Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Starring: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukat, Nobuo Kaneko, Tatsuo Umemiya, Kunie Tanaka
When a movie starts with a nuclear explosion you know it not screwing around. Starting in 1946 in the Hiroshima prefecture, men fight each other like dogs for whatever scraps they can find and become the top dog.
There is no real “good guy” in this movie but Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara) is the least bad and ends up involved with the Yakuza after standing up for a friend and ending up in prison. There he meets a Yakuza who he becomes friends with who explains it is more a matter of circumstance people end up in crime.
Upon his release he ends up joining the one crime family with his friends and things take off from there. It is kind of pointless to try and talk about all the characters and plot developments as there are so many of them. The box set of the five movies actually came with a chart so you could track where people were in the various families.
The movie also helpfully tells you when a main character dies, which is quite a lot as it turns out. A lot of the time it is for the stupidest reason or so one boss can gain a momentary advantage. This movie does not glamourize Yakuza life as much as try and show you how it really would be. One example would be the finger chopping scene. Nobody knows how to do it and when they present the finger the other boss says “you didn’t need to go to all that trouble!”
A lot of the characters do not act in ways you would expect from this sort of film, such as the crying Yakuza boss or the ex-friend Shozo’s who cries like a little girl when he finds out he is going to be killed. Shozo is pretty much sick of the whole thing by the end and could go either way.
I watched this on the big screen in a festival environment and could not understand why people were laughing at some scenes. I enjoyed it and did not need to laugh at it and it explains a lot of things I have seen in other movies about the Yakuza and even western crime movies.
Even though the other movies in the series are hard to get I would like to try and see them now and see how the rest of the story plays out. Also there is a sequel to the series set years later.