The yakuza movie used to bestride the Japanese film industry like a colossus, but now clings to its margins. A well-known director occasionally essays the genre, as Takeshi Kitano did last year with "Outrage Coda," but a true revival has yet to come.
Director Kazuya Shiraishi delivers more of a homage than a revamp in “The Blood of Wolves,” a cop thriller based on Yuko Yuzuki’s novel of the same Japanese title. But the film’s real inspiration, as Shiraishi himself has admitted, is “Battles Without Honor and Humanity,” a seminal 1973-74 five-part series directed by Kinji Fukasaku.
Tracing a true-life 20-year gang war in Hiroshima and nearby Kure, "Battles" had a contemporary feel and a shot-on-the-fly propulsion. "The Blood of Wolves" is also set in Hiroshima but its story of a veteran cop (Koji Yakusho) suspected of being in cahoots with the yakuza unfolds in 1988 and has the air of a last hurrah, with its dirty hero being the last of his species. Which doesn't mean the film's many action scenes suffer from middle-aged blahs: The beatings and bloodlettings are staged with visceral realism and old-school punch.