Director: Tai Kato
Screenplay: Tadashi Hiromi and Tai Kato
Starring: Makoto Sato, Chieko Baisho, Sanae Nakahara, Ranfan Ou, Kin Sugai, Junko Toda, Yuki Karamura
Country: Japan
Running time: 90 min
Year: 1968
BBFC Certificate: 18

Director Tai Kato is probably best known for yakuza films – Japanese gangster movies – but he also made some incredibly striking and interesting works outside of this genre. I, the Executioner is one of, possibly the, best film he made outside of the yakuza genre; it’s a fantastic movie.

I, the Executioner opens on the face of a terrified woman, who is brutally attacked before being murdered. Before her death, the killer forces her to write down some names and places. We ultimately discover that they’re all women he wants to track down and kill, and they’re all linked to a suicide. What follows is the investigation into that and other murders, with a strong focus on the killer himself and his motivations and interactions with a variety of characters, with occasional brief flashbacks popping up to fill in some of the back story. It’s a riveting watch, part noir with a little dose of proto-giallo (mainly in that memorable opening), plus a police procedural, cracking little revenge mystery and a character study all in one.

The story builds and builds, snippets of the mystery occasionally filled in, until a truly memorable finale, which is, like the opening, a really tough and brutal watch. Those opening and closing scenes are amongst the best I can recall seeing and really cement this as being a truly remarkable piece of cinema, which also has an innovative and unique-feeling plot. The cast is impeccable. Makoto Sato gives an unforgettable performance as the killer, equal parts terrifying and emotionally fragile, and he’s surrounded by a great supporting cast, from the murder victims who are so pivotal to the plot, to the detectives and other figures on the periphery of the mystery.

The cinematography is astonishing – each shot beautifully framed, leaving some striking imagery and extreme close ups, with characters often filmed on one side of the frame. There are also some wonderful low angle shots, with characters often framed from the neck down, which gives a very claustrophobic, and occasionally disorientating, feel. The brief flashbacks are also sublime, the contrast cranked up high; they’re quite a sight. In short, there’s never a dull shot. In contrast to the cinematography, music is used sparingly, the focus being on dialogue and sound effects, but when it is used it is usually either adds to the emotion or atmosphere.

I, the Executioner is a truly outstanding and memorable piece of cinema and, in those tour-de-force opening and closing scenes, one which packs a hell of an emotional punch. It’s filled with some amazing cinematography, great performances and a story that gradually reveals its intricacies to build to a crescendo and a very strong finale that stays in the memory.

I, the Executioner is released on limited edition Blu-ray by Radiance Films on 29 January 2024. It can be bought direct from the Radiance website. The transfer is outstanding, a really clean and crystal clear print, just the occasional bit of print damage. Those aforementioned extreme close ups showcase just how good a transfer it is, with layers of rich detail, every pore on the faces and threads on the clothing easy to see. The audio is also very good, every sound coming through clearly.



High-Definition digital transfer

Uncompressed mono PCM audio

A Serial History – a visual essay on Japanese serial killer films by Jim Harper and Tom Mes (2023, 16 mins)

Appreciation by filmmaker Kenta Fukasaku (2023, 20 mins)


Newly translated English subtitles

Reversible sleeve featuring original newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow

Limited edition booklet featuring new writing by Tony Rayns and a new translation of archival writing on the film

Limited edition of 3000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings 

The visual essay from Jim Harper and Tom Mes, provides a fantastic overview of Japanese serial killer films, starting with the film considered the country’s first feature, The Pistol Robber (also known as Armed Robber) Shimizu Sadakicchi, now lost. It was released in 1899, and the short featurette runs from this through to the Death Note franchise, taking in some great titles along the way such as Sword of Doom, Death by Hanging, Vengeance is Mine, Cure and more, including, of course, I, the Executioner. It looks at how the genre changed and adapted over the decades through to some incredibly gory horrors in the 1980s. The 16-minute essay packs in a lot of titles and is a fascinating introduction to the genre.

The 20-minute interview with filmmaker Kenta Fukasaku is also excellent, with Fukasaku providing a great overview of the film (particularly that astonishing cinematography), some of the actors, his introduction to the movie and more. Fukasaku is an engaging interviewee and shares some interesting comments and much of what he had to say chimed with my take and feelings on the movie.

Radiance’s booklets have been top class so far but I wasn’t provided with this one. It features an essay by Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns, so should be an insightful read.

I, The Executioner is a phenomenal film which will stay with me, and this release from Radiance is another first rate one from the still relatively new label (they only debuted in January 2023), with a small but well curated selection of extras and an excellent transfer. Radiance had an incredible first year in 2023 and their opening releases of 2024 suggest the quality will remain high and they will go from strength to strength. I’m excited to see what gems they are planning for the future.


I, the Executioner – Radiance
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About The Author

Passionate about film, from the silents to the present day and everything in between, particularly 80s blockbusters, cult movies and Asian cinema.

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