Written by: Michael Den Boer on April 20th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1972, 1973, 1974
Directors: Kenji Misumi, Yasuzo Masumura, Yoshio Inoue
Writers: Kazuo Koike, Takeshi Kanda, Yasuzo Masumura
Cast: Shintarô Katsu, Yukiji Asaoka, Mari Atsumi, Keiko Aikawa, Kazuko Ineno, Kô Nishimura, Mako Midori
DVD Released: April 19th, 2005
Approximate Running Time: 263 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
DVD Release: Home Vision
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $59.95
This trilogy of films that follow the exploits of Hanzo the Razor are based on Manga created by Kazuo Koike who is also reasonable for creating the Lone Wolfe and Cub as well as creating the lady Snowblood character. Shintaro Katsu who is undeniably remembered for his role as Zatoichi the blind samurai. In this series of films he stars as Itami Hanzo who is the direct opposite of the Zatoichi he portrayed so many times. Unhappy with the way his films were being censored around the world Shintaro Katsu decided to play a character that would push limits of good taste during a time of great change 1970’s. Just like other vigilante characters like Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan or Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey, Shintaro Katsu’s Itami Hanzo is by product of its time and something of like we most likely will never see ever again due to cinema’s current politically correct attitude and bottom line.
Sword of Justice: The film begins with a ceremony with all of the constables swearing their loyalty in writing. In previous years Itamo Hanzo (Shintaro Katsu) had called in sick and was unavailable due to being on duty. This he has decided to show up and when it is his turn he refuses to sign the document he causes a rift between himself and his superiors. Hanzo with the help of two former criminals he now employs in return for their freedom uncovers that convicted killer Kanbei has been seen around town lately. Hanzo starts to uncover the truth first interrogating Kanbei’s mistress and through a series of clues he uncovers a conspiracy that involves some of the governments’ highest ranking officials.
The Snare: The film begins with Itamo Hanzo (Shintaro Katsu) chasing two fugitives. During pursuit of the fugitives Hanzo offends Lord Okubo the commissioner of finance who demands satisfaction after Hanzo refuses to apologizes for his in subornation. Later after things cool down the two fugitives tell Hanzo about a dead girl the found at the watermill. Hanzo an expert in many fields examines the body and discovers that the girl died while having an abortion. Further clues lead Hanzo to a temple run by nuns who sell off their young female students into sexual acts with some of the town’s wealthiest men.
Who’s Got the Gold?: In the final installment in the Hanzo the Razor series Onibi and Mamushi (the two criminals that Hanzo employs) while fishing late one night are frightened by a female ghost. The run back home and tell Hanzo of this apparition that they have just seen. It doesn’t take long before Hanzo soon exposes this alleged ghost as a real woman flesh and blood. He also discovers that she was pretending to be a ghost to keep everyone away from the gold stashed at the bottom of the lake. The further Hanzo investigates the more corruption he uncovers.
Each film follows the same structure and features many of the same interrogation tactics Hanzo employs on his female prisoners. The first two films Sword of Justice and The Snare have the strongest plots of the three films. By the third film in the series Who’s Got the Gold the series begins to show signs of ideas wearing thin and what had once felt more perverse has now become an in joke by the final film. The music used for this film sounds like something you would expect to hear in a Black exploitation film and not a samurai film. While the music at times feels out of place it does add to the films bizarre and erotic compositions. Shintaro Katsu turns in another memorable performance as Hanzo, still this series lacks the staying power and replay value of his most famous character Zatoichi. Overall if you can get by the thin characters that are underdeveloped and have a high tolerance for graphic violence then these Hanzo the Razor films will right up your alley.
The three films that make up the Hanzo the Razor series Sword of Justice, The Snare and Who’s Got the Gold, have all been released years before on laserdisc. For this new release Home Vision has created brand new anamorphic digital transfers that preserve these films original 2.35:1 aspect ratios. Colors are lucid and evenly saturated as they perfectly complement the healthy look flesh tones that look natural through out. The black levels remain strong and constant with no problems with pixilation. Print damage is nearly non existent and grain is kept to a minimum. There are no problems with compression or edge enhancement.
All three films come with only one audio option their original Japanese language audio track which is presented in a Dolby Digital mono. Just like the exceptional job that Home Vision has done with the transfer the audio is also in great shape as there are no problems with hiss or distortion and the dialog is easy to hear as it comes off cleanly. Removable English subtitles that are easy to read and follow have been included.
All three films come with the same three trailers Sword of Justice, The Snare and Who’s Got the Gold. All three releases also come with liner notes, Sword of Justice’s was written by Patrick Macias and the last two film liner notes were written by Michael Raine. As always the liner notes are informative and offer a lot of back ground detail into the films being discussed. Rounding out the extras as part of the liner notes booklet are reproductions of the films theatrical poster art. The extras included for this set are pretty standard fare for Home Vision who always excels in the audio/video department while often skimming when it comes to extras. Most of stars and crew who worked on these films have long since passed and I wonder what extras truly could be gathered with so little to work with. The fact that Home Vision has given this series of exploitation films the red carpet treatment in the audio/video department and at an extremely reasonable price is cause for celebration. The Hanzo the Razor films are definitely a product of its times. It is best to be watched with an open mind and not take them too seriously. Fans of this series need no convincing as most of them already have purchased this set or plan too. For those who are uninitiated into the sadistically perverse world of Hanzo the Razor I suggest renting them first since they are an acquired taste.