aka みな殺しの拳銃 aka Minagoroshi no Kenjû aka Slaughter Gun aka Ruthless Gangster
Written by Yasuharu Hasebe (as Takashi Fujii) and Ryûzô Nakanishi
Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe
A long time ago (2017!) I saw Massacre Gun at the Roxie, but despite it being some good stuff, I was far too busy to get a proper writeup completed. This is TarsTarkas.NET, after all, where the reviews are all made up and the deadlines don’t matter, so we thought we’d just watch it again and give a nice, nuanced review from multiple viewings. So thus bursts the review of Massacre Gun!
At this point the Nikkatsu borderless action films are becoming very well represented on TarsTarkas.NET, thanks in part to a large swatch of them getting wonderful restored and subtitled releases in the West, thus making watches easy. These films have a tone that make them very good watches even though too many at once can lead to bleak feelings due to the tone. Despite that, the films are largely high quality stories crafted with care, and have a clear evolution over time before the entire genre was just dropped in favor of the Roman Pornos. From the early youth/troubled youth films to the increasingly violent and dreary action pieces, the entire genre (and their inspirations and imitators) just create so many things to talk about. There is even the side journey with our slow but study dive through Seijun Suzuki’s filmography. The director here is Yasuharu Hasebe (the amazeballs Black Tight Killers!) and he might be one of the few Nikkatsu directors to give Suzuki a run for his money in regards to interesting shots and techniques (while still showing it straight enough to not anger the bosses enough to get fired!)
By now this is 1967, the genre is in full swing, Jo Shishido is owning the screen, and Yasuharu Hasebe is about to drop yet another required viewing film onto an eager audience with Massacre Gun! Three brothers get pushed too far by their Yakuza employers and decided to strike out on their own and strike back against the disrespect, but we all know things aren’t going to end happily for most of them. Ken Sanders crooning gives this film an amazing vibe (backed up by the ever-present boarderless action jazz, which seems to be extra juiced in this film. There are album collections of tracks from these films which are great to study or write movie articles too, trust me!) We also get a lot of gangsters feeling sorry for themselves sitting around smoking while he croons. If that doesn’t hammer the tragic life of the yakuza gangster into your brain then maybe Teletubbies is more your speed, leave the Nikkatsu flicks to us, thanks.
Massacre Gun is a violent flick. It opens with murder, it continues with maiming and murders, and it ends with a lot of murders in one of the best gunfights of the genre. Characters become increasingly pushed towards murder as the stakes get raised by both sides, all while having discussions as to the futility of their actions, knowing that most of them won’t make it out of the war alive. The characters are driven to their choices through duty or brotherhood, but they can’t back down and often can’t protect those they care about. They even realize the futile situation but are compelled to continue the course to the bloody end.
Kuroda (Jo Shishido) is an enforcer for boss Akazawa, who in the opening is ordered to murder his lover (the two were planning to try to escape together) His two brothers are club runner Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji) and aspiring boxer Saburo (Jiro Okazaki), who are both shocked at what Kuroda was forced to do and that Kuroda doesn’t seem to be doing anything in response (besides keeping brash Eiji from running off to cause trouble) Saburo beats up one of Akazawa’s boxers and declares he’s not going to box for him anymore, but instead his fingers are smashed by Akazawa’s goons, destroying his career.
Kuroda has finally had enough and breaks off, turning in his pin (which causes Akazawa’s men to trash his club) and eventually the brothers start carving out their own territory, forcing the store owners to pay them the protection money instead. Akazawa at first shrugs this off, but eventually it becomes an embarrassment and the two sides escalate tensions and the violence. Kuroda now stands on opposite sides of his former friend, Shirasaka (Hideaki Nitani ), who is duty-bound to stay with Akazwa. The trouble is helped along by the scarred gun dealer Midorikawa (Ryoji Hayama, Perfect Game), who sells guns (and information) to both sides (it also helps that Midorikawa looks like he’s channeling Elvis with his look!)
Family is both the weakness for the brothers but it is also the strength, the incentive that causes Kuroda to act and the other brothers to stand up for him. Shirasaka also finds strength in family, his family being Akazawa’s gang that he has been in since a child and was one of the chosen successors (the other being Kuroda) Despite the violence, director Hasebe and cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuga find places to shine, with the violence escalation being mirrored in paintings and crooked angles as things collapse into open warfare. As the saying goes, these violent delights have violent ends, and soon the film is spending a fortune on squibs, if you catch my drift.
Followers of the borderless action films will recognize a lot of the supporting cast, who come together to give life and menace to the revenge tale. As far as entertaining entries, Massacre Gun is both a great starting point and a wonderful next step for anyone who is of thinks they would like some wonderfully shot bleak action in their life.
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