It's a Takashi Miike yakuza film, with a title referring to Kinji Fukasaku's genre-defining yakuza series, "Battles without honour and humanity". ("Honour and humanity" is just a more verbose translation of the Japanese word in both titles, "jingi".) Those are big shoes to fill, but Miike pulls it off. I'm impressed.
It's a relatively early Miike film. He'd only had his first theatrical release the year before, although he'd been doing straight-to-video for a while before that. (This too is V-cinema.) It's the story of Tetsuya (Yuta Sone), who starts out as a seventeen-year-old having sex with a girl (Naoko Amihama) and telling her that he'll be a big-shot yakuza once he's done a job they've given him. It's an assassination and the target is the boss of a rival gang. He manages to do the job without getting killed (undoubtedly to the astonishment of everyone), but only because the police get their hands on him first.
Seven years pass.
Sone gets out and hasn't learned much during his spell inside. One thought fills his neanderthal mind: to collect on that promise the yakuza gave him. That's all he lives for. He doesn't want anything so dull as a job or a normal life, even though Amihama is still waiting for him (eh?) with seven years' worth of savings and a plan to buy a new apartment together in a new city, where they can start a new life. Guess how well that goes down. However what Sone doesn't know is that while he was inside, an alliance was made between the gang of the boss he assassinated and that of the boss who'd given him the job. They're partners. No one wants to rock any boats. Keeping that promise to Sone would be the same as starting a gang war.
This is funny. I laughed at the dismissive brush-off from crooks for whose sake Sone had spent seven years in jail. He'd been expecting honour among thieves and promises to be kept... ahahaha, no. Of course I had no sympathy. He's a tosser. Look at the graveyard scene, for instance. He's determined to be a yakuza and he's already transformed himself into something indistinguishable from them, i.e. a bullying shit with the intelligence (emotional or otherwise) of a bout of explosive diarrhoea. Nevertheless they won't have him, so he's got nowhere to go. That's what he thinks, anyway. If you can't become a career criminal with a life expectancy of months, who cares about a girl who wants to spend twenty million yen buying you an apartment?
"You're lower than cats and dogs," says a monk. I wasn't disagreeing.
This was unpromising. I've had bad experiences with yakuza films in the past, since I have (to put it mildly) a sympathy gap with these people. Why should I care? Why should I be doing anything but look forward to their deaths? What this film does though, interestingly, is to show how it's our relationships that make us human. Even a scumbag can care about the friends who've been waiting for him for seven years and are, gobsmackingly, even bigger losers than he is. ("Tetsuya hasn't done anything wrong!" Ahem, no. Sone dreams of becoming a gangster, but his friends dream of becoming Sone. They think he's cool.)
There's family. Sone's mother is dead and he never knew his father, but his father knows him. There's love. Amihama endures so much that I was writing her off as an idiot when we suddenly discovered another side to her motivations... but she does still love the lunk. There's a wedding, of sorts.
There's also an important family relationship among the yakuza. That boss is a two-faced snake without an atom of decency, who'd dump his own brother rather than listen to discussions about doing the right thing. Meanwhile that aforementioned brother is the one honourable person in the film. He believes in the principles that everyone else is ignoring. He won't stay silent if he thinks someone's about to make a mistake. Yes, he's a yakuza, but he's the kind of yakuza who believes the bullshit. At the end, when everyone else is filling the air with lead, he's charging at them with a samurai sword. That says something. For starters, it says, "I don't care that I don't have great odds of survival." However, just as importantly, it's a symbol. I'm not about to pretend that I like samurai, but bushido existed and to go old-fashioned like that undeniably means something. In a world that's discarded honour, one man hasn't.
Yuta Sone sees that Two-Faced Boss as the father he never had, who's furthermore being played by the actor's real father, Harumi Sone. In return, it's appalling to see Harumi Sone being so warm and cuddly to Yuta Sone when at last no longer able to weasel out of meeting him. There's even a happy ending... but unfortunately it comes when there's still half an hour to go, so rest assured that happiness will be leaving the building.
There's a sequel! I'd have thought that impossible, even if Miike does allow a few people to survive the final bloodbath.
It's about families, either real or the ones we make. It's about people who think only about what other people can do for them, rather than what they can do for other people. It's about discovering humanity in inhumanity. That's a lot to read into a sordid and unattractive descent into hell with bastards (figurative and literal), but I really liked this one. It got to me.