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When the Boss Goes too Far

by Tony Nash

(A Part of the Yakuza and Crime Series)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

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Minagoroshi no Kenjū (Massacre Gun/Guns of the Massacre) (1967) PG-13 ****

Jō Shishido: Ryûichi Kuroda (as Joe Shishido)

Hideaki Nitani: Shirasaka

Jirō Okazaki: Saburo Kuroda

Tatsuya Fuji: Eiji Kuroda

Takashi Kanda: Boss Akazawa

Ryoji Hayama: Midorikawa

Ken Sanders: Chico the Entertainer

Tamaki Sawa: Shino

Yoko Yamamoto: Aiko

Written by: Yasuharu Hasebe (as Takashi Fuji) & Ryûzō Nakanishi

Directed by: Yasuharo Hasebe

Synopsis: Yakuza hitman Ryûichi Kuroda decides to quit the organization when his boss Akazawa begins abusing his authority and ordering needless hits to prove loyalty, including that of Ryûichi’s girlfriend. With the aid of his brothers Saburo and Eiji, both of whom lost their livelihoods at the hands of Akazawa and his men, Ryûichi intends to take Akazawa down. The one obstacle to this goal is Shirasawa, Ryûichi’s mentor, who obeys the Yakuza law of honoring the boss implicitly, in spite of Akazawa’s clear maddening with power. What follows is a bitter turf war that spares no one in its wake.

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By 1967, the Japanese film studio Nikkatsu was in the early stages of an internal downfall. The executives were being investigated for mismanagement of funds and fraud, filmmaker Seijun Suzuki was suing the studio for wrongful termination of employment and attempts at framing him for the financial crisis the studio was in, and many of their stars were jumping ship to other studios or going freelance, tired of the mediocre work the executives were approving for filming. Massacre Gun was one of the studio’s attempts at putting the company back in the black profit wise, and that it could still turn out good films. Filmmaker Yasuharo Hasebe wasn’t new to the film game when he took on the task, but this was only his second film, and the first where he had creative freedom to tell the story his way. The Yakuza Action Crime Thriller was still very popular at the time, but Hasebe wanted to take the genre in a new direction to keep it fresh. What he came up with threw away the romantic ideals of such earlier efforts as Sabita Naifu (Rusty Knife), Kenjū Zankoku Monogatari (Cruel Gun Story), Akai Hatoba (Red Pier), and Tokyo Nageremono (Tokyo Drifter), and instead presented the Yakuza for what they really were: unscrupulous opportunists and power mad sadists who had no respect for anyone or anything. He did keep the morally conscious Anti-Hero and a few others who were inherently good, but were so brainwashed with the code of the Yakuza, that they’d rather die than betray it.

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Like with so many studio-oriented filmmakers, Hasebe wrote the screenplay under a pseudonym, in this case Takashi Fuji. While he didn’t write every film he was involved with, the ones with his personal touch tended to have something a little more that made them exceptional, so his using a pseudonym seems a little unusual. Whether Nikkatsu made it a practice for directors who also contributed to screenplays use aliases, or if Hasebe preferred to view himself as primarily as a director is anyone’s guess, but what is clear, is that the Hasebe was a very talented filmmaker, whose early successes were almost completely overshadowed when about two years after Nikkatsu declared bankruptcy, he accepted the new owners offer of doing dark and violent pornographic films.

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Jo Shishido, one of Nikkatsu’s most popular on contract players, gives a fine performance as Ryûichi Kuroda. Kuroda is a Yakuza hitman who finally reaches his breaking point when his clearly out of control with power boss orders him to kill his girlfriend. At first, he merely intends to devote his talents to a club he co-owns with his gambling brother Eiji, but when his other brother Saburo, an up-in-coming boxer, has his hands broken by the crazy boss’s henchman, all loyalty to the Yakuza code is off limits and revenge becomes first and foremost. Shishido plays his role as a man clearly in constant internal conflict: on the one hand, he knows his old gang will take revenge on him and his brothers if he attacks the boss, but at the same time he knows the boss has begun abusing the authority he inherited from the previous regime, going to levels that clearly violate the bylaws created in the post war period. Shishido also adds that Kuroda would be happiest simply helping his brother run a club in the Tokyo entertainment district, but again realizes his old life as a gangster will always be following him and that he’ll in one or another revert to relying on those skills. By giving Kuroda a deeper loyalty to his brothers than to the Yakuza, Shishido gives the character a fairly humane side that allows the audience to root for him, in spite of the life he leads, indicating there might be a type of hope of salvation or redemption if Kuroda plays his hands right. This film proved to be Shishido’s last leading role in a Nikkatsu film as the company was slowly declining in popularity and attempts at rebooting the steam of their products did little to nothing.

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Hideaki Nitani, one of Nikkatsu’s first major stars, excels in brooding conflict in the role Shirasaka. A loyal Yakuza thug since boyhood, Shirakasa is the embodiment of the blind dedication the post war youth of Japan were when inducted into the criminal world. Even though Shirasaka trained Kuroda himself and thinks of him as a brother, the blood oath he took upon his induction into the Yakuza forces him to go after his friend for leaving the organization. Nitani, like Shishido, plays Shirasaka as a man with constant internal conflict, only his conflict can end in death. Even though he sees Boss Akazawa is losing his sanity and becoming careless in his orders and actions, his dedication to the group is so deep and ingrained in, he would likely prefer suicide than to betray his employer. This idea hits its core very deep when Shiraska’s girlfriend asks him if he would blindly kill her if Akazawa ordered him to like he did with Kuroda. When he says nothing to her, the audience comes to the realization Shirasaka is completely brainwashed in his loyalty to the gang, and has no hope of ever breaking free from it. That he tries at one point to convince Kuroda to return to the group in a limited capacity or to leave Japan entirely and never return, shows he has sense enough only tragedy will result from Kuroda’s bad blood with Akazawa. When the time comes for Kuroda to take Akazawa to war, Shirasaka decides to die in battle, no longer able to live in the world of the Yakuza, nor in the real world.

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Gritty, realistic, and devoid of the romantic image of the Yakuza Gangster that had been in vogue for the last two decades, Hasebe managed to re-invent the Yakuza Crime film genre that would keep it going for another decade and a half. Thugs blindly loyal to their dangerous bosses, reprisal met with more reprisal, and characters who realize early on that their fate is sealed for their previous involvement in the group, and the price that must be paid for trying to break away from it. All elements harken back to the days of Hollywood’s Film-Noir craze, where life was cheap like liquor, and criminals had no real loyalty to each other, except when it suited them. The film was a real sensation and controversy when it came out, audiences heavily surprised by the dark atmosphere of the film and the desperate characters that inhabited it, but at the same time was popular and reflected the Cold War period the world was in.

(I highly recommend this Yakuza Thriller as it’s very good even with the bleak nature of the characters. Quality action and story abound well, and showed many of the Nikkatsu employees were able to make the budgets and decisions made by the shady executives work and allowed a profit and hit to be made and gain the public’s admiration. Arrow Video once again shows why it’s a great company for films like this with an high quality transfers and fine audio restoration. It’s a limited edition, but is still readily available and worth every penny.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/Massacre Gun

Wikipedia/Massacre Gun

buying options

https://www.amazon.com/Massacre-Gun-2-Disc-Limited-Blu-ray/dp/B00SA7UGFO/ref=sr_1_3?crid=3RZZULCNZQHDF&keywords=massacre+gun&qid=1554305872&s=movies-tv&sprefix=Massacre+Gun%2Caps%2C136&sr=1-3

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Massacre-Gun-Blu-ray-Tatsuya-Fuji/dp/B071FP8S5L/ref=sr_1_1?crid=35PSSXEGGJ733&keywords=massacre+gun&qid=1554305912&s=dvd&sprefix=Massacre+Gun%2Caps%2C223&sr=1-1

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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