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Japan Pays Homage to The Italian West

by Tony Nash

(A Part of Yakuza & Crime)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild to Spoiler free)

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Koruto wa Ore no Pasupooto (A Colt is My Passport) PG-13 (1967) ****

Jo Shishido: Shuji Karmimura (as Joe Shishido)

Jerry Fujio: Shun Shiozaki

Chitose Kobayashi: Mina

Shoki Fukae: Funaki

Kanjuro Arashi: Shimazu

Ryotaro Sugi: Shimazu’s Successor

Eimei Esumi: Senzaki

Jun Hongo: Kaneko

Takamaru Sasaki: Otawara

Asao Uchida: Tsugawa

Written by: Hideichi Nagahara & Nobuo Yamada, based on the novel by Shinji Fujiwara

Directed by: Takashi Namura

Synopsis: A hitman and his partner are targeted for death after an ambitious Yakuza member hires them to murder his boss, then pins the crime on a rival group, saying they ordered the hit to cover up his coup. The duo must now fight both gangs in order to stay alive.

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1967 brought about many changes in the Japanese film industry, the Yakuza genre was going more towards realism and less on the romantic, director Seijun Suzuki was in a bitter battle with his former bosses at Nikkatsu who had framed him for misusing funds, and loyalty among studio employees and executives was being questioned and re-evaluated. Pasupooto represents a border between the classic era of genre cinema and the changes that were soon to be in full place by 1968. Here, the majority of the gangsters are devious from the get-go, others are blinded by misguided loyalty that will lead to their deaths, and only a select few regard the original rules and codes set by the founders of the organization as absolute and unchangeable. The very latter are the ones who matter most to audiences as they recognize these characters as shady, but also have ethics and honor which places them above the lot they associate themselves with. By having the hero and his buddy be totally alone in their battle goes a little more into Western style films, particularly Italian Westerns in that no one will come to their aid while in earlier Yakuza films there would be some characters who get wise to what’s being lied about and come to the hero’s aid to put things right, thus showing a radically different view to how such situations are handled.

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The score by Harumi Ibe offers the most Western influence on the film. While most Yakuza film scores of the period were inspired by Jazz and Rock n’ Roll music, this score has a very Italian Western feel to it, particularly in the use of unique instruments not normally associated with traditional scores. Wind instruments play a big part in Japanese film scores and get to be used quite differently for new and curious sounds for this entertaining and delirious film. Jazz and Rock n’ Roll still play a big part, but Ibe’s decision to spice things up with occasional different sounds is a breath of fresh air.

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Joe Shishido, one of the last of Nikkatsu’s Matinee Idols of the day, does really well in the role of Karmimura. Gearing a little more towards the Anti-Heroes of Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Franco Nero than to the honorable and respectful gangster of earlier Yakuza films, Karmimura blends both the good guys of European cinema and Asian cinema. While a little more withdrawn into himself than most gangsters, Karmimura shows he has an honor and ethics code like his contemporaries and predecessors, and is fairly enraged when a cocky and arrogant underboss decides to cement his power by framing him and his buddy for the assassination of a powerful and respected Yakuza leader. Shishido’s unique facial features, the result of early plastic surgery methods, and a brooding stare made for a good loner character who, while never pledging loyalty to one specific person, honors the contracts and employment he’s offered and tries to treat the client with respect. As the film progresses, Karmimura begins to realize the things he’s missed out on being a hitman, but reminds his buddy and the woman he begins to love that an injustice has been done and the gang that did needs to be stopped.

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Jerry Fujio, a Japanese entertainer and actor, does well in the role of Shiozaki, Karmimura’s partner. While a bit more personable and open than Karmimura, Shiozaki is still very much a gunman and honors the same system and Karmimura. Realizing at the same time they’ve been double-crossed for the assassination of a powerful Yakuza boss, Shiozaki remains loyal to his partner and sticks it out with him as they trade bullets with the lied to Yakuza thugs ordered to kill them. Karmimura and Shiozaki are shown to have a solid friendship, making Shiozaki one of the few people Karmimura really cares about. As it gets closer and closer to the big showdown, Shiozaki firmly states to Karmimura that he’ll see it to the end with him, resulting in Karmimura knocking his buddy over the head so he’ll have a chance to start afresh should anything go wrong, commenting Shiozaki was always true. While loyalty of this kind was not unusual in Japanese cinema, that it came from a character whose profession was in killing for money, this trait would enhance such a character’s humanity by a good stretch.

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While probably one of the more generic films of the genre, Pasupooto still offers up plenty of action, character, and story. The intrigue involving the power hungry Yakuza add quite a bit of spice to the story, and the age old theme of a man having to protect himself when he’s put on the chopping block so as the real perpetrator of the act can save his own skin is done in such a way to keep it from being predictable.

(I highly recommend this film as it offers thrills, action, and good story. Very generic story wise, it’s still very fun and entertaining, and offers up fine characters that evoke the pathos and charm audiences came to know and love. The cinematography and score help to round out the charm of the film. The Criterion Collection DVD as part of their Nikkatsu Noir box-set, via their Eclipse line is very good audio and visual wise, and while there are no special features on the discs, that the Criterion offers the occasional bare bones box-set that presents films that would’ve otherwise fallen into obscurity at an affordable price is quite good.)

All images courtesy of Images and their respective owners

for more information

IMDB/A Colt is My Passport

Wikipedia/A Colt is My Passort

The Criterion Collection/A Colt is My Passport

Buying option

(This set is region free for anyone overseas who’s curious about purchasing it)

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

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