyd the barber.
Home Vision, which has busied itself importing gritty yakuza films, gives Fukasaku's epic first-class treatment, starting with a metal container and an artful fold-out for the discs. Video looks tremendous, coming from films of their era and budget, with almost no speckling or other overt wear. Aspect ratio is 2.35:1, enhanced for 16.9 TVs. There are a few scenes with flashes of polarization and occasional image stretching near the sides of the letterboxed frames. Mono audio is gun-metal solid.
One don't-miss extra is the interview with tough-talking translator Linda Hoaglund, who grew up in Japan as the daughter of missionaries. The films of "Fukasaku-san" were all about rage, she says. "He's ripping the lid off Japanese society: 'Take a look -- it's wild here.' ""
Fukasaku's Yakuza Masterpiece
D. Kupferberg | 09/09/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"From the Director of Battle Royale Kinji Fukasaku comes his modern yakuza gangster epic. I have seen the first 3 of these films and all of them are fast-paced, ultra-violent, and very well directed. These films have been described as the japanese Godfather. These films have tons of intersting characters. Also one of the best things about these movies is that each scene is set up by a narrator; which really helps in following the faced paced storylines. Shocking at times, these films are very well made and very very entertaining. Any fans of HK action will love these movies. Much more violent than most American films."
Battles without Honor and Humanity
ZombieTongue | Bay Area | 02/03/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This series is without a doubt the most important series of yakuza films ever to be made. Not only are the films socially important, but they are also masterpieces in filmmaking. The series has an intriguing story which continues through all five films. Each film tells different parts of the same story, in chronological order, and for this reason I cannot help but consider the series to be one film, broken into five parts. The films were revolutionary because they were some of the first to depict the yakuza lifestyle as one without honor, as the title reveals. Films such as Pale Flower showed the emptiness of the yakuza lifestyle, but no film was as commanding as the Battles Without Honor series, which not only showed the emptiness, but also the brutality, destruction, and tragedy of the yakuza lifestyle. The message of the film is very in-your-face, because at the time almost every film glorified the gangster life and heroic bloodshed. In addition, the production quality of the series is very high and each film is very professionally made, with the filmmakers truly showing care and respect for their work. Each film provides a testament to the power of good storytelling and good filmmaking. This series is not just for yakuza fans, but for fans of all Japanese cinema, as well as fans of cinema in general. Though the series may portray a great gangster tale, they are also great films and the viewer need not be a fan of the genre.
This is yet again a wonderful presentation on the part of Home Vision Entertainment. The picture quality has really been cleaned up and the transfer is excellent. Another extremely important aspect of this release is that the subtitles have been newly translated, making the films much easier to understand than other versions. The box set also contains a bonus disc full of special features, which are not available with just the regular discs.
Overall, I highly recommend these films and this DVD series is the best way to see them."
A blood-soaked epic
Cubist | United States | 12/23/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Kinji Fukasaku's series of films known as The Yakuza Papers is largely seen as the veteran filmmaker's answer to The Godfather. Grouped together, these five films are a towering achievement of visceral B-moviemaking at its finest. The very first image over the opening credits of Battles Without Honor and Humanity is that of a mushroom cloud. The dropping of two atomic bombs would forever change and shape Japan's history. It is an event that shaped and changed Fukasaku's life. It also informed many of his movies.
In a nice touch, a booklet is included that maps out the various clans, their significant members and their relation to each other over the course of all five films. This is extremely helpful to neophytes who have trouble remembering who's who and what happened when.
The bonus disc starts off with "Friedkin on Fukasaku," an interview with the legendary director who talks about meeting Fukasaku. He recounts his impressions of the man and how his style of filmmaking differed from the masters of classic Japanese cinema (Ozu, Kurosawa, et al).
"Jitsuroku: Reinventing a Genre" examines this sub-genre of Yakuza films in which the events are based on true stories or historical record.
"Boryoku: Fukasaku and the Art of Violence" is an examination of how violence is depicted in his movies. There is interview footage with the man himself as he talks about expressing the violent and restless tendencies that came out of the postwar period.
"Kantoku: Remembering the Director" features Fukasaku's son and two of his collaborators talking about what it was like to work with him.
David Kaplan, co-author of Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld, talks about the history and evolution of the Yakuza on the "Kaplan on the Yakuza" featurette.
Rounding out the extras is "Translating Fukasaku" with Linda Hoaglund talking about working on the subtitling into English of his movies.
For quite some time Home Vision has released some of the finest examples of Yakuza cinema. They've hit the mother load with this fantastic box set that features some of Fukasaku's best work. For people only familiar with his controversial swan song, Battle Royale, The Yakuza Papers is an exciting, crime epic influenced by the dropping of two atomic bombs that helped defeat Japan, bring about an end to World War II and shape the prevailing attitude of its people for years to come."
Buy these movies now!
oyabun | 12/21/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Kinji Fukasaku rips apart the yakuza genre in this series of 5 films about the Hiroshima and Kansai underworld. They're brutal and realistic, with violence, treachery and such a labyrinthine plot that the DVD set comes with a fold-out chart detailing the relationships between the characters and the various crime syndicates.
One can say without fear of exaggeration that these films, together, form a masteriece of Japanese cinema. They have never before been released in America; the transfer and subtitles are excellent and the special features disk has some interesting documentaries.
Oh yeah and Toshiaki Tsushima's theme music is unforgettable."