Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 11, 2021 7:55 pm 
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KAZUYA SHIRAISHI: LAST OF THE WOLVES aka BLOOD OF THE WOLES II 孤狼の血 LEVEL2 (2021) - 2021 NY Asian Film Festival (Aug. 6-22)


For genre fans, a satisfyingly cruel and violent yakuza sequel

This latest in the "Wolves" yakuza vs. police series, also known as "Level II" or "The Blood of Wolves II," features "dirty" cop Detective Shiguchi Hioka (Tôri Matsuzaka), who takes over after Shogo Ogami’s death in Hiroshima and successfully imipliements Shogo Ogami’s plan to subdue the gangs, prevent further gang wars and save innocent people from getting harmed. That doesn't mean people don't get harmed, and this episode is reportedly more violent than previous ones. I can attest to the abuse of women, the keeping of a man's parents in cages and their execution, forced chopping off of fingers, gouging out of eyes, forced addiction to meth --one could go on.

The time is the late '80's and the place is Hiroshima. Clarence Tsui points out in his Hollywood Reporter review of the previous segment, The Blood of Wolves, this was a period of general bad behavior in Japan when the yakuza abandoned all their moral codes, and here in a traditional yakuza flick - a rarity nowadays - as in the 1973-76 "Battles Without Honor," also set in Hiroshima, Shiraishi dials up "the melodrama and viseral gore, while offering characters who are motivated by a real sense of justice and empathy toward others and society in general." But it gets ugly.

Another notable character is the youthful Sal Mineo type Chika (Nijirô Murakami), released from prison, who stays with the gang but as Hioka's agent ("spy"), but is found out. As the scariest of the gansters and Hioka's main and final adversary we have Shigehiro Uebayashi (Ryôhei Suzuki). Also starring Shô Aoyagi, Miwako Kakei, Rino Katase. As before, screenplay by Junya Ikegami based on the novels of Yuko Yuzuki. True to genre, this is punishing stuff, and under the circumstances the run time was more than one needed; almost more than one could take.

This made me long for Takeshi Kitano's minimal, conceptualist approach to yakuza as seen in his 2013 Beyond Outrage. When there is ultra-violence, I like the mitigation of formal elegance.

But "telonefive" is an example of a Letterboxd genre fan: they were generally pleased: "i think this is ultimately Shitaishi’s most significant achievement with this film: he shakes things up, introduces a different modality to the narrative, really ramps up the intensity, but crucially keeps it as focused as the first film, still commanding the flow of the film with a great deal of finesse and gives the characters all the time they need to develop and feel like a crucial part of the story. this is a complex narrative and Shiraishi handles it expertly. and that ending, ooph, couldn’t wrap it up better."

Last of the Wolves 孤狼の血 LEVEL2, 139 mins., release date Aug. 20, 2021. Screened as part of the 2021 NY Asian Film Festival (Aug. 6-22).

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