The problem with getting into the later installments of the Yakuza Papers series of films is that by the later installments Kenji Fukasaku has gotten into a stylistic groove when it comes to what this series of films are – what they look like, what they sound like, and how their action is presented.
The good news is that by this installment of the series, we’ve pretty much set up the players, where they’re coming from, what they’re fighting over, and why. We understand their grudges, who the “good guys” (if there can be said to be any good guys) are, and who the “bad guys” are (and there are definitely bad guys).
Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara) remains in the forefront for most of this film. However, because he’s the boss of his own family, Hirono is no longer the active participant in the violence he was in earlier films. Here’s he’s much more of a political figure and operator, trying to keep his family alive and intact in the midst of the war rating through Hiroshima.
Ironically, this should put him in the perfect realization to realize that the Yakuza code of honor that he’s hewn to throughout the first three films, while everyone else in positions of authority has ignore it, is a complete lie. He doesn’t. Hirono ends up back in prison in this film, bookending the series, where he started off in prison during film one. During his time in prison, the guards rub Hirono’s face in the fact that he has a better cell, better clothes, and better food than the rank and file of his (or any other) Yakuza family who ends up in this same prison and he denies it. Not only does he deny it, but he cites the Yakuza code through his denial, grabbing hold of it like Linus trying to save his security blanket from Snoopy.
It really shows how much the character of Hirono has changed, and how he’s been corrupted. He left his Family to start his own Family in the first film as a rejection of his former superiors and how they treated him, and they treat their underlings. That he was going to run his Yakuza family in a fashion to treat them with respect, and to play the political game to keep his subordinates alive – and indeed, they don’t suffer any severe losses until after Hirono is prison (so he succeeds in that regard). Yet it feels like time and the politics of the Yakuza made him blind to his understanding of why he started his own family in the first place.
There is one final installment in this series, and I’m interested in seeing how this all wraps up. That said, you could end the film right here, and it would have a satisfactory conclusion – the yakuza can no longer act as they did before – society will not let them. They must become a part of the rest of society, instead of being in their own world.