Next week sees the long overdue release of Battle Royale director Kinji Fukasaku’s New Battles Without Honour and Humanity trilogy. Made in the mid-70s, Fukasaku’s sprawling crime saga is soon to be unveiled for the first time ever in the UK by Arrow Video, who have assembled Fukasaku’s three films into a sumptuously packaged Blu-ray box-set. The New Battles movies tell standalone tales of different Japanese Yakuza crime syndicates and the complex character/ business conflicts that occur within the clans.
Naturally (and thankfully) anarchic violence and bloodshed ensue amidst the criminal deliberations/ dialogue exchanges and while Fukasaku’s rugged, frenetic style festoons all three entries with exhilarating energy, they are coloured further by spirited camaraderie, anarchic gun battles and hand-cam captured car chases.
To celebrate the New Battles Blu-ray box set release, Arrow hosted a promo/screening event at Pimpshuei: a clandestine, East Asian pop culture themed cocktail bar in East/Central London. Buried down a backstreet behind the Mount Pleasant Mail Rail, this covert, cocktail spinning mini Mecca for East Asian pop culture is not the type of place you would stumble across by accident. It is so furtive that even a passer by might not happen upon it by chance, but Pimpshuei’s concealment is part of its appeal.
Old arcade machines beam neon across the ceiling and blink retro beeps like malfunctioning 1950s b-movie robots while growing mould in shadowy corners. The walls and tables are plastered with 70s/ 80s martial arts film posters of now retro flicks like The Last Dragon, American Ninja and Space Sheriff Sharivan. A big screen looped Asian film trailers while dusty consoles (original Ataris) and ghetto blasters with embedded TV screens churn synchronised Kung fu clips on their jittery black and white monitors.
In the centre of its semi-circle bar, a resident booze ninja combines chaotic canister juggling with sturdy pouring, rambunctious dancing, liquid mixing and inebriated Monty Python-like Kung fu. While the bar might seem more like the fantasy bedroom of a Japanese teenager (circa 1975-85) than one of the many corporate, brioche selling bistros that have corrupted much of the surrounding area, Pimshuei radiates a raw geek candour. Its style gilds Fukusaku’s films like a stud-dotted power glove on the fist of a gimp, and is perfect for the occasion.
Those strong enough to immediately tear themselves from the sushi and booze were rewarded with comfy seats at the front of the “auditorium” while stragglers had to make do perched on bar stools at the back. An Arrow Video honcho introduced the film about to be screened (New Battles Without Honour and Humanity 2: The Boss’s Head/ arguably the best in the trilogy). Any floor level seating behind the first few rows meant neck cricking critics would run the risk of winding up an A&E in attempt to read the subtitles, but for anyone who managed this without dislocating their spine, New Battles 2 was an exhilarating yet slightly perplexing treat.
The 1968 set, non-episodic “sequel” tells the tale of how syndicate chief Owada takes in straggling hit-man Shuji Kuroda, who was recently released from a prison sentence for killing a Yakuza adversary. The plot follows Kuroda through 90 plus minutes of spy-like subterfuge amidst an ocean of gun-punching, angry martial arts, car crashing and irate, shouting gangsters riddled with bullets, ulterior motives and personal vendettas. While seeming slightly sprawling due to countless characters and being watched in agony (I was one of the stragglers), New Battles 2 has an unyielding energy, vivacious action and raw, real-life settings captured with a grimy, almost (at times) documentary style that’s lacking in most modern gangster/ action flicks.
When the film concluded, the few that didn’t shoot off immediately were treated to more drinks, music and trailers downstairs, and given time to mull over what they had just seen. New Battles Without Honour and Humanity 2: The Boss’s Head (and Arrow) succeeded in wetting gullets and whetting appetites for the first and third films in the trilogy. Once again, Arrow had outdone itself by unearthing and dusting off three lost film gems for a future generation of cult cinema lovers to admire. Without Arrow Video we might not ever have had the chance to appreciate such a rich, divisive and colourful array of, in most cases, lurid classics, teeming with extra features and in the spruced up, high resolution they deserved to be seen in.
New Battles Without Honour and Humanity: The Complete Trilogy is released on Blu-ray on 21st August