Yakuza movies were once as easy to understand as white-hat-versus-black-hat Hollywood Westerns. A gang that upholds the traditional jingi code of yakuza “chivalry” is being out-fought, out-knifed and outgunned by ruthless, greedy rival hoods. Then a stoic lone outlaw, typically played by Ken Takakura, arrives to save the day with a swift Japanese sword.
In 1973, director Kinji Fukasaku exposed the fiction of gangster virtue in “Jingi Naki Tatakai (Battles Without Honor and Humanity),” the first of a five-part series based on a real postwar gang power struggle in Kure and Hiroshima and full of scheming, double-crossing and violent falls from grace. The characters break every commandment but the first one of gang life: Do unto others before others do unto you.