BR: Massacre Gun / Massacre Gun (1967)

May 20, 2015 | By


MassacreGun_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label: Arrow Video USA / MVD Visual

Region: All

Released:  April 7, 2015

Genre:  Gangster / Yakuza

Synopsis: When hitman Kuroda forms his own gang, he sets in motion the virtual elimination of his family.

Special Features:  Interview with actor Jo Shishido (18 mins.) / Interview with critic & Nikkatsu historian Tony Rayns (37 mins.) / Original theatrical trailer / Gallery featuring rare promotional images / Reversible sleeve art / Booklet with liner notes by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp / DVD copy / Limited to 3000 copies.





Yasuharu Hasebe’s second feature film is a wild throwback to classic film noir, updated with a lively jazz score and a ridiculous level of gunplay as three brothers take control of a rival gang’s stronghold over assorted businesses. It’s a classic protection racket drama where thugs fight thugs, and nobility rises from a strong sense of fraternal honor, as well as once honorable friendships severed by irrevocable decisions.

The violence is perpetual, and there’s rarely a moment of peace, but that’s what happens when corrupt characters choose a life of crime, be it intentionally or out of revenge. Jo Shishido plays suave hitman Kuroda, a man so vicious he’s willing to kill a woman with whom he’d planned to escape to another city and start anew, but honor to his boss was Priority One (not to mention he was being followed by an associate to ensure completion), and yet as soon as the deed is done he decides to end his association, initially wanting a clean break, but opting for payback when his youngest brother’s hands are broken, ending the boy’s career and his rare status as the lone brother who remained mob-clean.

Hasebe and Ryuzo Nakanishi’s script is stronger on character relations than dialogue, with each brother being highly distinct from the other: Kuroda is slow, calculating, patient, and vicious with precision, whereas middle brother Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji) is a hothead, sadistic, and a womanizer. Younger brother Saburo (Jiro Okazaki) is a bit of a playboy, and too naïve for his own good, but the film’s drama is multilayered, moving from revenge against a despotic mob boss to an inevitable shootout between two former friends who also shared a romance years before.

In Shakespearean fashion, both Kuroda and Midorikawa (Ryoji Hayama) were being groomed to succeed their boss, but the former’s decision to end what remained of a civil, respectful friendship dooms both men. The finale, filmed at a nearly completed highway interchange, is an amazing shootout sequence clearly appropriated from the American western genre: a lone scaffold tower where Kuroda picks off the gang’s surviving members is akin to the gunslinging anti-hero perched on a mountain peak, picking off hired shooters in a valley before snaking down the canyon for a final man-to-man quick draw.

Massacre Gun is a straight Nikkatsu exploitation picture – there’s sex, nudity, violence, and action – and it was clearly shot on a small budget, evidenced by the slim interior sets and camera noise bleeding into several dialogue scenes – but Hasebe transcended almost ever limitation by keeping his film hip, fast-paced, and beautifully atmospheric.

Kazue Nagatsuka’s camerawork is very elegant and complimented by some razor-sharp editing, yet what also stands out is Japan’s modernism: after rebuilding itself from the ashes of WWII, the world of 1967 is full of sleek lines, modern art, and linear movements, especially in the finale where Natatsuka’s camera tracks crazily along railings as each man crawls for protection, reloads, and readies for the next offensive salvo.

Other great locations include a shootout in a shipyard, and at a bleak beachfront where old wooden boats smolder under the hot bright sun as the youngest Kuroda brother and his girlfriend are chased by the goons.

Naozumi Yamamoto’s jazz score is hip and perhaps unintentionally tongue-in-cheek at times, but it works, especially in the film’s crazier sequences. (The script’s biggest conceit is allowing the three Kuroda brothers to simply march into businesses and take full control in spite of their rival having a huge team of gun-toting goons. Scenes in a bowling alley are especially amusing, as the muscling-in and bone-crunching fights are underscored with breezy jazz, making the violence hip and fashionable.)

Jazz is also integral to the Kuroda clan because the youngest brother is also a drummer (!), leading his own trio combo that performs at the family club which gets trashed big-time one afternoon, but manages to re-open in immaculate condition later that night! The trio’s pianist is Japanese-African American who sings two songs in Japanese which touch upon the innate tragedy of the family as Kuroda’s severance with his old gang ultimately leads to everyone’s complete demise. (Well, almost everyone.)

Massacre Gun was made in 1967, the same year as Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, so it’s really interesting to see a similar mass shootout where a victim continues to flail and later dance from repeated waves of bullets even though he’s been reduced to Swiss cheese.

Also of note is the appearance of Americans, who are either social outcasts like the pianist, or elite social members from various levels of repute and ill-repute, frequenting Kuroda’s club for wine, jazz, and a modern semi-naked dance that’s also repeated (in gold paint) in Hasebe’s debut, the zippy comic book actioner Black Tight Killers (1966).

The status that’s given to anyone bearing a gun is similarly intriguing because pistols are treated as specialty items, since gun ownership is highly restrictive in Japan. Being a commodity, though, it’s amusing to see a savvy salesman selling his wares to both rival gangs, each of whom believes no one else has the same weaponry. There’s never any comeuppance for the weasel entrepreneur, making the gun dealer the only character in the drama who walks away from human carnage both unscathed, and rich.

The craftsmanship of Hasebe’s work and wit was already evident in Black Tight Killers, and he’s equally adept in a more dramatic (and B&W) drama like Massacre Gun. Arrow Films’ Blu-ray is first-rate, presenting a crisp HD transfer with clean sound. Pity there’s no isolated score track – Yamamoto’s score is currently unavailable – but the disc comes with a lengthy (if slightly prolonged) interview with star Shishido whose childhood recollections of playing with swords and guns sets up his stunt work and choreographic the fights and final shootout like a western.

Film historian Tony Rayns provides a lengthy yet personalized portrait of studio Nikkatsu, and his wry observations cover the company’s weirdly troubled history from the teens to the eighties. Not unlike Hollywood’s RKO studio, Nikkatsu’s chronology includes revolving CEOs, embezzlements, and a hunger to beat classier rival studios, but Rayns is correct in regarding Nikkatsu as a bigger AIP / Roger Corman variant, where exploitation films were the company ‘s bread & butter.

Their reliance on action, sex, and violence also explains why the studio would suddenly embrace adult fare in the seventies, making the infamous Roman Porno films with some of its veteran and new talent pool of actors, directors, writers, producers, composers, cinematographers, and use of existing sets.

Those familiar with the spate of Roman Porno titles from Impulse Pictures / Synapse Films may find some of the locations within Massacre Gun rather familiar, especially the exterior of the Kuroda lair / jazz club which may have been used (in a more run-down state) near the end in She Cat (1983); and the club interior, which looks awfully similar to the illicit club where a parolee engages is a more pornographic modern dance in the anti-American naughtie Sex Hunter: Wet Target (1972).

Hasebe continued working until his death in 2009, but perhaps like other colleagues, Nikkatsu’s switch to smut / wrong films proved too financially lucrative, hence his involvement with Rape! (1976), Rape! 13th Hour (1977), and Raping! (1978).

Arrow Films companion release is Retaliation (1968), Hasebe’s next film, and a boxed set of the Stray Cat Rock series starring Tatsuyo Fuji. Other classics released on video include Bloody Territories (1969), the 1973 diptych Female Prisoner #701: Grudge Song and Beast Stable, and Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976).




© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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