Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Screenplay: Yasuharu Hasebe, Ryûzô Nakanishi
Starring: Jô Shishido, Jirô Okazaki, Tatsuya Fuji, Hideaki Nitani, Takashi Kanda
Running Time: 89 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Similarly to my last review, of Wooden Crosses, you’ll have to excuse me comparing the film I’m reviewing to a similar one seen recently. Back in October I watched and reviewed Youth of the Beast and was blown away by how stylish and mind-bogglingly cinematic it was. Massacre Gun isn’t by the same director (the great Seijun Suzuki), but it’s got the same star and is from the same studio sub-genre, Nikkatsu Noir. These are crime or gangster thrillers in a film noir vein, produced by the famous Japanese studio Nikkatsu, who made a number of these in the late 50’s and 60’s.
Massacre Gun starts with a bang. Mob hitman Kuroda (Jô Shishido) is sent to kill the woman he loves. He dutifully carries out the task before the credits have finished rolling. However, after his youngest brother, aspiring boxer Saburô (Jirô Okazaki), has his hands smashed in after standing up to mob boss Akazawa (Takashi Kanda), Kuroda tells his employer that he wants to quit. Akazawa won’t accept this and makes Kuroda’s life as difficult as possible, prompting him to join his two brothers and take on the mob boss at his own game. This of course has violent consequences.
As that brief synopsis demonstrates, Massacre Gun is a more conventional film than Youth of the Beast and especially Suzuki’s other famous gangster films Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter. The revenge and gang warfare angle has been well mined over the years. However, director Yasuharu Hasebe does a decent job and it’s still a great example of the genre. There are a couple of unusual over the top moments too, such as a body rigged with explosives and some unusual scenery such as having one scene set against a beach covered in burning boats.
Front and foremost is the style though. It lacks the all out wackiness of Suzuki’s visuals, but there are still some interesting camera angles, including a number of overhead shots, interesting uses of mirrors and some unique camera movements. The framing of the black and white cinematography is meticulous yet quirky, giving a feast for the eyes. There are a number of striking shots in particular, such as an extreme wide of two characters against a vast sky.
It’s not quite as punchy as some similar films (I’m trying not to always refer to Suzuki’s work directly), with a number of musical interludes breaking things up. This adds to the air of melancholy though and lets the feeling of impending doom build. I liked the jazz score too, with added bluesy moments, particularly from a mixed race singer-pianist character who works in Kuroda’s club.
When the action hits it’s exciting and very well executed though, particularly the finale. This sees the promise of the title fulfilled, with an epic showdown on a deserted highway overpass. Adding to the stylish qualities of the climax is genuine drama created by the fact that Kuroda is facing an old friend and the two of them don’t want to kill each other, but know they must. The death of a major character prior to this isn’t as successful, coming across a little too campy, but overall the violence is very well handled.
So although it may fall a little short of the titles I mentioned before, Massacre Gun is still a slick and stylish thriller which is very enjoyable and ultra-cool with a sombre edge. It’s not quite a masterpiece, but fans of the genre will lap it up and I certainly had fun with it.
Massacre Gun is out now in the UK on Dual Format Blu-Ray & DVD, released by Arrow Video. The picture quality is superb as is to be expected from Arrow and the sound quality is decent too.
Special features include a new interview with star Jô Shishido as well as one with renowned critic and historian Tony Rayns. Added to these is a trailer and image gallery as well as a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, newly illustrated by Ian MacEwan and featuring original archive stills. This is as informative as ever, filling you in on the history behind the film and the genre it belongs to.