Hiroki Matsukata

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13 Assassins Review


Good
Carefully paced to draw out the internal warfare as much as the blood-and-guts variety, this samurai showdown packs a potent emotional wallop. If the first half feels a little dull, the hour-long battle scene makes up for that.

In 1844 Japan, young Lord Naritsugu (Inagaki) is such a sadist that he's about to end a long period of peace. And his merciless rampage of rape, torture and death goes unchallenged because he's the Shogun's half-brother. Shocked by where this is heading, top samurai Shinzaemon (Yakusho) assembles a team of 12 warriors to take him out. It's clearly a suicide mission. And they pick up a wild-eyed 13th colleague (Iseya) on the way to setting an elaborate trap for Naritsugu and his 200-strong entourage.

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Blackmail Is My Life Review


Good
A nod from Quentin Tarantino to 2000's already-legendary (but apparently undistributable) Battle Royale put then-70-year-old director Kinji Fukasaku on the map for many western audiences. But this prolific Japanese filmmaker, who died in 2003, had long since made himself a name at home as an auteur who favored outrageous style and biting social commentary in his films and, recently, as an alleged tyrant who was prone to throwing memorable tantrums on his sets.

Despite a substantial oeuvre, Fukasaku movies could be hard to lay your hands on, sometimes even in Japan. Thanks to the efforts of Home Vision Entertainment, a sampling of Fukasaku's late '60s/early '70s social comedies has become available on DVD, among them 1968's Blackmail Is My Life.

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Battles Without Honor And Humanity Review


OK
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.

Continue reading: Battles Without Honor And Humanity Review

Hiroki Matsukata

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