Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity: The Complete Collection

138515_frontGeneral run down of Arrow’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity box set first published by UK Anime Network.


When you’re thinking about the modern gangster action movie, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a more influential name than Kinji Fukasaku. Though perhaps best remembered for his extremely controversial adaptation of Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, he first began to make a name for himself with a series of revolutionary yakuza movies released over a short period of time in the mid ‘70s. Up until this time there had been a popular strand of “ninkyo eiga” gangster pictures which took their queue from the now less well regarded samurai movies applying the classic chivalry tropes to the criminal underworld. However, the ninkyo eiga was also becoming stale and it was time for something new. Perhaps the world was ready a depiction of the yakuza life which was a little more honest.

Teaming up with screenwriter Kazuo Kasuhara, Fukasaku’s aim was to tell the story of post-war Japan from the viewpoint of youth. Based on the real life memoirs of a famous yakuza, Battles Without Honour and Humanity is a prime example of the “jitsuroku” approach and didn’t make any attempt to hide the ugly side of the underworld.

The first film in the series introduces us to Shozo Hirono just back from the war (in fact still in his army uniform) when he witnesses a group of American soldiers attempting to rape a woman in a crowded market area. Hirono comes to the woman’s rescue only to be pulled back by the police who tell him not to mess with the GIs. Later, one of his friends is assaulted by a yakuza and teaming up with a rival gang Hirono gets his revenge but also ends up being sent to prison for twelve years. Inside, he meets another mobster who tells him you can get out on bail for a price because the prisons are so over crowded. If he helps in his escape attempt, he’ll get his yakuza buddies to bail Hirono out. Hirono quickly finds himself embroiled in the yakuza underworld.

Though nominally the protagonist of the entire series, Hirono is pushed to the sidelines for the second installment, Hiroshima Death Match. This time the protagonist, Yamanaka, is a little younger – too young to have actually fought in the war he nevertheless had kamikaze dreams that the war’s end denied him fulfilling. It’s now 1950, and young guys like Yamanaka have come of age in the difficult post-war world. With no opportunities and a fuelled by a young man’s fury it’s no mystery that he ends up in a gang. Things would probably have been OK for him but he made the mistake of falling in love with the boss’ niece with tragic consequences.

Moving back into the centre again for part three, Proxy War, Hirono has formed his own gang in the nearby town of Kure. It’s 1960 and the cold war is mounting the world over. The yakuza it seems are not immune to the internecine power struggles themselves and embark on a series of complicated alliances, double crossings and betrayals. The action may have calmed down a little here but the intricate plot elements make it one of the most impressive entries in the series.

By the time we reach Police Tactics, times have moved on. With prosperity on the up and the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games on the horizon the public have grown tired of yakuza antics and fearing for their international reputation, it’s finally decided that the police should go hard on organised crime. With the “cold war” environment of the last film still in the background, it’s a tough time to be a yakuza.

The Final Episode is something of a bonus epilogue, written by a different screenwriter (Koji Takeda who’d previously worked on ninkyo eiga) the film picks up with the yakuza as a political corporation, morphing into violent corporate entities rather than petty thugs. The original crew are the old guys now and some of them don’t want to change. The young guy, Matsumura, seems to have his head screwed on when it comes to initiating the new brand of gangster but he still has to contend with all the complicated infighting from each of the other instalments. Hirono is in prison for much of the film writing his memoirs and seems set to retire on release. However, it’s not long before he’s dragged back into the world of yakuza crime.

Fukasaku makes his yakuza look cool, yes, but he never ignores the destructive nature of their existence. Having returned from the war defeated, these men were angry, traumatised and left with few options. They turned to crime and to violence because that was all that was left to them. Many of the films end with funerals and countless young men are cut down in their prime but in the end it all counts for nothing. Nothing gets created out of this mess except widows and orphans. The constant shots of the ruined dome (now the Hiroshima Peace Memorial) constantly remind us that this is just one example of young lives sacrificed for old men’s vanity. If “jingi”, the concept of honour and humanity often referred to in yakuza movies, ever existed at all then it’s another casualty of war because there’s nothing of that moral universe left remaining in this cruel and empty world.

All of the films follow a documentary style approach with a voice over explaining the context and frequent on screen captions giving the characters’ names and affiliations (and at the appropriate moments their time of death). The action is fast, furious and messy with lurid paint-like red blood decorating the screen. Largely captured with handheld camera and unusually dynamic movement, the series’ key signature is realism.

This new box set from Arrow presents each of the films in a top notch HD transfer which is a vast improvement on the previously available versions. Notably, the set also includes the rarer “complete saga” edit of the film which presents the first four movies cut together with a short intermission in the middle. This is as well done as could be yet suffers a little because of the floating nature of Hirono’s involvement – i.e, the second film where he’s barely present feels a little out of place in the midst of the other three where he’s more of an active player. The plots are undoubtedly complicated but the set does also include a hardback book filled with illuminative essays and also a series of “family tree” style diagrams outlining the various gangs and their makeups.

A seminal entry in the world of Japanese gangster pics, the Battles Without Honour and Humanity (also known as the Yakuza Papers) series is an essential watch for any yakuza movie enthusiast. Without Fukasaku’s input there’d be no Takashi Miike, or Kitano gangster movies – simply put he changed the course of Japanese action films. Finally available in HD with English subtitles, this comprehensive set from Arrow is the perfect way to revisit each of these hugely influential movies.


The Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity: The Complete Collection blu-ray & DVD box set is out now from Arrow Video in the UK and USA. The set also comes with an impressive array of bonus features including an exclusive hardback book filled with essays by some of the top scholars of today! Full list of contents from Arrow’s Store

This obviously a very compressed run down so here are some links to more in depth reviews of each of the films:

and the trailer for the first film

The Yakuza Papers Vol. 5: Final Episode ( 仁義なき戦い: 完結篇, Kinji Fukasaku, 1974)

800x1200srAnd so, the saga finally reaches its conclusion. Final Episode (仁義なき戦い: 完結篇, Jingi Naki Tatakai: Kanketsu-hen) brings us ever closer to the contemporary era and picks up in the mid ‘60s where Hirono is still in prison and Takeda, released on a technicality, has decided to move the yakuza into the legit arena. The surviving gangs have united and rebranded themselves as a political group known as the Tensei Coalition. However, not everyone has joined the new gangsters’ union and the enterprise is fragile at best.

Hirono’s sworn brother, Ichioka, is one such antagonist and after the Coalition’s accountant is clumsily gunned down in the street, tempers start to flair. Though the Coalition is nominally headed by Takeda, an up and coming youngster, Matsumura, is winning a lot of respect for his level headed judgement and ability to form long term plans. He wants to move away from the image of the traditional yakuza with their missing fingers and bad attitudes to something a little more media friendly. However, the old guard including the veteran, Otomo (now played by Jo Shishido), aren’t willing to see the bigger picture and continue to behave in the old ways requiring swift and bloody justice for their fallen comrade. The older generation maybe on their way out, but that doesn’t mean they can’t cause a little trouble on their way. Despite the best efforts of the younger guys the cycle of violence seems set to continue, will anything ever change at all?

According to Fukasaku, almost certainly not. Though Matsumura is accounted to be a good guy by both of our “heroes” Hirono and Takeda, his yakuza revolution seems doomed to fail. This kind of coalition is completely pointless if not everybody joins and obviously not everybody is going to. Following the public outcry and subsequent police crackdown in the previous film, the yakuza feel the need to reform their image, keep the violence off the streets and appear generally less scary than the image they’ve hitherto cultivated. Now it suits them to conduct themselves in a more dignified manner, more like regular businessmen than thugs in flashy suits.

Meeting at the prison in the end of Police Tactics, Hirono and Takeda both agree that their era has passed. They still aren’t quite old men, but they aren’t young and this violent world isn’t for them anymore. Their resolutions are both that the general environment has changed making the way they’ve lived so far untenable, but also that if they attempted to live that way again they simply wouldn’t survive any longer (perhaps they are “better off” in jail). Hirono spends most of the movie off screen again, in prison, writing his memoirs. Before coming out he seems set on “retirement” but once released he decides to return to the yakuza world. It’s not until the end of the film when once again confronted by the senseless violence of gang warfare that he finally decides to retire. Matsumura may have been trying to change things, but more young guys are dying so fast there’s barely any point learning their names and what really does it get you in the end? Can you live freely, has the world really changed at all? From Hirono’s late middle age viewpoint, the answer is no.

Final Episode follows the same basic formula as the other films in the series with the narrative voice over, frenetic handheld camera work, captions and freeze frames. The violence may be a little less frequent but appears bolder in its execution. These youngsters are messier than their forebears – the gunning down of the Tensei accountant is a clumsy affair carried out by two amateurs in the middle of a crowded street. Random weapons are constructed with pretty much anything that’s lying around during a street fight. These young guys are a different kind of desperate and have no idea how to conduct themselves in a subdued way.

We’re almost up to the the contemporary era of the film. It’s getting on for 25 years since Hirono came home from the war and joined a different kind of battlefront. Japan’s development has been startlingly rapid – from post-war rubble to hosting the olympic games and a newly burgeoning prosperity. Hirono and those like him have found themselves riding the wrong wave as their fortunes continue to dwindle just as the legitimate world is coming into its own. When Hirono and Takeda were talking at the prison at the end of part four they knew something had come to an end. They had no place in this world anymore – unless you become a ruthless boss like the hated Yamamori (still harbouring dreams of domination well into his dotage), the yakuza life is a young man’s game. Once again we finish on a shot of the ruined dome and a reminder that the strong will always prey on the weak. Fukasaku’s prognosis for the future is grim but, it has to be said, accurate.


Final Episode is available on blu-ray in the UK as part of Arrow Video’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity: The Complete Collection box set.

 

The Yakuza Papers Vol. 4: Police Tactics (仁義なき戦い: 頂上作戦, Kinji Fukasaku, 1974)

b0176154_10205690It’s 1963 now and the chaos in the yakuza world is only increasing. However, with the Tokyo olympics only a year away and the economic conditions considerably improved the outlaw life is much less justifiable. The public are becoming increasingly intolerant of yakuza violence and the government is keen to clean up their image before the tourists arrive and so the police finally decide to do something about the organised crime problem. This is bad news for Hirono and his guys who are already still in the middle of their own yakuza style cold war.

Police Tactics (仁義なき戦い: 頂上作戦, Jingi Naki Tatakai: Chojo Sakusen), the fourth in the Yakuza Papers (or Battles Without Honour and Humanity) series, once again places Hirono at the centre of events for much of the film. The cold war from the end of the last film, Proxy War, is still going on with ambitious boss Takeda hosting additional foot soldiers from other areas of the country. However, all these extra guys are quite a drain on his resources and, simply put, it’s going to ruin him if this situation goes on much longer. Yamamori is currently holed up in a safe place and only steps outside to go to the bath house when he’s surrounded by a huge entourage of bodyguards. Added to the gang rivalry which is only growing now as factions split and new families are formed, not to mention all the guys from outside, is the now constant police pressure. Up to now, the police have been either a minor irritation or a soft ally but this time the guys might have finally met their match.

It’s almost twenty years since Hirono settled into the yakuza life. He’s not an old man, but he’s not a young one either. You can no longer explain or excuse any of his actions with the fire of youth – he’s one of the veterans now. However, young men are always young men and even while the older guys try to scheme and come up with a plan the youngsters are all for action. Hirono has always been the one noble gangster. Committed to yakuza ideals, he’s loyal to his bosses and dedicated to taking care of his guys. Hence, there’s no way he’s going to let one of his men take out Yamamori – firstly, after nursing a grudge for 18 years he wants to handle it himself but even if he didn’t he still wouldn’t be able go after Yamamori in anything other than an honourable way. However, now even Hirono says at one point “I don’t give a fucking shit about honour anymore”. At this point you know it’s all over, the one loyal retainer has finally given up.

With the police pressure mounting, the violence on the streets intensifies with even more feats of desperate backstreets warfare. Hirono himself is absent for a lot of the film while he gets picked up by the police on a flimsy pretext. More gangs are introduced, more guys die before you even begin to remember their names. There’s death everywhere yet still more yakuza keep turning up, offering to die for their bosses who will sell them out without a second thought if it buys them ten seconds more in power. The younger generation may not have the trauma of the war to burn through, but they’ve grown up in this world of street gangs and constant violence so it stands to reason that they come to idolise the tough guys and think joining a gang is their one way ticket out of the slums. As they will discover, there is always a heavy price to be paid for ambition and naivety.

The shooting style is pretty much the same as the first few films in the series. Documentary style voice over, hand held camera and freeze frame death shots are the order of the day. Once again we begin and end with the ruined dome reminding us of the price of violence. Police Tactics could almost be the end of the cycle. With the police finally deciding to act, by the end of the film all of the major players are off the streets in one way or another. In the end, all that death and violence amounted to to nothing. As the film reminds us, public order may have been restored (temporarily) but the systems and conditions which lead to violence are still very much in place.


Police Tactics is available on blu-ray in the UK as part of Arrow Video’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity: The Complete Collection box set.

 

The Yakuza Papers Vol. 3: Proxy War (仁義なき戦い: 代理戦争, Kinji Fukasaku, 1973)

3-Battles-Without-Honor-and-Humanity-3-Proxy-WarThree films into The Yakuza Papers or Battles Without Honour and Humanity series, Fukasaku slackens the place slightly and brings us a little more intrigue and behind the scenes machinations rather than the wholesale carnage of the first two films. In Proxy War we move on in terms of time period and region following Shozo Hirono into the ’60s where he’s still a petty yakuza, but his fortunes have improved slightly.

It’s now 1960 – almost 15 years since Hirono came home from the war. The young people who are just coming of age grew up in the turbulent post-war era but probably don’t remember much of the conflict itself. These days the problem is the ANPO treaty and the wider world’s pre-occupation with communism. Russia and America are engaged in various “proxy wars” across the world in what would come to be known as the cold war. This tactic of indirect warfare has also taken root in the yakuza world as gangs and gang members form covert alliances, hatch secret plots to take out rivals, or otherwise try to manipulate the situation to their advantage. When the head of the Muraoka crime syndicate is assassinated in broad daylight and his underling, Uchimoto, does nothing, it kickstarts a chain of petty vendettas as each of the ambitious crime bosses vie to fill the power vacuum with the snivelling Uchimoto not least among them.

Bunta Sugawara returns to centre stage again with Hirono at the forefront of the action. One of the few yakuza guys who’s pretty happy with his lot and not seeking a higher position he’s in the perfect spot to become a very important player when it comes to supporting other people’s bids for power. Having originally backed Uchimoto he’s at something of a disadvantage following Uchimoto’s cowardly flip-flopping. However, having found himself back under the aegis of former boss Yorimoto, it does afford Hirono the possibility of finally getting revenge against him. Gangs merge several times while fracturing on the inside as the lower bosses try to get their guys in line whlst picking sides as to whom they support in the leadership battles (some with more of an eye on their own futures) but this time the action is a little more cerebral than the audacious violence of the immediate post-war period.

Changing up his style slightly, Fukasaku keeps the overall documentary approach with the news reel voice over relating the salient political and historical details plus the initial captions explaining the names and allegiances of the major players but reduces the freeze frame death announcements. The action is still frenetic with ultra naturalistic handheld camera and occasional strange angles but this time he opts for a muted colour effect in the final shoot out which increases the shocking nature of the scene. Blow for blow there’s less overt violence here though there is a fairly graphic and unpleasant rape scene which feels a little out of place though it does add to Fukasaku’s argument about the nature of aggression.

Once again the ruined the dome looms large over everything, reminding us that this isn’t just a story of gang warfare but a critique of the senselessness of a violent life. As the film says, young men are the first to die when the battles begin but their deaths are never honoured. Like Hiroshima Death Match, Proxy War also leads to the death of a youngster in pointless gang violence – another young man who ended up in the criminal underworld through lack of other options. The futility of the cycle of violence is becoming wearing – as is perhaps the point. One gang boss falls, another rises – only the names have changed. There’s no rest for an honest yakuza like Hirono when the less scrupulous are willing switch allegiance without a second thought. The only victory is staying alive as long as you can.


Proxy War is available on blu-ray in the UK as part of Arrow Video’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity: The Complete Collection box set.

The Yakuza Papers Vol. 2: Hiroshima Death Match (仁義なき戦い: 広島死闘篇, Kinji Fukasaku, 1973)

81ZkRgBFyyL._SL1378_If you thought the story was over when Hirono walked out on the funeral at the end of Battles Without Honour and Humanity think again – we’ve barely scraped the surface of the post-war Hiroshima criminal underworld chaos. The aptly named Hiroshima Death Match runs in parallel with the events of Battles Without Honour taking place in roughly the same time, 1950-1955, but features a new protagonist relegating Bunta Sugawara’s Hirono to the sidelines where he appears as a weary observer of the cruel yakuza world. This time our hero, Yamanaka, is younger – too young to have offered his life as a kamikaze in the war as he apparently wanted to, and is one of the thousands of young men who’ve found themselves alone and without futures thanks to both the after effects of World War II and the ongoing Korean War.

Hiroshima Death Match ties itself into Battles Without Honour and Humanity quite neatly when the protagonist, Shoji Yamanaka (Kinya Kitaoji), is sent to prison after taking a knife to a room full of guys who accused him of cheating in a gambling den. There he comes into contact with the first film’s hero, Hirono (Bunta Sugawara), who offers him some food whilst in solitary but then disappears for the vast bulk of the film. When he gets out, Shoji finds himself in trouble again when he can’t pay for his meal in a restaurant and offers to work off the bill. The waitress, Yasuko (Meiko Kaji), refuses and tells him to just forget about the money and leave when he’s done but Shoji is insulted by her “charity” and things kick off between him and a gang of yakuza also in the restaurant at the time. Yasuko turns out to be the widowed niece of a yakuza boss and after recovering in her care Shoji agrees to join the Muraoka gang to get revenge on the guys who beat him up.

Whereas Battles Without Honour and Humanity took as its protagonists the young men who’d returned from the war to a ruined and defeated country, Hiroshima Death Match focuses on the generation below who were too young to fight themselves but have still been marked by the after effects of the conflict. At the beginning of the film Shoji has nothing, he’s ashamed of cheating and gets upset when caught which only fuels his youthful and violent anger. He doesn’t seem to have any family to help him or honest work to go to and so, of course, he ends up a yakuza. Once again, the yakuza take the place of a traditional family offering both a place to belong and a degree of emotional and financial support – for a price.

When Shoji inevitably falls in love with Muraoka’s widowed niece, he discovers his surrogate father’s love is not quite unconditional. Yasuko has a young daughter and was married to a man who died a kamikaze war hero. Muraoka does not want her to remarry lest she shame her husband’s memory unless he keeps it in the family by marrying her off against her will to her huband’s brother. Shoji’s affair with Yasuko continues to cause a rift with Muraoka and he’s torn between a desire for a peaceful future with the woman he loves and loyalty to his gang boss to whom he owes so much. Muraoka’s own morals are shown to be far from the traditional yakuza ideals and he’s not above using Shoji’s strained loyalties to his own advantage eventually with tragic consequences.

Like Battles Without Honour and Humanity, Hiroshima Death Match is shot in the same quasi-documentary style with a weary sounding narrative voice over and frequent freeze frame captions identifying the characters along with their gangs and positions as well as their dates of demise at the appropriate time. The ruined Atomic Bomb Dome (now the Hiroshima Peace Memorial) continues to loom large over the proceedings as we’re reminded at the end that this isn’t the only blood that’s been shed here. Even more so than with Battles, Fukasaku rams home the senselessness and futility of violence. The film ends with Hirono attending another funeral (though this time in a black suit and melancholic air) where the bosses reap in consolation money and gamble at the wake. He gives his old bosses a sideways look as they laugh and joke while a young man who they all now account as some kind of legendary yakuza hero lies dead for no reason at all. What does this sort of life amount to in the end? The only reward for a life of violence is a lonely grave.


Hiroshima Death Match is available on blu-ray in the UK as part of Arrow Video’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity: The Complete Collection box set.

 

The Yakuza Papers Vol. 1: Battles Without Honour and Humanity (仁義なき戦い, Kinji Fukasaku, 1973)

Snapshot-2015-12-07 at 11_06_36 PM-930280086When it comes to the history of the yakuza movie, there are few titles as important or as influential both in Japan and the wider world than Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity (仁義なき戦い, Jingi Naki Tatakai). The first in what would become a series of similarly themed movies later known as The Yakuza Papers, Battles without Honour is a radical rebooting of the Japanese gangster movie. The English title is, infact, a literal translation of the Japanese which accounts for the slightly unnatural “and” rather than “or” where the “honour and humanity” are collected in a single Japanese word, “jingi”. Jingi is the ancient moral code by which old-style yakuza had abided and up to now the big studio gangster pictures had all depicted their yakuza as being honourable criminals. However, in Fukasaku’s reimagining of the gangster world this adherence to any kind of conventional morality was yet another casualty of Japan’s wartime defeat.

The story begins with a black and white image of a mushroom cloud with the film’s bright red title card and now famous theme playing over the top. This is Hiroshima in 1946. Things are pretty desperate, the black market is rife and there are US troops everywhere. Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara) has just returned from the war (in fact he’s still in his uniform). He gets himself into trouble when he intervenes as an American soldier attempts to rape a Japanese woman in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded marketplace. He manages to cause enough of a commotion for the woman to escape but the Japanese cops just tell him not to mess with the GIs. Things don’t get much better as one of Hirono’s friends is assaulted by a yakuza. They get some rival yakuza to help them get revenge and in the commotion Hirono accidentally kills someone and is sent to prison for 12 years. In prison he meets another yakuza who wants to escape by pretending to commit harakiri and promises to get his yakuza buddies to bail Hirono out if he helps. From this point on Hirono has become embroiled in the new and dangerous world of the Hiroshima criminal underground.

Battles Without Honour and Humanity has a famously complicated plot entered around the various power shifts and machinations between different groups of yakuza immediately after the end of World War II. The film begins in 1946 and ends in 1956 though many of its cast of tough guys don’t last anywhere near as long. The picture Fukasaku paints of Japan immediately after the war is a bleak one. Even if some of these guys are happy to have survived and finally reached home, they’ve seen and done terrible things. Not only that, they’ve been defeated and now they’re surrounded by foreign troops everywhere who can pretty much do what they want when they want. They just don’t have a lot of options – if they don’t have connections to help them find work when there’s not enough to go around then it isn’t surprising if they eventually fall into to crime. Also, having spent time in the military, the yakuza brotherhood provides a similar kind of camaraderie and surrogate family that you might also find in an army corps.

It all gets ugly quite fast. Largely the yakuza are making their money profiting from the political instability, resenting the US occupation yet reaching deals with them to support their efforts in the Korean war and then selling new and untested drugs at home (with less than brilliant results). Betrayals, executions, assassinations in previously safe places like a bath house or the barbers – these are a long way from the supposedly honourable gangsters of old. One minute Hirono is offering to cut off his finger as a traditional sign of atonement (though no one knows exactly what you’re supposed to do in this situation and it all ends up seeming a little silly) and taking the rap for everyone else’s mistakes, but his friend faked harakiri to get out of jail and everyone is double crossing everyone else whichever way you look.

The whole thing is filmed in an almost documentary style with captions identifying the various characters and giving the exact time of their demise (if necessary) as well as a voice over giving background information about the historical period. The film is inspired by real life yakuza memoirs and there are parts which feel quite like a bunch of old guys sitting in a drinking establishment and recounting some of their exploits.

This new postwar world of heartless gangsters is a tough one and almost devoid of the old honour-bound nobility, however somehow Fukasaku has managed to make it all look very cool at the same time as being totally unappealing. You wouldn’t want to live this way and you definitely don’t want to get involved with any of these guys but somehow their self determined way of life becomes something to be admired. That said, there’s a sadness too – that even in the criminal underworld there used to be something noble that’s been obliterated by the intense trauma of the war. You can rebuild, you can move on from the destruction left by the war’s wake but there’s no going back to those days of “honour and humanity” – if they ever existed, they’re gone forever now.


Battles without Honour and Humanity is available in blu-ray in the UK as part of Arrow Video’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity: The Complete Collection box set.

 

Weekly Rundown 10-16th December

Seeing as I never have time to write about half the films I’d like, I thought I’d try keeping a weekly list of all the films I’ve watched during the week – mostly first time views with the occasional old favourite, plus anything else that crops up. I’ll just write a few words about each of them and expand some into full reviews.

Pickpocket

BFI – Passport to Cinema screening

I haven’t made things easy for myself have I? Bresson’s tale of redemption through love reads like a mid twentieth century French Crime & Punishment but is full of Bresson’s usual spiritual complexity. The pickpocketing scenes take on a sort of balletic quality and almost glamourise the crime being committed but leave the audience in no doubt that it is also a violation. Elusive but essential.

The Family Friend

L’amico di famiglia

Curzon on Demand

Not as beguiling as The Consequences of Love or as studied as Il Divo, Sorrentino’s The Family Friend is a modern day fairy tale with a central character so loathsome it’s difficult to see how the audience is expected to endure a whole film in his company. Certainly a very strange film but very Sorrentino and all the more welcome for it.

Battles Without Honour and Humanity

Jingi naki tatakai 仁義なき戦い

MOC DVD

An out and out classic, Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity is a landmark Yakuza movie that shows the gangster lifestyle for what it really really is – senseless violence fuelled by pride and greed. It was so successful it spawned FOUR sequels (and I can’t wait to watch them all)!

!I’m sorry about the weird aspect ratio and the German subs but it seems like there’s no other footage around!)

The Hobbit

Odeon Leicester Sq, HFR 3D

Full review already up, short story – eh, it was OK.

Life of Pi

Odeon Covent Garden

I’d heard really mixed things about Ang Lee’s latest but actually I was pleasantly surprised. Nowhere near as profound as it seems to want to be but the visuals are truly astounding. Look out for a full review soon.

Magic Mike

Mubi

Came up as Mubi’s film of the day and having heard quite positive things about it I decided to give it a go despite my misgivings – unfortunately my I should listened to my intuition, this film did nothing for me and I’m baffled by some of the critical praise.

Thermae Romae

HK Blu Ray

Hilarious movie about a Roman bath architect who accidentally time travels to modern Japan, steals all their modern bath technology and so ends up having to design baths for Hadrian and some of his cronies. Full review coming soon but this is so much fun!

35 Shots of Rum

35 Rhums

Channel 4 HD

Claire Denis’ homage to Ozu’s Late Spring set in a French lower class tower block – to quite as moving as Ozu’s film but brings its own lyrical sense of transience with perhaps more of a political component than you would generally find in an Ozu film.

Midnight Express

Film4

An oscar winner much trumpeted in its time that helped to jump start Alan Parker’s career but more than thirty years on it’s starting to feel its age and its extremely harsh view of the Turkish people is quite difficult to take.

The Keep

Film 4

Apparently the full version of this film was close to three hours long but studio execs were so unhappy with it they hacked it down to 90 minutes! It’s quite obvious a lot of material is missing and the film doesn’t really make that much sense but then how much sense do you really expect a movie about a strange rubbery monster accidentally let out of its cage by a bunch of greedy nazis to make?