Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

Traditional, Artsy, Genre-Within-Genre: A Little Something for Everyone

He Was Sure He Was Out… But He Had to Go Back

by Tony Nash

(A Part of Yakuza & Crime)

(Mild to Spoiler Free)

(All Opinions are of the author alone)

Image result for cruel gun story (1964)

Kenju Zankoku Monogatari (Cruel Gun Story) (1964) PG-13 ****

Jo Shishido: Togawa (as Joe Shishido)

Chieko Matsubara: Rie

Tamio Kawaji: Takizawa (as Tamio Kawachi)

Yuji Kodaka: Shirai

Minako Katsuki: Keiko

Hiroshi Nihon’yanagi: Matsumoto

Hiroshi Kondo: Kondo

Shobun Inoue: Okada

Saburo Hiromatsu: Saeki

Junichi Yamanobe: Yanagida

Written by: Hisatoshi Kai & Haruhiko Oyabu

Directed by: Takumi Furukawa

Synopsis: After his release from prison for the murder of the truck driver responsible for his sister’s paralysis, ex-hoodlum Togawa intends on spending the rest of his days clean. When he learns from the nuns at the hospital his sister goes to that an operation would guarantee the use of her legs again, Togawa has no choice but to accept a mob boss’s offer to head an armored car heist worth millions.

Image result for cruel gun story (1964)

Nikkatsu in the mid sixties decided to take their Yakuza sub-genre in a new direction with a new kind of hero/protagonist. Instead of having the dedicated cop or the gangster with an unwavering moral code that can’t be compromised, the hero this time is a morally conflicted ex-con who wants to help those he loves, and at the same time can’t resist the lure of the easy money being a criminal can offer. The tragic loner figure was very prominent in the Hollywood Noir of the 1940’s and early 1950’s, and while most American character types were hard to transfer to European and Asian audiences, this character was universal enough that no matter what setting or country he ended up in, he was easy to connect to and sympathize with. These types of characters weren’t unusual to Japanese audiences at all, but never before had one been portrayed as a hoodlum trying to keep on the straight and narrow, but fate always having other ideas. The classic story of a hoodlum’s last job to set him and his loved ones financially well secured for life gets a nice contemporary setting, and really speaks highly of the financial strides and struggles going on in the swinging 60’s.

Image result for cruel gun story (1964)

Family values also play a big part within the story as a big part of the protagonist’s reasons for his actions involve relatives. Feeling highly responsible for his sister’s waist down paralysis, and ashamed that he allowed his emotions to send him into a harsh enough rage to murder the hit and run driver who caused the accident, he vows to make sure she’s well cared for the rest of her life. Having both a criminal record and a record of homicide under him makes gaining honest employment practically impossible, Togawa feels both the need to make sure his sister gets the best treatment and medical care possible and the pull of accepting the offer of a charismatic Yakuza boss that would ensure he can afford to provide all necessary care. Torn between two worlds is a primary and common theme in Noir and is used to great effect in this film, along with the strife of family obligations.

Image result for cruel gun story (1964)

Joe Shishido, who’s mark as a matinee idol was fully cemented by this time, gives a fine performance as Togawa. One of Shishido’s first times playing a loner, he really excels as the isolated man struggling to survive in a world that, while justifiably alienates the criminal element to avoid corruption, unfairly ostracizes those who’ve gotten out and are trying to make honest livings. All Togawa wants to do is live quietly and take care of his sister as their parents are long deceased, but his sister’s medical bills, the result of a careless hit and run truck driver, make trying to steer clear of trouble to make ends meet very difficult. Deciding he’ll avoid fatalities and convincing himself he’s doing this solely so his sister can get well, Togawa succumbs to temptation and agrees to the armored truck job offered him. Shishido adds a nice bit of conflicted moral coding as he feels he’s betrayed himself and the promise he made his parents, and at the same time feels the organization he once knew needs to be cleansed of the riff-raff who’ve contaminated it and giving it a bad name. Shishido then has Togawa decide he’ll honor both his parents and his old companions. Realizing not long after that this new breed of gangster doesn’t hold the same values he and many of his dead compatriots did, Togawa decides to pull the ultimate con to ensure his sister is provided for, and should the inevitable happen, he’ll leave the world with a clear conscience.

Image result for cruel gun story (1964)

Probably the most American Noir influenced Yakuza film of the period, Monogarari mixes two quintessential themes well: the thrilling and suspense laden heist film and the character driven human drama. That the hero isn’t threatened of forced into the job is an interesting point as it shows him as a willing, but very weary participant who keeps one eye one the job, and the other on the men he feels he can’t trust. Having him not being completely devoid of humanity wasn’t completely rare in the Yakuza genre, but the level that which the character is taken to is very unusual and different. The performances, the story, and the cinematography all make for a unique mixture of suspense, action, and compelling drama.

(Again I highly recommend this one as it takes the Yakuza genre in a nice different direction that keeps it fresh. Jo Shishido’s very humane character is a nice change up from the other Anti-Heroes who indeed had good in them, but still weren’t above using illegal methods to get to the answers. That Shishido’s character had tried to make a real effort to go legit makes him all the more relatable and tragic. Like with the many other titles in the Nikkatsu Noir Criterion Eclipse set, the picture and audio quality are very good and still maintain that local theater feel.)

All images courtesy of Images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/Cruel Gun Story

Wikipedia/Cruel Gun Story

Criterion Collection/Cruel Gun Story

Please see my review of A Colt is My Passport for the Amazon link to purchase Nikkatsu Noir if you’re interested.

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

%d bloggers like this: