Killers on Parade (Review)
Killers on Parade
aka 夕陽に赤い俺の顔 aka Yuhi Ni Akai Ore No Kao aka My Face Red in the Sunset
Written by Shuji Terayama
Directed by Masahiro Shinoda
Killers on Parade is a dark comedic flick that features a group of gimmicked hitmen and women as eventual adversaries to our plucky hero, who is on a mission to bring down a corrupt construction firm and the newspaper editor that is attempting to blackmail it. The plot is less important than the colorful characters that are part of the Downtown Killer Club. Killers on Parade is set in a garish comic book world filled with colors and items that bother to label themselves so you know what they are. The villains have gimmicks and costumes that leave you with no doubt as to their gimmicks and roles, and scenes are shot to play up common film locations. While things are overtly goofy, there is enough danger seeded to try to raise actual stakes, but this factor doesn’t seem to have aged well enough to make it to modern day without seeming like a distraction instead of an integrated part of the show.
The Murderers 8 present as a united front, but are fiercely competitive, though follow a sense of honor when being assigned jobs, preventing others from interfering and disrupting all their down time. Despite all the characters having day jobs, all they seem to do all day is hang out with each other and get into marksmanship competitions. The Murderers 8 include (please excuse the lack of names for some, they just didn’t get their name mentioned out loud!):
- Hong Kong, a Yakuza gangster stereotype in black suit, who is the most dangerous of the group.
- Senti, a gun champion.
- The bespectacled Doctor, who handily always carries around a black bag that says “Doctor” on it in English.
- Sergeant, a former soldier.
- An Older Guy who appears to dress as a shrubbery cutter.
- A Sports Guy who wears jerseys and during the final battle, a full football uniform and helmet.
- Scarf Guy, whose gimmick is he has a scarf (Okay, they didn’t have time to give everyone personalities!)
- Nagisa (Kayoko Honoo), the lone female killer who often dresses in red and has a pet goat named End. She ran off from home to be a killer, but is starting to grow disillusioned with the lifestyle.
The overall tone is comedic with random bursts of song, providing a send up of the then-recent spate of neonoir/borderless action flicks in Japanese cinema, dosed in wonderful technicolor and layered in sensible silliness. Things seem to make both perfect logical sense in universe, but are also ridiculous when you stop to think about them. The killers demonstrate their marksmanship by shooting at an apple on a kid’s head before the credits. Later they have another shooting competition at the race track to see who gets the new contract.
The dynamic is twisted when a newcomer shows up, Haruhiko Ishida (Yusuke Kawazu), and he’s a great shot. But he’s not a hired killer, he’s just someone who was in the right place at the right time, but he takes the job regardless. Then things get a bit more complicated.
A newspaper owner (Ko Nishimura) and his moll, Yumi, are looking to blackmail Mizuta Construction because of just how darn corrupt they are. Mizuta Construction hires the firm that employs the Killers 8 to go against newspaper by killing the secretary Mana Arisaka (Shima Iwashita), which is the contract Ishida “wins”. The plan is to scare the owner into giving up the documents he has on them, which is a weird way of threatening him without threatening him (and the newspaper owner seems perfectly content to let his secretary be murdered!) Mana Arisaka has a grudge against Mizuta Construction as well as they ruined her family. And newcomer Haruhiko Ishida is soon protecting Mana Arisaka and earns the ire of the Killers 8.
The Killers 8 hang out with each other in run down apartment with a pool of grungy water filling part of the floor, mannequin pieces half submerged. The newspaper owner hangs out at a club that features giant disembodied lips as decorations. Children stalk the streets playing robber games while wearing black hoods that look straight out of 1930s serials or post-Reconstruction Southern US horror stories, and the final gun battle takes place in a grey apartment high rise with plenty of open spaces and sewer access. At one point Ishida and Arisaka have a talk with a wistful Nagisa (and her goat) by the shore with an obviously fake sunset used to ramp up the drama feelings, working into the translated title My Face Red in the Sunset.
Killers on Parade succeeds in places, but also fails at points. The gun battle to save Arisaka happens because the heroes have to lose their brains for a few scenes just to get her alone long enough to be kidnapped, and the Killers 8 soon turn from expert marksmen to running mobs of goofy maniacs (which makes me wonder if Seijun Suzuki saw this film right before he made Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!, which features similar scenes!) And having seen enough of the Japanese action films of this era, it would be a better turn against norms had the hero NOT been able to be so awesome the evil female killer switches sides to help him.
Director Masahiro Shinoda was a leading Japanese New Wave figure, helming pictures such as Pale Flower, Samurai Spy, and Assassination, which later parlayed into critical success with Gonza the Spearman, Childhood Days, and Moonlight Serenade. Writer Shuji Terayama was a prolific playwright and author who would gain his most exposure in the West for experimental films such as Emperor Tomato Ketchup.
Beyond the flaws, Killers on Parade is still worth checking out for fans of the genre. Enough is lampooned and delivered straight that the bones will guide you along despite the bumpy ride. The ride will be more of a problem if you don’t appreciate the films or are unfamiliar with them, turning Killers on Parade into a surreal journey that will spawn confusion, though perhaps one might view it as a predecessor to wacked out Japanese flicks like House. As the related films are by and large good cinema (especially the ones that have gotten good releases with subtitles), the investment is worth the time to become knowledgeable on the subject, then you can properly grab candy tossed at you by this parade.
Rated 5/10 (credits fun, credits fun, credits fun, credit photo, credit photo)
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