Back Comments (2) Share:
Facebook Button

Massacre Gun


Kuroda (Jô Shishido) is a mob hitman who turns on his employers after being forced to execute his lover. Joining forces with his similarly wronged brothers, hotheaded Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji) and aspiring boxer Saburô (Jirô Okazaki), the trio escalate their mob retaliation to an all-out turf war where no one will stop until one faction emerges victorious. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

My ongoing absorption of Japanese exploitation cinema from the ‘60s and ‘70s is often sidelined by the siren call of Italian exploitation cinema from the same period. But it doesn’t take much to remind me what I’m missing – speedy pacing, taboo-shattering graphic violence, boundary-pushing sex and nudity, fevered performances, jazzy music, Dutch angles, and beautiful, super-widescreen compositions. My education continues with my first Yasuharu Hasebe movie, Massacre Gun (aka: Minagoroshi no Kenju and Slaughter Gun), the director’s third film and an important early entry in the Nikkatsu studio’s yakuza canon.

 Massacre Gun
The screenplay, penned by Hasebe himself and Ryûzô Nakanishi, fulfills a number of basic gangster movie tropes and not ones exclusive to the Japanese market. These include a down-on-his-luck-boxer, a hitman with an inflexible code of ethics, a jazz bar setting, men and women slapping each other before kissing, and a cadre of guys in black suits that drive cool cars, chain smoke, and beat the stuffing out of their enemies. The familiar plot and characters are sort of comforting, but it is also a bit tonally sullen, which is disappointing, considering how wild these films could get. Like its contemporaries, Massacre Gun mixes visual cues from Hollywood noir of the ‘40s and ‘50s with the more immediate, vérité-infused style that coincided with French New Wave crime movies. It’s the patterned use of the 2.35:1 scope frame, coupled with the more vulgar use of whip-pans and crash zooms that helps set Hasebe’s film apart from the run of the mill yakuza pulp (if there is such a thing). Well, those and the quality shoot-out that closes the film. I had assumed that some of it was in reference to Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, but there was less than a month between release dates.

Nikkatsu Studios advertising attempted to imply that Massacre Gun was directly linked to lead actor Joe Shishido’s other ’67 yakuza movies, Takashi Nomura’s A Colt is My Passport and Seijun Suzuki’s far more famous Branded to Kill (it has a Criterion release!). Without having seen Nomura’s film, I can definitely verify that Massacre Gun feels like Branded to Kill’s less abstract, more violent little brother. Hasebe didn’t quite push the boundaries of the basic Nikkatsu yakuza template or engage in the same level of experimentation (no animated butterflies), but both films are incredibly dynamic and ahead of their time – especially in terms of metaphorical imagery and beautiful black & white photography.

 Massacre Gun

Video


Massacre Gun has been remastered in 2.35:1, 1080p high definition for this Blu-ray release – the first HD home video version ever, as far as I know. In fact, I don’t think it has been available on digital home media outside of Japan until now. The black and white image looks very good, overall. Details are sometimes hampered by age and, more commonly, by the run-and-gun nature of the production. Hasebe and cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka are constantly experimenting with dynamic camera movement, extreme close-ups, and sudden focal shifts, likely without the benefit of additional takes. So, some stuff is expectedly blurry or soft. Important details are plenty sharp, without any notable haloes. Gamma/contrast can be uneven, including some grayed blacks and overblown whites in the lightest shots. Again, this could very easily be inherent in the original material. Grain levels occasionally appear a smidge mushy, but not enough to assume any major DNR was employed. Artefacts include some pulsing, minor white flecks, and what appear to be jagged splices that cause the frame to jump and a white streak to appear at the top of the frame (perhaps a CRT machine error?).

 Massacre Gun

Audio


The original mono sound is presented in uncompressed PCM audio. Dialogue is clean and consistent with only slight dips in consistency, including a bit of crackle at the highest volumes. Sound effects are expectedly thin and alternate between naturalistic, but the softer, on-set noise and unnatural, but tight foley effects. The sound floor is practically buzz-free, even with the volume cranked to unhealthy volume levels. This is important, considering how often Hasebe uses silence to make a tonal point. Naozumi Yamamoto’s sultry jazz score is occasionally flattened by the mono treatment, creating slight distortion/buzz during the busier and bassier songs.

Extras


  • Interview with star Jô Shishido (17:40, HD) – An exclusive interview conducted in Nikkatsu’s headquarters this year. The 82-year-old actor, who has scars where his famous cheek implants were apparently removed, recalls his career leading up to and following Massacre Gun.
  • Interview with critic/historian Tony Rayns (36:30, HD) – This extensive look at the early history of Nikkatsu covers its emergence as the first major Japanese film studio, its struggles during WWII, a return to production after a post-war hiatus, and its short-lived success during the ‘60s with action/noir/crime movies like Massacre Gun and Roman Porno/Pink movies. The second half of the discussion sticks more to the careers of specific filmmakers. It is presumably the first part of two. The second will appear on Arrow’s Blu-ray version of Hasebe’s Retaliation.
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery


 Massacre Gun

Overall


Massacre Gun is a fine sampling of the Nikkatsu gangster era and a great companion piece to Branded to Kill – one of the two films Nikkatsu tried to link to it during advertising campaigns. As my first Yasuharu Hasebe movie, I’m not yet sure if it is a great representation of his work, but it definitely feels like a good place to start. Arrow’s Blu-ray is the first HD version and, though it isn’t perfect, it looks and sounds very good for something of this vintage. The extras include an interview with the star and a very informative, seminar-type discussion with Japanese film expert Tony Rayns.

 Massacre Gun

 Massacre Gun

 Massacre Gun

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: