Last of the Wolves
孤狼の血 LEVEL2 (Korou no Chi Level 2)
Japan, 2021, 149’, Japanese
Directed by: Shiraishi Kazuya
Script: Ikegami Junya
Photography (color): Kato Kohei
Music: Yasukawa Goro
Producers: Amano Kazuhito, Takahashi Daisuke
Executive Producer: Kii Muneyuki
Production Company: Toei
Cast: Matsuzaka Tori, Suzuki Ryohei, Katase Rina, Murakami Nijiro, Nishino Nanase, Shibukawa Kiyohiko
Date of First Release in Territory: August 20th, 2021
Sequels are not often better than the films they’re based on, but counter examples include The Godfather Part II and now Last of the Wolves, Shiraishi Kazuya’s hardboiled follow-up to his 2018 The Blood of Wolves. This old-school cops-versus-gangsters film won a long list of awards, including several Best Actor prizes for lead Yakusho Koji, playing Ogami Shogo, AKA Gami, a scruffy Hiroshima detective who gets results by chucking the rule book.
Based on Yuzuki Yuko’s 2015 novel, the story in the new film begins in 1991, three years after the action in the previous one ends. This time the hero is Hioka Shuichi (Matsuzaka Tori), the now-deceased Gami’s one-time straight-arrow protegee, who has since adopted his mentor’s maverick persona, while carrying out his plan to make peace between once-warring Odani and Itako gangs.
Acquaintance with the first film is recommended, if not essential since the central conflict in the new one focuses on Hioka and Uebayashi Shigehiro (Suzuki Ryohei), an Itako gangster not in the first film who leaves prison after serving a stretch for murder determined to destroy his old Odani enemies for the sake of his now-dead boss.
Similar to Robert De Niro’s young Vito Corleone in the above-mentioned 1974 masterpiece, Uebayashi is a cold-blooded killer, but his true spiritual twin is Ishikawa Rikio (Watari Tetsuya), the mad dog gangster hero of Graveyard of Honor, the 1975 true-story classic by Fukasaku Kinji. Shiraishi has also drawn inspiration from Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Fukasaku’s five-part 1973-74 series about gang wars in Hiroshima and nearby Kure.
Like The Blood of Wolves, the sequel is something of a homage to that seminal series, which exposed the dirty reality behind the romanticizing of the “noble outlaw” found in so many of the era’s gang films. It even borrows Fukasaku’s device of a dulcet-toned narrator giving a news-bulletin-like account of on-screen events.
But Last of the Wolves also has a power rarely seen in contemporary Japanese films about the yakuza, in which realism takes a back seat to the cartoonish bloodshed so beloved by foreign fanboys or the melodrama that draws in domestic audiences.
It’s not that the film is devoid of humor: Confronted by Uebayashi’s ruthless savagery, its targets comically quail or flee. But it also turns poignant when the untimely death of an Uebayashi underling leads to guilt for one survivor and anger and heartbreak for another. The situation itself is a genre standard, but based on Ikegami Junya’s script, Shiraishi’s direction drills down to the raw emotional core.
Also, the film’s gang power struggles are complex, but the story boils down to Hioka’s frantic efforts to keep the peace and Uebayashi’s crazed campaign to violently end it. As Hioka, Matsuzaka Tori is not the usual cop-on-a-mission: He is too sweaty, too desperate, too clearly in over his head. In other words, he is exactly what the role requires.
Playing Uebayashi, Suzuki Ryohei creates one of the genre’s great psychopaths. Yes, he has his reasons, beginning with an abusive childhood, that culminated in his murder of his parents, but he also takes a cruel pleasure in torturing his victims – and his drive for dominance and vengeance is scarifying in its cold-eyed relentlessness. This is a wolf – and a film – with a bite.
Shiraishi Kazuya (b. 1974) made his feature debut with Lost Paradise in Tokyo in 2009. His 2013 crime thriller The Devil’s Path became a critical and commercial success. Birds Without Names, a 2017 relationship drama, won many domestic awards. He also reunited with The Devil’s Path stars Lily Franky and Pierre Taki for Sunny/32, about a school teacher who becomes an object of worship for a crazed cult. In The Blood of Wolves (2018) Yakusho Koji starred as a roguish veteran cop who seems to be working on both sides of the law. His 2021 sequel, Last of the Wolves, will open in Japan in August 2021.
2009 – Lost Paradise in Tokyo
2013 – The Devil’s Path
2016 – Twisted Justice
2017 – Dawn of the Felines
2017 – Birds Without Names
2018 – Sunny / 32
2018 – The Blood of Wolves
2018 – Dare to Stop Us
2019 – One Night
2021 – Last of the Wolves