Arrow Films bring the New Battles Without Honour and Humanity trilogy to their English language debut home release with a deluxe box set on dual format discs.
In New Battles Without Honour and Humanity, Miyoshi (Bunta Sugawara) is a low-level gang member who botches an attempted assassination. Upon his release, he gets stuck between two warring factions in his crime organisation, a Shakespearean conflict for power against the old guard and the new. The plot struggles with its complications as you try and stay ahead of who is who and how they relate to each other, a point which a voiceover attempts to rectify. It’s also never really clear why Miyoshi is held in such high regard, especially after we see his almost comical bungling of the assassination at the beginning. The film only really comes alive when action breaks out as the camera sways to and fro like it’s a participant trying to keep up.
Part two, The Boss’s Head, is more of the same, with Kuroda (Sugawara) again released from prison into a fracturing crime family and struggling to get his compensation before moving on. It’s the weakest of the trilogy, without much to make it memorable.
Part three, The Last Days of the Boss, is the most entertaining. Nozaki (Sugawara), a labourer who swears allegiance to a crime boss, finds himself embroiled in gang war after the boss is killed. He seeks revenge while the two gangs reconcile a truce. Meanwhile, his sister is in an abuse relationship with one of his former friends. Last Days is a lot more entertaining with a less knotted plot though more interesting things going on. However, the two plots do feel like they’re almost in different movies and play out with only fleeting relation to each other.
Prolific director Kinji Fukasaku, best known for Battle Royale, struggles against bloated plots, bringing only a hint of the flair for camerawork and directorial style that he showed in his late career teenagers-slaughtering-each-other masterpiece. However, Bunta Sugawara is always a joy to watch, harking back to the sixties and seventies era of leading men.
This being an Arrow release, the transfer is of course impeccable. Strict attention to detail has been taken to upgrade the existing print for the Blu-ray home release, even to the point where there is a note inserted into the beginning of the first film explaining the cause for a single dialogue alteration, which in itself is barely noticeable. Visual extras are a little thin on the ground. Each film gets a trailer, with parts one and two also having their teasers, and there are exclusive interviews from the screenwriter, and biographer of Fukasaku. The collection also comes with a booklet containing new writing and essays on the films, genres and director. Of course the biggest draw is the fact that it’s the English language debut of these films so it’s the first time most people will get to see them.
Arrow bring their usual skill and professionalism to an accomplished box set but the films are a little disappointing, lending themselves more to completests than the casual viewer.
NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOUR AND HUMANITY / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: KINJI FUKASAKU / SCREENPLAY: FUMIO KŌNAMI, SUSUMU SAJI, KŌJI TAKADA / STARRING: BUNTA SUGAWARA, MEIKO KAJI, TSUTOMU YAMAZAKI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW