Actors: Jo Shishido, Tatsuya Fuji, Jiro Okazaki
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Format: Blu-ray, NTSC
Number of discs: 2
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Arrow Video
Release Date: April 7, 2015
Run Time: 91 minutes
Massacre Gun plays like a yakuza noir, a black-and-white gangster film that is steeped in atmosphere and action. Although it has the distinct feel of a late 1960s Japanese crime film, not unlike the films of Seijun Suzuki, the straightforward narrative is remarkably timeless. Watching this film that is nearing 50-years old, it is not difficult to imagine a modern adaptation by Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino. At the same time, Yasuharu Hasebe’s 1967 film is difficult to imagine without Jô Shishido in the leading role.
If Massacre Gun feels like a Suzuki film in many ways, it is likely because of Shishido’s leading-man presence, not to mention the fact that Hasebe worked as the director’s assistant for many years. And yet, this narrative is a bit more direct. Even with the variety of characters, the plot remains simplistic and easily understood. This also allows for the focus to remain on style, and a riveting final shootout that puts most modern action to shame. More than anything, Massacre Gun is proof that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to create a memorable crime film. Similar as the film may feel to many American noir from the 1950s or Japanese crime films of the 1960s, this never detracts from the overall enjoyment of each expected sequence.
Dealing with several types of brotherhood, the film follows loyal mob hitman Kuroda (Shishido), who cuts ties with his employers after being asked to kill his own lover. Interestingly enough, he only leaves after completing this final task asked of him. Kuroda joins forces with his two brothers, each who have seen their share of injustice from the mob. When the boss Akazawa (Takashi Kanda) tries to manipulate Kuroda’s younger brother and aspiring boxer, Saburô (Jirô Okazaki), it adds to the family resentment. With his boxing career destroyed by the mob’s cruelty, Saburô turns to a life of crime alongside Kuroda and their other hot-headed brother, Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji). All three brothers set out on a mission of revenge that begins by taking territory from Akazawa and leads to an inevitable violent conclusion.
Kuroda wages a personal war against the crime syndicate, even though it pits him against men he once shared a different brotherhood with. Massacre Gun offers questions of loyalty and honor that begin with Kuroda’s choice to assassinate his own mistress on order from Akazawa, and ends with a similar choice made by the man that replaced him. Only blood relatives have assurances of complete loyalty in the narrative, though it is seen that honor and respect can be possible even in the task of killing. But more importantly, Massacre Gun ends with a spectacular action sequence with a single man outnumbered and outgunned on a bridge.
Arrow Films has released this somewhat forgotten classic on Blu-ray and DVD, restored beautifully and complete with a handful of new special features. The highlights of these extras are two interview featurettes. The first is an exclusive new interview with star Shishido, who discusses his career and participation in this film. The interview with film historian Tony Rayns is even more in-depth, providing a detailed historical perspective about the film and its place in Japanese film. With nearly 40-minutes of material, this interview plays like a brief lecture on Japanese crime films before and after WWII, including the American influence on the narratives. Also included in the extras is the restored original trailer, a promotional gallery, and a booklet insert.
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8/10
Historical Significance: 7/10