With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Monday, March 10, 2008

ACF 084: Battles Without Honor and Humanity - Free Screening

Cover art for Battles Without Honor and Humanity
as Volume 1 of The Yakuza Papers box set
available from Home Vision Entertainment

The film series OUT OF THE ASHES: Early Postwar Japanese Movies continues at Columbia University tomorrow night, Tuesday, March 11, 2008, at 6:00 PM, with a free screening of Battles Without Honor and Humanity. Directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku (Black Rose Mansion, Battle Royale, and many other great films), this 1973 film was the first in a series concerned with the conflicts between and within rival crime families in the Hiroshima area in the years after the end of World War II. Thus it is not an early postwar movie itself, but rather a classic about that period in Japanese history.

The film starts with an emotionally powerful shot of the Gembaku Domo, the "A-Bomb Dome," Hiroshima's only structural ruin left erect as a reminder of the bomb's devastation. With the city essentially destroyed and the economy in ruins, there were construction contracts to be had and black markets to be run, both prime turf for gang activity.

Bunta Sugawara (above, center) stars as Shozo Hirono, a former soldier who comes to the aid of a Japanese citizen being assaulted by American G.I.s. In prison he is befriended by a member of gang. After their release, Hirono becomes a yakuza himself. He is the central character around whom this film, and the overall series, revolves

The film is of major significance for at least a couple of reasons. Previously films about yakuza were known as ninkyo eiga, or chivalry films. These tended to pivot on the protagonist's conflict between his duties to his crime family and his feelings for an outsider, often a member of another gang with whom he has a special relationship, such as a sworn brother. Here, as the title suggests, there's little chivalry, honor, or humanity. Betrayals run rampant not only between both also within families. Bosses will sell out their underlings and vice versa.

Director Kinji Fukasaku in his younger days

Battles Without Honor and Humanity also constitutes an alternative to the official version of Japanese history. This resulted from Fukasaku being roughly fifteen years old when the war ended. Suddenly, the emperor, who adults had insisted was a god, was declared to be as human as anyone else. This instantaneous change in belief left Fukasaku and others with a great distrust of the official count of things. The movies in this series tell the story of those who were not talked about or acknowledged to have existed in official chronicles.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity will be shown at the Davis Auditorium, Columbia University. It's a must see. For more information about this and the other films, as well as a link to a map of the Columbia campus, click here.

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