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Film Review: The Yakuza Papers Pt. 2 – Deadly Fight in Hiroshima

After the original The Yakuza Papers came out and did incredibly well at the box office, a sequel came out with a relatively fast turnaround. Unlike the first film, the sequel, Deadly Fight in Hiroshima, bypasses Bunta Sugawara’s character, Shozo Hirono (who does appear in this film as a cameo appearance), for a new character, and new story of induction into the world of the Yakuza.

This time, the aimless veteran who gets pulled into the world of the Yakuza is a man named Yamanaka – a former aspiring Kamikaze pilot who was denied entry into the program, and with it a glorious death, due to his young age.

I feel like if this was an episode of Film Brain’s “Bad Movie Beatdown”, this is the part where one would pump ones arms in the air while screaming “Symbolism!!11!1!” because this fact pretty much encapuslates Yamanaka’s character.

Yamanaka (Kinya Kitaoji) ends up running afoul of Katsutoshi Otomo (Sonny Chiba), the son of a local Yakuza boss. Yamanaka is saved from being beaten to death by the uncle of a waitress at the restaurant where Otomo’s goons are attacking him. The waitress, Yasuko (Meiko Kaiji), is related to another Yakuza boss, Tsuneo Muraoka (Hiroshi Nawa).

As with the first film, the two Families end up in conflict, the heads of the two families end up being revealed to be cruel and callous puppet masters, treating their underlings as expendible minions to be expended as they wish.

The biggest shift here is that Yamanaka is not the stock tough-guy that Hirono was in the first film. Bunta Sugawara is a man who was chisled out of a block of granite, making him a great tough guy, but not necessarily the kind of tough guy with a deep emotional range.

By comparison, Kitaoji’s Yamanaka is a much more byronic figure. He’s a man with a death wish, but one who keeps finding things to live for. He becomes a hit man for Muraoka’s family because he wants dangerous missions, but he falls in love with Yasuko, and he takes tremendous risks to be with her.

The acting performances in this film, overall, are much more balanced. The expressions of fear and sorrow are much more naturally played here. Characters are more inclined to show fear, and display their emotions more subtlety – a couple silent tears down the face, with a distraught expression over overt hammy sobbing.

Sonny Chiba in this film is also playing against what I’d consider his “type” to be – a collected badass. Katsutoshi is an utterly deranged psychopath who barely considers human lives to be worth his notice, and who happily keeps escalating and escalating his gang war. At the beginning, he justifies and coaches his actions as being done to provide for his Family, by opening opportunities to earn money. By the end, he’s bragging about the press, and not giving a damn about money – just winning.

Also, while Katsutoshi is played by Chiba, who is best known for his work in martial arts films, he rarely throws a punch. Not only that, but his character is one who prefers guns over hand to hand combat, to the point that when he doesn’t have a gun in his hand, he panics, compared to his manic confidence he posesses with a gun in his hand.

However, I can’t talk about this film without getting into the fight scenes. As with the last film, the fight scenes in this movie are very chaotic, very unstructured, and shot in hand-held, with basically proto-Shakey-Cam. This also leads to the problem, because while I wouldn’t say that the camera shake would give viewers motion sickness, it is something that makes the fight scenes much less comprehensible.

Shakey-cam, when it works, maintains camera shake while also making it clear to the audience who the sides in the fight are, who is winning, and how they’re accomplishing it. A great example of this is the fights in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The camera moves are rapid and the cuts are fast, but you know who is fighting who at what times, and how the participants are faring.

Similarly, when it comes to showing a chaotic fight, where everyone is in a general brawl, and there’s none of the flash or style of a more conventional film fight, you can do that without shakey cam. In the previous film I reviewed, Rashomon, the fight in The Woodcutter’s story is chaotic, unstructured, and rough – less of a stylish chambara swordfight and more of a brawl. However,  you can see everything that’s going on. It’s not like the fight has a stationary camera either – Kurosawa’s camera moves throughout the fight, going with the fight’s ebb and flow.

By comparison, in this film’s fights – in particular an attack on Muraoka’s house by Otomo and his goons, I couldn’t really tell who was on whose side in the fight after things really got started, who was dead and who was injured. The only people I could really recognize on sight was Muraoka and Otomo, first because of their costume, and second because the camera stablized when it was on them, because you had to see who was saying the lines.

In short, this film is a case of two steps forward, one step back. The acting is better than the previous film, and the characters involved make the fact that the plot structure is effectively the same more forgivible. However, the shakey photography of the fight scenes makes them almost incomprehensible.

Still, the film is an improvement over the last installment. One can hope that part 3 will take things even further.