aka みな殺しの拳銃 aka Minagoroshi no Kenjû aka Slaughter Gun aka Ruthless Gangster 1967 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. Continue reading →
aka 俺は待ってるぜ aka Ore wa matteru ze 1957 Written by Shintaro Ishihara
Directed by Koreyoshi Kurahara
Japan’s cinematic output in the 50s and 60s was astounding, and the quality of films from that period form a reputation that is hard to match. It is no wonder that huge swaths of them got festival coverage over the years, and many get released in the US under premium labels. Nikkatsu Studios produced a whole series of “borderless action” films (as a response to US and French film box office success) and is where Seijun Suzuki made his fantastic flicks, at least until he got fired after constant clashes with the studio head and Nikkatsu later turned into a roman porno factory. But those hundreds of films still exist, and are still awesome. And while many haven’t been seen outside of Japan in forever, the growing appreciation means more and more get releases over time. Hence, I Am Waiting popping up in 2009. I Am Waiting is a tale in two acts. Joji Shimaki (Yujiro Ishihara) meets a mysterious woman at the pier who calls herself Saeko (Mie Kitahara) – we find out later her name is Reiko. It’s clear she’s on the run from something traumatic, and we slowly learn that she is a cabaret singer at a yakuza club and one of the gang members got too frisky, so she bashed his head and ran, thinking him dead. Her dreams of being a singer soured after he vocal chords were ruined by an illness, and now she’s trapped in a contract at the yakuza nightclub. Her time with Joji helps her to briefly escape that life, working as his waitress and hanging out in town with Joji. But she’s recognized, and the yakuza come to reclaim her, until she finishes her contract. She spends the last half of the film again working in the nightclub, which Joji returns to occasionally as part of his story.
While the yakuza are confronting Joji, Joji gets a clue into his big mystery, the whereabouts of his brother. His brother was supposed to go to Brazil a year ago to buy land for a farm, but hasn’t contacted him since the boat left port, and Joji’s letters were returned. But one of the yakuza had a medallion that Joji’s bother carried, and the focus switches to Joji’s mystery as he works to unravel just what happened to his brother, and the culprits work to try to cover up their deeds. Continue reading →
aka 暗黒街の美女 aka Ankokugai no Bijo 1958 Written by Susumu Saji
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
One of Seijun Suzuki’s first films (and the first credited as his pseudonym Seijun Suzuki!), Underworld Beauty shows hints of the creative sparks that would soon gain Suzuki a cult following in Japan and the ire of his studio bosses. But it’s mostly a straightforward and entertaining noir, elevated by the cast, so don’t be too disappointed when it goes by the numbers. It seems you can’t talk about Suzuki without using the term “fever dream”, so I’ll just use it in this sentence complaining about the term in this film that has among the lowest amounts of fever dreamness.
A noir flick that gets enhanced by the black and white photography, Underworld Beauty features a jewel thief gang member named Miyamoto (Michitaro Mizushima) who has just gotten out of the joint. He retrieves a gun and stolen diamonds from a hiding spot in the sewer, and sets out finish the job. But prison has given him a change of perspective, and he wants to give the diamonds to the member of the gang who was injured during the job (and saved Miyamoto in the process), Mihara (Toru Abe). The third gang member, who is now a powerful boss named Chairman Oyane (Shinsuke Ashida), is not too happy with this sudden display of honor, but is smart enough to hide his disapproval.
Mihara is now working in a noodle stall and ostensibly taking care of his younger sister Akiko (Mari Shiraki), who is on a wild streak down a dark path. She earns money posing nude for the mannequin sculptures (done by her quasi-boyfriend Arita (Hiroshi Kondo)), and going out drinking is her hobby. The attempt to sell the diamonds to a fence ends when armed masked men burst in on the proceedings, and Mihara swallows the diamonds and leaps off the roof of a building, attracting attention. He stays alive long enough to explain to the police that he slipped, but then passes on. The criminals are concerned the diamonds will burn when he is cremated, and soon the various factions go all The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with diamond fever. Continue reading →