Battles Without Honor and Humanity (film)

Battles Without Honor and Humanity (Japanese: 仁義なき戦い, Hepburn: Jingi Naki Tatakai) is a 1973 Japanese yakuza film directed by Kinji Fukasaku. The screenplay by Kazuo Kasahara adapts a series of newspaper articles by journalist Kōichi Iiboshi, that were rewrites of a manuscript originally written by real-life yakuza Kōzō Minō. It is the first film in a five-part series that Fukasaku made in a span of just two years.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity
Battles Without Honor and Humanity.jpg
Japanese release poster
Directed byKinji Fukasaku
Produced byKoji Shundo
Goro Kusakabe
Written byKazuo Kasahara
Koji Shundo (concept)
Kōichi Iiboshi (original story)
StarringBunta Sugawara
Hiroki Matsukata
Nobuo Kaneko
Kunie Tanaka
Goro Ibuki
Narrated byAsao Koike
Music byToshiaki Tsushima
CinematographySadaji Yoshida
Edited byShintaro Miyamoto
Distributed byToei
Release date
  • January 13, 1973 (1973-01-13)
Running time
99 minutes

The violent, documentary-like film chronicles the underworld tribulations of Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara), a young ex-soldier and street thug-turned yakuza in post-war Hiroshima Prefecture. Starting in the open-air black markets of bombed-out Hiroshima in 1946, the film spans a period of more than ten years. The plot consists of a changing of the guard of new families and organizations with the same feuds and people, punctuated by the gritty violence.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity won the 1974 Kinema Junpo Awards for Best Film, Best Actor (Bunta Sugawara) and Best Screenplay (Kazuo Kasahara). In 2009, the magazine named it fifth on a list of the Top 10 Japanese Films of All Time. Due to the series' commercial and critical popularity it was followed by another three-part series, New Battles Without Honor and Humanity. The film is often called the "Japanese Godfather,"[1] and marks a departure from traditional yakuza movies which had, for the most part, been tales of chivalry set in pre-war Japan. The overall tone of the series is bleak, violent and chaotic, expressing the futility of the struggles between yakuza families. In the western market it is also known under the titles Tarnished Code of Yakuza (Australia), War Without a Code, and The Yakuza Papers.


In 1946 Kure, war veteran Shozo Hirono is sent to prison after shooting a sword-wielding yakuza who assaulted his friend. He befriends and becomes sworn brothers with another prisoner, Doi Family member Hiroshi Wakasugi, who arranges for Yoshio Yamamori, Patriarch of the Yamamori Family, to bribe the prison warden and get him released. Hirono and his gang of fellow ex-soldiers - Tetsuya Sakai, Seiichi Kanbara, Uichi Shinkai, Masakichi Makihara, and Shuji Yano - then join the Yamamori Family by swearing loyalty to the boss and to each other. Wakasugi's boss, Patriarch Doi, serves as an official witness to the ceremony, along with Kenichi Okubo, Patriarch of the powerful Okubo Family.

Three years later, in 1949, Hirono gets into a fight with a man named Toru Ueda at a gambling den. Since Ueda is a blood relative of Okubo's, Hirono commits yubitsume in apology to Okubo. Okubo accepts, but asks Yamamori to take Ueda into his family and perform a favor for corrupt politician Shigeto Nakahara by eliminating a vote for his rival Shoichi Kanamaru, who is supported by the Doi Family in a political dispute over allotment of public resources. Sakai kidnaps one of Kanamaru's allies before the vote, allowing Nakahara's side to win, and goes into hiding afterwards. Doi finds out due to Kanbara bragging about it while drinking and beats him severely, then goes after Yamamori. However, out of loyalty to Hirono, Wakasugi stops Doi from killing Yamamori and a deal is brokered: Wakasugi will become a guest member of the Yamamori Family while Kanbara takes his place in the Doi Family.

Six months later, Doi starts moving against Yamamori and prepares to form an alliance with the Kaito Family from Hiroshima City. With the other members unwilling to act and Wakasugi forbidden by yakuza traditions to betray his boss, Hirono volunteers to handle the matter after Yamamori agrees to promote him. Hirono successfully assassinates Doi while he's coming out of a meeting with the Kaito Family and escapes. While in hiding, Hirono is visited by Kanbara, who claims Yamamori has a plan to sneak him out of the city. However, it turns out to be a set-up and Hirono, finding himself abandoned by Yamamori and hunted by the Doi Family, turns himself in for murdering Doi. Wakasugi murders Kanbara in revenge, but an anonymous tip to the police (provided by Yamamori) leads them to his girlfriend's house and he is killed trying to escape.

With the Korean War raging in the 1950s, the Yamamori Family thrives thanks to war contracts and expands in the immediate years, but internal strife begins when members start dealing philopon due to the high kickbacks the boss takes off their earnings. Sakai and Shinkai, who are now high-ranking officers in the family, feud when Shinkai's surbordinate, Toshio Arita, deals against Yamamori's orders. Sakai, recognizing that the patriarch's take is too high, offers a plan to have each family member become self-sustaining and limit the kickbacks, which only Shinkai and Yano vote against. Shinkai begins plotting with the surviving Doi Family members to kill Sakai. When it's revealed that Yamamori is selling the drugs he confiscates from the other members for personal profit, Sakai and Ueda threaten him and reveal their intention to take over the family. Yamamori has Arita kill Ueda in a barbershop and war breaks out between the two sides. The conflict ends quickly: Shinkai's men and the Doi Family members are murdered by Sakai's associates, Arita shoots a police officer who tries to arrest him and gets a life sentence, and Shinkai is stabbed to death before he can board a train to escape the city.

Hirono is then paroled due to a commutation of sentence and learns about the strife in the Yamamori Family. He goes to see Sakai, asking his old friend to make peace with Yamamori. Instead, Sakai forces Yamamori to retire, crowns himself the family's new patriarch, forms an investment company with Yamamori's money, and starts negotiating with the Kaito Family. When Makihara informs Sakai that Yano is making a secret trip to persuade the Kaito Family to end the negotiations, Sakai has him gunned down when he arrives. Makihara then contacts Hirono to join him on the supposedly retired Yamamori's side; however, Hirono refuses and instead announces he is breaking off his pledge to Yamamori and leaving his family. He goes to see Sakai and the two men vow to kill each other. After Sakai allows him to leave peacefully, Hirono witnesses his murder at the hands of Makihara's hitmen. At Sakai's funeral, which has Makihara and Yamamori in attendance, Hirono arrives with a gun, shoots up the funeral display, and threatens Yamamori before storming off.



Battles Without Honor and Humanity adapts a series of articles by journalist Kōichi Iiboshi that ran in Weekly Sankei (週刊サンケイ, Shūkan Sankei),[2] that were rewrites of a manuscript originally written by real-life yakuza Kōzō Minō while he was incarcerated in Abashiri Prison.[3][4] The memoirs detail a yakuza conflict in Hiroshima.

Lead actor Bunta Sugawara claims that he had the initial idea to adapt the memoirs to film. He said that six months before the movie was released, he was on the cover of Shukan Sunday with Tatsuo Umemiya and read this issue that also contained the first installment of the series while on the Shinkansen. Upon arriving in Kyoto he gave it to Toei producer Koji Shundo and told him to read it. Days later, after Shundo still had not done so, Sugawara bought another copy and insisted again. The actor asked Shundo to cast him in an adaptation, with Goro Kusakabe producing and Kinji Fukasaku directing.[5]


Kazuo Kasahara received the order for the screenplay on September 1, 1972. He revealed that while Toei had gotten the rights to adapt the series from Iiboshi and Weekly Sankei, it seemed they had not bothered to ask Minō. Because the journals were written objectively and therefore easy to read, Kasahara had to flesh them out with details to make it dramatic. Despite Toei advising against it, Kasahara went to Kure with producer Goro Kusakabe on September 29 to meet Minō.[2]

When Kasahara and Kusakabe first asked Minō for permission to adapt his story, he declined not wanting to receive further scorn from his fellow gang members, which he had already received for exposing the inner workings of the lifestyle.[6] However, after learning that Minō and Kasahara both served at the Otake naval officer school in Hiroshima, Minō agreed to help clarify details about the journals but still did not approve a film adaptation.[2]

When he returned to Tokyo, Kasahara told Toei he could work with the incidents in Kure, but not the events that followed in Hiroshima because they were too complicated and they agreed. Although Minō had to be the protagonist, Kasahara found it difficult to create a character based on the notes he had taken and so developed the story around yakuza underboss Tetsuhiko Sasaki, who rebelled against Kyosei-kai leader Tatsuo Yamamura and was killed. He envisioned Bunta Sugawara portraying the character (he later learned Sugawara had already been cast in the role), but said the day before shooting Sugawara was instead cast as Hirono (who is based on Minō) and Hiroki Matsukata took over as Sakai (Sasaki).[2]

Kasahara used the 1936 film La belle équipe as a guide for the action in Battles Without Honor and Humanity. The writer had concerns over organizing the real facts to make stories, as one could not fit everything into an action movie, and how close to stick to reality, settling on a mix of reality and human drama. He deleted all the scenes with Hirono (Minō) interacting with a female heroine, as it was the only request of Minō, who Kasahara felt had given his unspoken approval by now. This is the reason the film ends abruptly. The screenplay took Kasahara 69 days to write.[2]


When Shundo selected Fukasaku to direct he received backlash from his Toei colleagues, who felt the director could not make the film "interesting" or "commercial" enough. Shundo himself did not like Fukasaku's earlier films, stating that he made them for his own enjoyment only, but changed his mind after seeing 1972's Street Mobster.[6] Kasahara was against the selection of Fukasaku.[2] Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane explained the two had worked together previously and fought over a story Fukasaku disliked, although the two eventually worked over it, the director left the project due to ill health. However, when Fukasaku read the Battles Without Honor and Humanity script he said he would not change a thing and the film was green lit.[7]

Set in post-war Japan, Fukasaku drew on his experiences as a child during World War II for Battles Without Honor and Humanity. At fifteen he worked with other children in a munitions factory that was regularly bombed. The director recalled "even though we were friends working together, the only thing we would be thinking of was self-preservation. We would try to get behind each other or beneath dead bodies to avoid the bombs.... I also had to clean up all the dead bodies.... I'm sure those experiences have influenced the way I look at violence." The film, noted for its "extreme violence," opens with Japanese soldiers, during America's occupation of their country, stealing food and murdering for a bowl of rice.[8] Using hand-held camera, zoom lenses and natural lighting to create a "gritty, chaotic look," the director showed his generation's struggle to survive in the post-war chaos.[9] The shaky camera technique has since become a trademark of the director.

Toei producer Masao Sato remarked that unusually Fukasaku shot the film in Toei's Kyoto studio, despite being under contract to Toei Tokyo. He also stated that the entire filming process was short, hectic and chaotic, taking only 35 to 40 days.[10] Upon filming on location in Kure, many yakuza, including those used as models for characters in the film, gathered on set. They gave advice to both the director and actors; decades later, Tatsuo Umemiya who plays Hiroshi Wakasugi, stated that he felt sorry for actors playing yakuza today because they "don't have the chance to get to know real yakuza the way we did."[6] Producer Shundo himself was formerly a yakuza before getting a job at Toei.[11]

Yamane and Kenta Fukasaku both agreed that the series does not focus on specific lead actors, but is an ensemble piece with the supporting actors energizing it. The stars are narrative characters, with the low-ranking yakuza that are endlessly killed off the real focus of the movies.[12] Sugawara said that this was the first Toei, and even the first Japanese, film to not have the lead actors in every scene.[5]


Battles Without Honor and Humanity has been released on home video and aired on television, the latter with some scenes cut. In 1980, the first four films were edited into a 224-minute compilation and was given a limited theatrical release and broadcast on Toei's TV network. A Blu-ray box set compiling all five films in the series was released on March 21, 2013, to celebrate its 40th anniversary.[13]

All five films in the series were released on DVD in North America by Home Vision Entertainment in 2004, under the moniker The Yakuza Papers. A 6-disc DVD box set containing them all was also released. It includes a bonus disc containing interviews with director William Friedkin, discussing the influence of the films in America; subtitle translator Linda Hoaglund, discussing her work on the films; David Kaplan, Kenta Fukasaku, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a Toei producer and a biographer among others.[14] Arrow Films released a Blu-ray and DVD box set, limited to 2,500 copies, of all five films in the UK on December 7, 2015, and in the US a day later. Special features include an interview with the series fight choreographer Ryuzo Ueno and the 1980 edited compilation of the first four films.[15]

Reception and legacyEdit

Battles Without Honor and Humanity earned its distributor $4.5 million at the box office,[a] making it the eleventh highest-grossing film of the year.[16] On Kinema Junpo's annual list of the best films for the year of 1973 as voted by critics, the first film placed second.[16] At the 1974 Kinema Junpo Awards; it won the Reader's Choice for Best Film, Bunta Sugawara received Best Actor, and Kazuo Kasahara received Best Screenplay.[17] In 2009, the magazine named it fifth on an aggregated list of the Top 10 Japanese Films of All Time as voted by over one hundred film critics and writers.[18] Previous editions of the list had the series at number twenty-two in 1995 and eighth in 1999, tied with Twenty-Four Eyes.[19][20] In 2011, Complex named it number one on their list of The 25 Best Yakuza Movies.[21] Jasper Sharp, writing for the British Film Institute, listed it as one of the 10 great Japanese gangster movies.[22]

The film is credited as one of the first modern yakuza films; prior, movies about yakuza were known as Ninkyō eiga, "chivalry films", and set in pre-war Japan.[4] The A.V. Club's Noel Murray states that Fukasaku's yakuza instead only "adhere to codes of honor when it's in their best interest, but otherwise bully and kill indiscriminately."[23] Dennis Lim of the Village Voice writes "Fukasaku's yakuza flicks drain criminal netherworlds of romance, crush codes of honor underfoot, and nullify distinctions between good and evil."[24] Film scholar Richard Torrance suggests that the film acts as a "microcosm of the broader society and international order of the post-war period, in which violence lacks moral significance and exists without heroes."[25] This new yakuza film genre became known as Jitsuroku eiga ("actual record film"), often depicting events based on true stories.

Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane believes Battles Without Honor and Humanity was popular because of the time of its release; Japan's economic growth was at its peak and at the end of the 1960s the student uprisings took place. The young people had similar feelings to those of the post-war society depicted in the films.[26] Yamane also stated that for the rest of his career Fukasaku was approached many times by producers to create movies similar to Battles, but always turned them down wanting to move on to films he found interesting.[27]

American director William Friedkin stated that Fukasaku's trait of never redeeming bad characters and not catering to have the good guys win in the end was a "profound influence" on himself. He went on to claim that this is something one cannot do today in American films.[28]

A restored version of the film, from a 4K 35mm print original negative to 2K digital by Toei Labo Tech, was screened at the Cannes Classics section of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.[29]


  1. ^ Mark Schilling notes that this is the distributor's share of the film's theatrical revenue, roughly half of its total earnings.


  1. ^ Croce, Fernando F. "Battles Without Honor and Humanity (Japan, 1973): (Jingi Naki Tatakai)". Archived from the original on November 22, 2008. Retrieved May 16, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Kasahara, Kazuo (2015) [1974]. "Jitsuroku: My Personal Account of the Screenplay - The 300 Days of Battles Without Honor and Humanity". Battles Without Honor and Humanity Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD. Translated by Akita, Sho. Arrow Films.
  3. ^ D., Chris (2005). Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film. I.B. Tauris. pp. 9–10, 23. ISBN 1-84511-086-2. Archived from the original on January 19, 2008. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b "Battles Without Honour or Humanity". Time Out. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Schilling, Mark (2003). The Yakuza Movie Book : A Guide to Japanese Gangster Films. Stone Bridge Press. pp. 135–136. ISBN 1-880656-76-0. Archived from the original on October 17, 2007. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b c Schilling, Mark (2003). The Yakuza Movie Book : A Guide to Japanese Gangster Films. Stone Bridge Press. pp. 33–35. ISBN 1-880656-76-0. Archived from the original on October 17, 2007.
  7. ^ Kantoku: Remembering the Director (DVD). Home Vision Entertainment. 2004. 12:30 minutes in.
  8. ^ "Kinji Fukasaku, 72; Japanese Director of Edgy, Violent Films". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  9. ^ Schilling, Mark (2003). The Yakuza Movie Book : A Guide to Japanese Gangster Films. Stone Bridge Press. p. 214. ISBN 1-880656-76-0. Archived from the original on October 17, 2007.
  10. ^ Jitsuroku: Reinventing a Genre (DVD). Home Vision Entertainment. 2004. 15:05 minutes in.
  11. ^ Schrader, Paul (January–February 1974). "Yakuza-Eiga: A Primer". Film Society of Lincoln Center. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ Jitsuroku: Reinventing a Genre (DVD). Home Vision Entertainment. 2004. 5:14 minutes in.
  13. ^ "<初回生産限定>仁義なき戦い Blu‐ray BOX [Blu-ray]" (in Japanese). Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  14. ^ Erickson, Glenn (November 2004). "The Yakuza Papers: Battles Without Honor And Humanity: The Complete Box Set". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on September 8, 2007. Retrieved September 2, 2007. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ "Battles Without Honour and Humanity (Arrow Video) Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD [Limited Edition]". Arrow Films. Retrieved November 1, 2015.
  16. ^ a b Schilling, Mark (2015). "Aftermath of Battles Without Honor and Humanity". Battles Without Honor and Humanity Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD. Arrow Films.
  17. ^ "Awards for Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973)". IMDb. Retrieved May 3, 2012.
  18. ^ 1位は東京物語とゴッドファーザー キネ旬がベスト10. Asahi Shimbun (in Japanese). Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  19. ^ キネマ旬報「オールタイムベスト・ベスト100」日本映画編 1995 (in Japanese). Retrieved August 29, 2014.
  20. ^ キネマ旬報「オールタイムベスト・ベスト100」日本映画編 1999 (in Japanese). Retrieved August 29, 2014.
  21. ^ "The 25 Best Yakuza Movies". Complex. Retrieved October 2, 2014.
  22. ^ "10 great Japanese gangster movies". British Film Institute. Retrieved October 2, 2014.
  23. ^ "The Yakuza Papers: Battles Without Honor & Humanity". The A.V. Club. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  24. ^ "Japanese Genre Firebombs Send Codes of Honor up in Flames". The Village Voice. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  25. ^ Torrance, Richard (2005). "The nature of violence in Fukasaku Kinji'sJingi naki tatakai(War without a code of honor)". Japan Forum. 17 (3): 389–406. doi:10.1080/09555800500283950. S2CID 144459712.
  26. ^ Jitsuroku: Reinventing a Genre (DVD). Home Vision Entertainment. 2004. 3:35 minutes in.
  27. ^ Kantoku: Remembering the Director (DVD). Home Vision Entertainment. 2004. 2:03 minutes in.
  28. ^ Friedkin on Fukasaku (DVD). American Society of Cinematographers: Home Vision Entertainment. 2004. 3:16 minutes in.
  29. ^ "Cannes Classics 2015". Cannes Film Festival. April 29, 2015. Retrieved April 30, 2015.

Further readingEdit

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