Last of the Wolves 孤狼の血 LEVEL2 Director: Kazuya Shiraishi (2021) [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]

Last of the Wolves   Last of the Wolves Film Poster

孤狼の血 LEVEL2   Korou no Chi Level 2

Release Date: August 20th 2021

Duration: 139 mins.

Director: Kazuya Shiraishi

Writer: Junya Ikegami (Script), Yuko Yuzuki (Original Novel)

Starring: Tori Matsuzaka, Ryohei Suzuki, Nijiro Murakami, Nanase Nishino, Taichi Saotome, Takumi Saito, Kotaro Yoshida, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Miwako Kakei, Susumu Terajima, Hiroki Miyake,

Website IMDB

The Last of the Wolves is director Kazuya Shiraishi’s sequel to Blood of the Wolves, his well-received 2018 yakuza film. With his latest work, he returns to the crime world of Yuko Yuzuki’s novel trilogy but only going as far as taking key elements and characters as scriptwriter Junya Ikegami concocts a brand new story that provides thrills and spills perfect for a gangster film.

Set three years after the bloody climax of The Blood of Wolves, detective Shuichi Hioka (Tori Matsuzaka) has stepped up into his former partner’s position to implement a plan to control the local yakuza and prevent further gang wars in Kurehara and Hiroshima. This delicate balance of power is upset by a vicious gangster named Uebayashi (Ryohei Suzuki) who is back on the streets following time in the infamous Abashiri Prison. He is looking to avenge a gang boss slain in the previous film and that sets him on a collision course with Hioka. Along the way, many people will get hurt.

What unfolds is a bloody crime thriller with internecine gang wars, police politics, police procedural aspects and scenes of violence as various factions betray each other on the fictional streets of Kurehara and the real streets of Hiroshima in 1990s Japan. A lot of it is reminiscent of the first film and countless other yakuza movies, especially in its themes of the changing times in the crime world and the battle between old-school muscle going out in a blaze of glory and new-school moneymen trying to integrate into regular society. The really compelling thing driving the film is the rivalry between the two lead characters as they both go to the limits of their beliefs: for Hioka it is how corrupt he will allow himself to become to deliver justice while for Uebayashi it is his desire to embody jingi – honour and loyalty – even if it means his destruction.

Having shed his good-guy persona, Hioka is a sly fox in the mould of his ex-partner. He wines and dines with mobsters to make key connections and set up police stings to keep everyone sweet or in line. On the other hand, Uebayashi is a terrifying force of nature whose relentless pursuit of vengeance for his boss results in scenes of cruelty towards people and animals that are stomach churning – people get caged, drugs are administered, limbs get cut off, and all of others get blown away or stabbed by him and his goons. One particularly nasty aspect of his behaviour is blinding people, the pathology of which is exhumed in a compelling backstory via his killings, naturalistic exposition between detectives tracking him, and lengthy flashback scenes that adds a little psychological depth to what might just be a mindless sadist. Through him the film touches upon the experience of Zainichi Koreans (and a couple of other immigrant groups) and while it isn’t too deep it does add flavour.

Blood of the Wolves Level 2

In their roles, both Tori Matsuzaka and Ryohei Suzuki provide persuasive performances with the former, his lean body and pencil-thin moustache, coming off weak and desperate in the face of Ryohei Suzuki who infuses his muscular build with an aura of threat in the way that he bulldozes his way around sets and casually erupts with violence. We wonder how Hioka will work this situation with, especially as Shiraishi ups the gruesomeness factor of the film in order to match the terror and threat that Uebayashi poses. The camera doesn’t duck away from violence, torture, and blood-letting and the levels go beyond the first film to create grand guignol operatic experiences before culminating in an epic car chase and explosive final confrontation.

This new film definitely feels novelistic in terms of the details regarding the wider setting and its huge cast of characters and it runs at 139 minutes but each minute is rich in period details and actions that make this engaging viewing and the twists and turns in the battle between Hioka and Uebayashi make this a thrilling ride. 

Last of the Wolves plays as part of the New York Asian Film Festival 2021 on Sunday, August 15th, 10:00pm at the SVA Theatre

My review first appeared on V-Cinema on August 14th

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