Written by: Michael Den Boer on March 22nd, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1967
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Writers: Yasuharu Hasebe, Ryûzô Nakanishi
Cast: Tatsuya Fuji, Ryôji Hayama, Takashi Kanda, Hideaki Nitani, Jirô Okazaki, Ken Sanders, Tamaki Sawa, Jô Shishido, Yôko Yamamoto
BluRay released: April 6th, 2015 (UK), April 7th, 2015 (USA)
Approximate running times: 89 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.44:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: NR (USA) / 15 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono Japanese
BluRay Release: Arrow Video USA
Region Coding: Region Free / Region Free NTSC
Retail Price: $39.95 (USA) / £17.99 (UK)
Synopsis: A mob hit-man named Kuroda sees the writing on the wall when his employer forces him to kill the woman he loves. And after the task is completed he servers all ties with his former employer. Shortly thereafter Kuroda enlists the help of his two brothers, Eiji known for his short temper and Saburo an aspiring boxer who career is now at a standstill. Now a trio they escalate their retaliation against Kuroda’s former employer, which subsequently leads to a turf war.
Yasuharu Hasebe started his career as an assistant director under the guidance of the legendary Seijun Suzuki. He worked his way into the director’s chair in 1966 with the film Black Tight Killers. He would direct three films in the highly influential series Stray Cat Rock (Delinquent Girl Boss, Sex Hunter and Machine Animal) and the last Female Prisoner Scorpion film (#701’s Grudge Song) for Toei. In the mid and later parts of the 1970’s Yasuharu Hasebe would go on to become one of the prominent director’s making Pinku Eiga films for Nikkatsu. Yasuharu Hasebe’s first three Pinku Eiga films Rape!, Assault! Jack the Ripper and Rape! 13th Hour where all box office hits for Nikkatsu.
If it was an explosive color palette and a nonsensical narrative that got Yasuharu Hasebe’s foot in the door as a filmmaker. Then it should be noted that a more refined narrative and use of monochrome which was in direct contrast to his debut’s striking use of color is what solidified his legacy as a filmmaker. Needless to say Massacre Gun, was his one and only film that he shot in black & white would serve as a marked departure from his aforementioned debut. From that moment on never again would any of his films remotely resemble his debut and with Massacre Gun he would settling into a style that would follow him for the rest of his career.
The narrative for Massacre Gun opens with a bang as this film’s protagonist is forced to choose between the women he loves or remaining loyal to the crime boss that he works as a hit-man for. He would choose the former and it is this action which drives the choices that the protagonists makes throughout the film. And behind every strong man are a few equally strong brothers who help in quest for vengeance. Interesting to note that during the escalating between the protagonists newly formed gang and his former employer that he is hesitant to use guns as a means to their ends. Fortunately he finally gives in on this no gun policy and the film goes out with a flurry of gun battles, thus truly living up to this films name Massacre Gun.
Content wise, this film has everything one would want and then some, from a Japanese gangster film. Besides fighting for territory, both sides show off their sadistic side as they are willing to go the extra mile to prove their point. One of the standout moments of torture is a scene where Saburo who once had aspirations to be boxer has been captured by the rival gang and they ensure that he remembers this moment by focusing on his hands. And when it comes to action sequences this film does not disappoint, especially this film final shootout on section of road that has yet be completed.
The cinematographer on Massacre Gun was Kazue Nagatsuka whose other notable films include, Youth of the Beast, Story of a Prostitute, Black Tight Killers and Branded to Kill. And the film’s monochrome look exquisite throughout as they do a superb job retaining that distinct look that has since become synonymous with Nikkatsu Noir.
Casting for this film is a virtual who’s who with Jô Shishido (Gate of Flesh) in the role of Kuroda, Tatsuya Fuji (Bloody Territories, In the Realm of the Senses) in the role of Eiji and Jirô Okazaki (Bad Girl Mako) in the role of Saburo. And though performance wise the entire are all very good in their repetitive roles, none shine brighter than the performances from these three actors. Another performance of note is Hideaki Nitani (Tokyo Drifter) in the role of Shirasaka. His character at constantly at odds with Kuroda and the scenes in which these two characters interact are easily the most compelling moments in the film. Ultimately it is their inability to resolve their differences and rebuild the friendship that they once had that drives the film’s narrative.
Massacre Gun comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. On Blu-ray for the first time in the world! Black and contrast levels look consistently strong, shadow details looks excellent throughout and details look crisp. There are no issues with DNR or compression and grain look natural throughout.
This release comes with one audio option, a LPCM Mono mix in Japanese and removable English subtitles have been included with this release. Range wise though things are rather limited, with that being said when the soundtrack does need to sound more expansive like during fight scene or shootouts this audio mix more then gets the job done in this regard. There ar no issues with background hiss or distortion and dialog always comes through clearly and everything sounds balanced.
Extras for this release include, an image gallery with rare promotional stills, a trailer for the film (2minutes 25 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, in Japanese with English subtitles), an interview with actor Jô Shishido (17 minutes 38 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, in Japanese with English subtitles) and an interview / essay about Nikkatsu with renowned film critic Tony Raines (36 minutes 26 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen).
Topics discussed in the interview with Jô Shishido include, film influences from his childhood and other memories from his youth, who influenced him as an actor, how Gate of Flesh is Seijun Suzuki’s masterpiece, how a Colt is My Passport is his favorite film that he appeared in, his thoughts on Japanese Gangster films and he briefly remembers a key scene from Massacre Gun.
The interview / essay with Tony Raines breaks down the history of Nikkatsu into ten chapters, ’Introduction’, ‘The 1902s/30s and the Coming of Sound’, ‘World War II’, ‘The `1950s’, ‘The Sun Tribe Films’, ‘The New Action Films’, ‘Imamura’, ‘Suzuki’, ‘Roman Porno’ and ‘Afterword: Island of Dreams’. Needless to say that this is a detailed overview of Nikkastu that fans of their films are sure to thoroughly enjoy.
Rounding out the extras is a reversible cover art option and twenty four page booklet with cast & crew information, a lengthy essay about the film titled ‘Colour Me Blood Red’ written by Jasper Sharp and information about the transfer. Also included with this release is a DVD that has the same content included on the Blu-Ray included as part of this combo release.
Overall Massacre Gun makes its worldwide Blu-Ray debut via an exceptional release from Arrow Video, highly recommended.
Note: Limited Edition Blu-ray (3000 copies only)