The first in a five-film series known collectively as The Yakuza Papers, 1973's Battles without Honor and Humanity kicks off the story of an epic, 28-year war fought among rival Japanese gangs. The film (which, like the others, is based loosely on fact) opens in the chaos of Hiroshima a year after Japan's surrender in WWII; American MPs and Japanese police struggle to contain a growing lawlessness amid the city's devastation, and into this environment the yakuza gangs are born. In a violent, whirlwind introduction, we meet many of the men who will later become key players in the underground, specifically Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara), whose rise in the Yamamori crime family the film most closely follows.

The problem, in post-war Hiroshima, is the power void, and the answer, for Hiroshima's petty criminals, is to organize. Shozo, who has unceremoniously dispatched an unarmed man at the film's outset, makes a blood pact in prison with a yakuza named Hiroshi Wakasugi (Tatsuo Umemiya). Once released, he joins his friends in organizing under boss Yamamori, only to find his sworn brother Hiroshi allied to a different gang. One gang crosses the other by rigging an election, and Hiroshi defects with tragic consequences. In the film's second half, Yamamori faces a mutiny within his own ranks until Shozo, again released from prison, brings the conflict to a head, setting the stage for the second film.

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