“Police Tactics” – A.J. Hakari

Police Tactics is the fourth in director Kinji Fukasaku’s five-volume Yakuza Papers series. While the first three pictures depicted Japan’s criminal ilk in a violent struggle for power, this one positions them on their last legs. The illusion of honor that these soldiers have spent years trying to maintain has begun to dissipate, leaving the corpse of many a gangster in its wake. The whole house of cards has started to collapse, and in the gritty, no-holds-barred fashion that’s become this franchise’s trademark, Police Tactics is there to capture every tragic second.

Following the events of Proxy War, veteran Yakuza man Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara) has landed in hot water amongst his criminal brethren. As the Muraoka family continues to expand under the leadership of Yoshio Yamamori (Nobuo Kaneko), Shozo continues harboring a decades-old grudge against his former boss. Unfortunately, this beef has resulted in a prolonged feud that the heads of several local families are antsy to bring an end to. But as if long-standing vendettas weren’t enough, these clans come under pressure from another source: the law. With the public rallying against the Yakuza’s violent shenanigans, the police have begun cracking down on such underworld activities, using the press to drum up even more support for their cause. The elder Yakuza statesmen hope for a peaceful end to such turmoil, but the more trigger-happy up-and-comers threaten to finish the fight just as brutally as it began.

Police Tactics makes it sure from the very beginning that this tale is last call for its series’ diverse tapestry of characters. Change is definitely in the air here, the most obvious example of which is the level of prominence to which the police have risen in the story. In prior Yakuza Papers chapters, the focus was pretty much entirely on Shozo and company, but here, the cops have finally decided that enough is enough. They’re shown here as more of an omnipresent threat, a force without a face that works both for and against the story. I liked how it added to the constant danger already plaguing the daily lives of these Yakuza men, but it still would’ve been nice to have one main figure as a representative. Another character wouldn’t have mattered much anyway, since about twenty dozen have already come and gone over the course of the series. But Fukasaku communicates his point well regardless, consistently reminding the characters that the time to pay for their many sins is nigh.

Figuring just as much into the overarching story is the “out with the old, in with the new” mentality adopted by Hiroshima’s latest wave of hoods, thugs, and all-around rapscallions. In their advanced age, the bunch first introduced in Battles Without Honor & Humanity have grown apathetic towards the issue of honor, preferring to concentrate on just not getting caught. But the younger crowd proves itself more apt to fly off the handle and further intensify the feud. Not even Shozo can avoid it, remaining steadfast in his mission to take down Yamamori (albeit exercising much more restraint than his underlings). Once again, though, Police Tactics runs into trouble by broadly painting these themes instead of conveying them on a more personal level. As in other films of the series, numerous characters get lost in the shuffle here, and though a handful of interesting ones pop up (including a fledgling crook from the slums), their screen time is all too brief. Fukasaku may have captured the volatile lifestyle of the postwar gangster, but it still gets annoying when people are sliced up five minutes after they’re introduced.

Thanks to the heedless events of Proxy War, Police Tactics takes a while to get into. Between the dearth of fleshed-out characters and a story that jumps all over the place, it’s difficult to find somewhere to latch on and let Fukasaku’s epic storytelling take you away. But once it does, Police Tactics will have no trouble holding your attention and having you clamor for the final episode.

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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