Blu-ray Movie Set Review – New Battles Without Honor & Humanity

New Battles Without Honor & Humanity
New Battles Without Honor & Humanity
Original Year of Release: 1974
The Boss’s Head (aka Head of the Boss)
Original Year of Release: 1975
Last Days of the Boss
Original Year of Release: 1976

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distributing
Blu-ray Release Date: August 29, 2017

I will always consider Kinji Fukasaku a legendary director for a couple of reasons, but the primary being that he made BATTLE ROYALE, a film that makes THE HUNGER GAMES look like Sesame Street. But even so, I cannot get onboard with all of his previous works. I enjoyed the first BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY films because they were vibrant and gut-wrenching…but for some reason, the NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY didn’t strike a chord with me.

Now I’m not saying they’re not good films. Quite the contrary. They are shot very well, the acting is top-notch, and the violence…oh, boy! Not to mention the HD transfer to Blu-ray is excellent. But despite all of these positives, I feel like Fukasaku sorta repeated himself with these in a sense. Sure, the stories are different…but they don’t have the same feel.

As such, I’ll have to summarize my feelings on this NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY set by stating you’ll simply have to watch them to decide for yourself whether or not you like them.

If you are not familiar with the NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY series, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distributing:

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity
New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss’s Head
New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Last Days of the Boss

In the early 1970s, Kinji Fukasaku’s five-film Battles Without Honor and Humanity series was a massive hit in Japan, and kicked off a boom in realistic, modern yakuza films based on true stories. Although Fukasaku had intended to end the series, Toei Studio convinced him to return to the director’s chair for this unconnected, follow-up trilogy of films, each starring Battles leading man Bunta Sugawara and telling separate, but fictional stories about the yakuza in different locations in Japan.

In the first film, Bunta Sugawara is Miyoshi, a low-level assassin of the Yamamori gang who is sent to jail after a bungled hit. While in stir, family member Aoki (Lone Wolf and Cub’s Tomisaburo Wakayama) attempts to seize power from the boss, and Miyoshi finds himself stuck between the two factions with no honorable way out. In the second entry, The Boss’s Head, Sugawara is Kuroda, an itinerant gambler who steps in when a hit by drug-addicted assassin Kusunoki (Tampopo’s Tsutomu Yamazaki) goes wrong, and takes the fall on behalf of the Owada family, but when the gang fails to make good on financial promises to him, Kuroda targets the family bosses with a ruthless vengeance. And in Last Days of the Boss, Sugawara plays Nozaki, a laborer who swears allegiance to a sympathetic crime boss, only to find himself elected his successor after the boss is murdered. Restrained by a gang alliance that forbids retributions against high-level members, Nozaki forms a plot to exact revenge on his rivals, but a suspicious relationship with his own sister (Chieko Matsubara from Outlaw: Gangster VIP) taints his relationship with his fellow gang members.

Making their English-language home video debut in this limited edition set, the New Battles Without Honor and Humanity films are important links between the first half of Fukasaku’s career and his later exploration of other genres. Each one is also a top-notch crime action thriller: hard-boiled, entertaining, and distinguished by Fukasaku’s directorial genius, funky musical scores by composer Toshiaki Tsushima, and the onscreen power of Toei’s greatest yakuza movie stars.

As I mentioned, the HD picture on these films is excellent. I’m not sure what the quality of previous releases has looked like, but I would wager they were nowhere near as good as MVD and Arrow’s release.

Each film is made well and looks great onscreen. The production values are decent, and the sets are right out of a dime-store yakuza novel. Also, the acting is very good, with Bunta Sugawara headlining the cast of each film.

But probably what stands out the most in each film is the violence. It’s brutally realistic and, despite what some reviewers have stated, very necessary for each film. It is not meant to be the centerpiece of each scene, but more of an antagonistic way of adding tension to the plot.

I think the attempts at dark humor throughout each film is a part of what did them in for me. Yakuza films should not be funny for the most part, unless the humor is easily caught. I guess it didn’t stick for me with the NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY trilogy, and that is why I consider them flat.

Still, fans of 70’s gangster/yakuza flicks will probably love this set. It is crammed full of extras, including:

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:
• High Definition digital transfers of all three films
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• New optional English subtitle translation for all three films
• Beyond the Films: New Battles Without Honor and Humanity, a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane
• New Stories, New Battles and Closing Stories, two new interviews with screenwriter Koji Takada, about his work on the second and third films in the trilogy
• Original theatrical trailers for all three films
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist
• Illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing on the films, the yakuza genre and Fukasaku’s career, by Stephen Sarrazin, Tom Mes, Hayley Scanlon, Chris D. and Marc Walkow

Even though I didn’t care for them, the NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR & HUMANITY Blu-ray trilogy is a fine-looking set, and it’s definitely one to consider for the genre-lover in your life. The set is available now.

MSB

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