“Deadly Fight in Hiroshima” – A.J. Hakari

Japanese gangsters have really gotten the short end of the cinematic stick. While the Italians are out having all the fun, soldiers of the Yakuza often get stuck as placeholder villains, alongside corporations and Eastern European terrorists. But leave it to Battle Royale’s Kinji Fukasaku to give Japan its own crime saga in the form of the Yakuza Papers series. Deadly Fight in Hiroshima is the second chapter, and it quite excels in its duties as a sequel. Not only does it preserve the chaotic flavor established by its predecessor, it tweaks the formula and adds its own twists, which go a long way in keeping the story alive and kicking.

When we last left wayward gangster Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara), he had bid farewell to the crime family that caused so much pain and anguish in his life. As Deadly Fight in Hiroshima picks up, we see Shozo in prison, befriending a violent thug by the name of Yamanaka (Seizo Fukumoto). Not long after he’s paroled, Yamanaka himself becomes wrapped up in the Yakuza world, crossing paths with brutal enforcer Katsutoshi Otomo (Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba). Angered by the beating Otomo and his boys deliver, Yamanaka sets up with a rival clan to get revenge, his actions quickly earning the respect of crime boss Muraoka (Hiroshi Nawa). As the rivalry between Muraoka and Otomo’s families heats up, Shozo tries in vain to get his own crew off the ground, though he ends up arriving in the middle of a gang war that threatens to tear apart Hiroshima.

The first Yakuza Papers film, Battles Without Honor & Humanity, was a kinetic piece of work, though not a flawless one. Its biggest problem was that it put too much stock in Shozo as the protagonist. Despite the expansive cast of characters, Battles shed some of its energy whenever Shozo wasn’t around, since everyone else just wasn’t that interesting. Deadly Fight in Hiroshima rectifies this issue by providing not one but three strong characters to focus on. Shozo is back again, and though he remains an important part in the overarching story, his screen time is more modestly doled out. Instead, a healthy portion of the film centers on Yamanaka, played with just the right touch of intensity by Fukumoto. With Shozo’s story on the backburner, Fukasaku brings forth the tale of another Yakuza newcomer who learns the hard way what it means to be a gangster. Yamanaka’s journey comes with a tinge of tragedy, as his hopes for a future with Muraoka’s fetching niece (Meiko Kaji, from Lady Snowblood) start to fade away the further he becomes wrapped up in the underworld.

But the real star of the show here is Sonny Chiba’s utterly demented mobster. Chiba’s performance is the very definition of uninhibited, bounding across the screen in bloodthirsty, maniacal glee. Katsutoshi is as frenetic as they come, a man rarely seen without his sunglasses or badass hat, as well as spending most of his time either stabbing or shooting people. He’s the Anton Chigurh of this piece, standing for complete chaos and calamity, with Shozo exhibiting much more dignity and Yamanaka landing somewhere in the middle. It’s unfortunate, though, that Katsutoshi becomes a victim of Fukasaku’s whirlwind storytelling. It fits in with the series’ general mood, that anything can happen at any time, but it still sucks to see a character crammed with such energy meet such an anticlimactic fate. The same end is experienced by most of the supporting players, the bulk of whom you probably won’t know and especially won’t care about when they’re gunned down or sliced up. The climax also gets increasingly muddled, though Fukasaku mostly keeps things moving at a fresh pace thanks to the effective violence and gritty cinematography.

Deadly Fight in Hiroshima is the rare sequel that actually advances the story at hand, rather than regurgitate the same premise. Alone, it’s tense and lively stuff, but for the series it calls home, it leaves you anxious to know what’s coming next.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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