Cruel Gun Story
aka 拳銃残酷物語 aka Kenju Zankoku Monogatari
Written by Haruhiko Oyabu
Screenplay by Hisataka Kai
Directed by Takumi Furukawa
Cruel Gun Story is a standout entry from the Nikkatsu Noir boxed set, possibly my favorite (with A Colt Is My Passport a close second) of the set, and maybe even one of the better Japanese noir flicks out there. A criminal is hired to lead a heist, but before you can say “setup”, there is an onion farm’s worth of layers of betrayals that spiral out of control into the inevitable conclusion. Part of the drama is not if certain characters will betray everyone, but just when and how they will do so. The mix of everyone looking out for themselves while things keep hitting the worst of all possible universes for outcomes suggests the cruel object isn’t the gun, but life itself for those who choose to live by it and anyone caught in the crossfire.
Joji Togawa is fresh out of the joint, but before he even has a chance to breathe, he’s being scoped out by a yakuza boss to run and armored car heist. Togawa is what he is, and ends up agreeing, though he’s big on saying how this is his one last job. So we know things aren’t going to end well. Togawa meets his team with his old friend, Shirai (Yuji Odaka), it includes Okada (Shobun Inoue) – a former boxer, and Teramoto, a big mouth junkie (and whose girl, Keiko (Minako Kazuki), tags along). Another member is rejected immediately when it’s revealed he easily spills his guts when threatened.
The target is an armored car full of 127 million yen in racetrack money, and guarded by motorcycle cops. The plan to snag the car goes off with only a few minor hitches, but that’s when things hit the fan and fall apart at the same time. The team is betrayed from without and within, leading to the survivors behind holed up while a swarm of yakuza blast their guns at them. The scope of the crime is enough that the entire country is looking for them, and there is nowhere for Togawa to hide. Even attempts to fight against the yakuza hunting them ends worse than things were before. Yakuza Boss Matsumoto’s (Hiroshi Nihonyanagi) son is kidnapped, but the other yakuza care more about the money than the boss’s son’s life.
The only way out is to flee the country, Togawa calling in a favor of Takizawa (Tamio Kawaji), who loved Togawa’s sister before she was crippled in an accident (and still loves her). Togawa’s sister sits in a home for the disabled, and despite her pleas for her brother to be good, she knows he’s gone and done something bad again.
While it’s not too much of a spoiler to reveal there are mountains of tragedies, the entire operation is so doomed from the start that you knows everything and everyone will be tearing each other apart to get ahold of the money.
Togawa is painted as a noble crook. He serves time in jail not for his criminal career, but for killing the guy who crippled his sister, a tragedy he blames on himself for sending her out on an errand (even though she doesn’t blame him.) Togawa uses the promise of surgery for her as excuses to talk himself into heist. Togawa has a reputation of being honorable and loyal to his men, which makes the many betrayals that befall him more tragic.
“They’ve forgotten that feeling safe is the most dangerous thing of all,” claims Togawa upon seeing the routine the guards at the racetrack go through when transferring the money. That lesson boomerangs back hard as every time it seems like things are going to cool down, the heat back up to inferno levels.
Director Takumi Furukawa had an interesting career, probably most famous for helming the important 1956 Sun Tribe film Season of the Sun (Yujiro Ishihara’s screen debut). He did a variety of Nikkatsu films through the 50s and 60s, much of which has sadly not been released in subtitled format. Furukawa eventually did two films for Shaw Brothers, the spy flick Black Falcon, and a thriller called Kiss and Kill. And after that, he went to the Land of “Nothing in English is written about Him”. A magical land where far too many people have ended up.
Cruel Gun Story is worth the price of the set alone, but the entire Nikkatsu Noir box is a great deal, and thanks to some specialty releases, more of the Nikkatsu action films are popping up with subtitles, and even similar films from other companies. I’ll gladly accept these signs of life from the physical media collection world as the industry quickly becomes a specialty hobby. While modern film industries from various countries might be nothing to get excited about, there is plenty of amazing things in the archives just waiting for new generations of fans.
Rated 9/10 (logo, hiring agent, to quick to squeal, boxer’s remorse, even these movies get jet flyovers, motorcycle cop, assistant driver, lamp story, drawings)
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