The Yakuza Papers: Proxy War
2-Disc Special Edition
DVD + Blu-ray
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Moving beyond the true stories dramatized in the first two episodes of the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, director Kinji Fukasaku and screenwriter Kazuo Kasahara embark on their most complex narrative yet in Proxy War, a multi-character web of alliances and betrayals set against the economic growth of Japan as it prepares to host the 1964 Olympic games.
1960. A power vacuum is formed within the Muraoka family when underboss Uchimoto (Takeshi Kato) refuses to avenge the assassination of a superior. With the help of series hero Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara), Uchimoto pledges loyalty to the powerful Akashi gang, but is soon expelled from the Muraoka for the act. Meanwhile, Akashi rivals the Shinwa Group form their own pact with Muraoka, and the enmity between the two gangs threatens to erupt into bloody violence across all of western Japan.
The labyrinthine plotline of Proxy War which continues in episode four, Police Tactics approaches pure Jacobean drama as power players, kingmakers, and petty soldiers clash weapons and words in a stylized ritual of alliances and betrayals. Considered by many critics to be the best episode of the series, Proxy War is complex crime drama of the highest order.
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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.