The Yakuza Papers: Hiroshima Death Match
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The celebrated Battles Without Honor and Humanity series continues with its second episode, Hiroshima Death Match, setting aside part one protagonist Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara) to follow a side story showcasing genre icons Sonny Chiba (The Street Fighter) and Meiko Kaji (Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion).
Hiroshima, 1950. Demobilized kamikaze pilot Shoji Yamanaka (Kinya Kitaoji) is released from prison and finds himself hungry and broke. Following a bust up with a local gang, he earns the psychotic wrath of local underboss Otomo (Chiba), but Yamanaka s suicidal impulses are soon put to good use as a hitman for another gang, befriending series hero Shozo Hirono in the process. Despite a budding but forbidden romance with the boss s niece (Kaji), Yamanaka s instability and recklessness soon begin to make him a dangerous liability.
Taking an even more fatalistic turn than the series original entry, Hiroshima Death Match tells the story of the ultimate loser, based on a true story uncovered by screenwriter Kazuo Kasahara while interviewing real-life Hiroshima yakuza for part one. A prosperous era may be dawning for the protagonists, but one with new characters and new grudges to draw them more deeply into its world of blood and betrayal.
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BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR OR HUMANITY: The plot of the first one is somewhat incomprehensible, but understand two things about it and you'll get it: Shozo Hirono, the ex-soldier turned yakuza, is one of those movie loners/assassins with honor like Alain Delon in Le Samourai and Chow-Yun Fat in The Killer, and the gang boss, Yamamori, seems like a whimpering fool but funny how his rivals keep killing each other off and he never gets touched. The gist of it is that yakuza movies up to this point had played the gangsters as a form of samurai (and were always set before the war, as if to say that none of that still exists), but Battles Without Honor or Humanity shows a corporatized gangster world without honor, using Shozo as the only one believing in the old code but disillusioned by how it's given lip service by two-timing weasel bosses.
HIROSHIMA DEATH MATCH: in the second film Shozo is a side character and we get a similar story of the disillusionment of another young man "rescued" from postwar poverty by a career in the family. But Yamanaka is more hotheaded and romantic than Shozo, and in love with his boss's niece (yet unsuitable for her because she was married to a kamikaze pilot and thus would dishonor his family if she married a gangster)-- a doomed figure straight out of American film noir. The other main character is Katsutoshi, the Sonny Corleone of the Otomo clan, a hotheaded and ambitious young hoodlum played by Sonny Chiba, who would have an international hit shortly after with The Street Fighter (and many years later, play swordmaker Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill). The action here is more Keystone Kops-level clumsiness and panic than the elegant hits of The Godfather and such films, and even more cynical than the far from rosy view of the Yakuza in the first film.
PROXY WARS returns prominence to Shozo Hirono in a story that makes an explicit parallel to the Cold War and Vietnam. He's an underboss in Hiroshima as it comes under the thumb of the big powers outside the city, often struggling with being manipulated into war while the superpowers make separate peaces. An excess of characters make this one hard to follow precisely, but the main drama of straight-shooting Shozo vs. bosses and his sniveling. ambitious former boss Uchimoto make this compelling, though ultimately it's set up for installment 4.