High & Low The Movie 3: Final Mission (2017)
The five gangs of S.W.O.R.D. are once more in conflict with the Kuryu Yakuza, after their exposure of the group's corrupt political connections at the end of the previous film somehow fails to have any impact whatsoever on their plans. The group still want to demolish the district to build a casino, but now there's also something about toxic waste from a chemical plant buried under the construction site which they are trying to cover up by building a casino on it.
It's been 3 months or so since I watched High & Low The Movie 2: End of Sky and even though that was my favourite in the series so far I hadn't felt much of an urge to continue on to the third part. Apparently much of the cast felt the same as many of them only appear for a token shot or two (or none). Masataka Kubota certainly seems to have had enough as despite the end credits of the 2nd film setting him up to be a major player in this (after being mostly absent in that) he can't have been on set for more than a day to film his scenes. Pivotal to the story, sure, but mostly by getting written out of it.
The film focusses mainly on the core members of Sannoh Hoodlum Squad, the Amamiya Brothers and some of the remaining Rude Boys of Nameless Town - plus the bad guys. This streamlined focus isn't necessarily harmful as the series cast had swelled to include a measurable fraction of the population of Japan. If your favourite member of EXILE TRIBE only gets 10 seconds of screen time here I guess it sucks to be you - sorry.
Unfortunately the smaller cast doesn't help Shigeaki Kubo tell a tighter story. He once again succumbs to his flashback addiction, and edits this film weirdly non-linearly so that he sometimes finds himself needing to flashback to earlier scenes. It feels like he couldn't work out how to tell the story so he presents various relevant events and then looks at us with sad eyes imploring us to figure out the narrative for ourselves. It's not exactly hard, I'm pretty sure the exact same plot has been used for more than one kids TV show so you're unlikely to be left confused by it.
Kubo seems much more comfortable when he's just trying to make his cast look cool, which is pretty much the raison d'etre of the High & Low franchise I suppose. Even though the gang are still looking beaten up from the previous film their hair is as immaculate as ever and Kubo finds no shortage of reasons (or perhaps no reasons) to shoot them looking brooding and manly, in slow motion where possible, with bonus points if they're on a motorbike.
If you're not as excited about pretty boys posing as the director then the series other primary draw was some of the more interesting action scenes Japan has put out recently, especially the large scale brawls which put that massive cast to some use and which have showcased some innovative choreography and camera work before. Unfortunately Final Mission disappoints on that front. There are a couple of brawls but it doesn't seem like they had the same time or effort put into them and they aren't particularly impressive (a couple of cool parkour moves aside). There's a rematch between the Amamiyas and badass Yakuza hitman Naoki Kobayashi which is pretty good, probably the highlight of the film, but it isn't really anything special in the end.
So the upward trend of the series sees a sudden reversal on the final stretch, crashing and burning in a blaze of meh. I can't think of any particular reason to watch any of the spin-offs, though I expect I will somehow end up watching the crossover with the Crows Zero franchise one day... the fact that even they call it HIGH & LOW: THE WORST doesn't exactly fill me with giddy anticipation though.