“[This] faithful account of the post-war Japanese underworld is downright fabulous to behold, [and the] lack of humanity [that underpins the narrative] (…) a serene but (…) depressing confrontation with the deregulating nature of man’s enjoyment beyond any heroism whatsoever.”
Kinji Fukasaku (深作欣二, 1930-2003) doesn’t need an introduction. When in the seventies the popularity of the ninkyô eiga started to decline, it was Fukasaku who revived the Yakuza genre with his realistic approach, leading to the birth of the sub-genre of actual record film (Jitsuroku eiga). Supported by the meticulous research by Kasahara Kazuo, Fukasaku aimed to capture the turbulent story of various prominent, post-WW2 Hiroshima yakuza families.
Besides Battles without honour and humanity (1973), Toei released two other narratives, Deadly fight in Hiroshima and Proxy war – with Fukasaku as director – in the very same year. So without further ado, let’s jump, once again, deep into the dark and violent world of the gokudousha, as painted by Fukasaku paints in this second installment of the Yakuza papers saga.
While the opening sequence of the first narrative was rather disorienting, throwing the spectator right into the brutal and violent narrative reality, Deadly Fight in Hiroshima starts with a short but welcoming sketch of the previous narrative (Cine-note 1). In 1945, Hirono (Bunta Sugawara) and some other men, who use violence to ventilate their frustration of being defeated in WWII, form a family in Kure with Yamamori (Nobuo Kaneko) as their leader. While they soon gain complete control over Kuze, internal conflicts start destabilizing the family, eventually leading Hirono to leave the family.
This time around, the spectator finds his orientation in the world of the gokudousha through the turbulent slice-of-life narrative of Shoji Yamanaka (Kinya Kitaoji), who finds himself caught in a strife between families in Hiroshima – a narrative that eventually shifts, albeit shortly, to the narrative of Hirono in Kure. As a body of new characters and families are introduced in the same brief manner as in Battles – often only with a still and a title, Deadly Fight in Hiroshima can feel a bit overwhelming for those who want to keep track of the bigger picture.
While traditional aspects of the gokudousha are still shown in the narrative (e.g. the initiation ritual), various new aspects about this kind of life are highlighted in Deadly Fight in Hiroshima (e.g. the act of expelling and reconciliation, the putting of tattoo’s, the actual work gokudousha or families do or are privileged to do, the importance of political connections,…, etc.), giving the sketch that Battles initiated more density and also more meaning (Narra-note 1). If the papers saga is to be considered an ensemble piece, then it is precisely in the act of providing the spectator a rare faithful insight in the complexity of this post WWII underworld – a world thriving on the excesses of enjoyment, easily deregulated by ego’s and full of traumatic burst of violence.
The narrative is, unsurprisingly, framed in Fukasaku’s trademark documentary-like cinematography (Cine-note 2). The dynamic and fluid way in which the narrative space is traversed, empowered with the shakiness of the camera, exposes the world of the gokudousha, despite and because of the Ninkyodo, as a rough, violent and bleak place. There is no place for romanticisation here and that is also evident from the rough frenetic and sometimes disorienting framing of violence. By evoking the chaotic nature and the gritty impact of the violence as such acts of violence truly affect the spectator (cine-note 3).
The vicious and turbulent nature of the gokudousha and their fiefdom structure also finds its expression in the way in which the narrative space is painted as such. By resorting to a palette of dark and dreary colours, with red – often appearing as blood, as only striking colour, any element of positiveness – if there are any – is quickly ravished in a spiral of violent negativity. This negativity is also beautifully evoked by the portrayals of each yakuza member, with each actor painting his character through speech and comportment believable and realistic on the silver screen. In this respect, a special mention is reserved for Meiko Kaji, whose subtle elegance truly captivates audiences.
Deadly Fight in Hiroshima is as much, despite the changed perspective, an elaboration of the complexity of the gokudousha at that time as it is a continuation of the complex narrative. And while this faithful account of the post-war Japanese underworld is downright fabulous to behold, the portrayed lack of humanity – often caused by the symbolic structures sketched out by the Ninkyodo – also constitutes a serene but rather depressing confrontation with the deregulating nature of man’s enjoyment beyond any heroism whatsoever. In short, the extremely violent Deadly Fight in Hiroshima is just as gripping and enthralling as Battles was – to be continued in Proxy war (1973).
Cine-note 1: The sketch that enables the spectator to find an orientation in the narrative, is made up by a concatenation of stills (from the previous narrative) supplemented by a narrating voice. The feel of watching a piece of representational cinema is immediately evoked.
Titles are also used to further structure the plot, while empowering the documentary-like framing of the narrative. And at various instances,the narrating voice returns to introduce new characters or to provide narrative development and (true) background information.
Cine-Note 2: Techniques that Fukasaku uses are concatenation of stills, moving shots, tracking shots, zoom-ins, playing with depth of field, …
Cine-note 3: Conversations are once again characterized by a more static framing.
Narra-note 1: In this narrative, there is a focus on gambling and providing protection. More concrete, the privilege of overseeing and owning of gambling-dens and the privilege of providing protection for government projects is highlighted.