Blu-ray review: Massacre Gun

Starring: Jo Shishido
Director: Yasuharu Hasebe, Ryoji Hayama

Those who had their minds blown by Arrow’s recent release of Branded to Kill will be glad to have the chance to check out another film by its nattily dressed star, Jo Shishido. But in fact Massacre Gun (1967) is the kind of movie that Branded to Kill was mocking – a straightforward, no frills yakuza flick with no more than B-movie ambitions. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Shishido plays Kuroda, a high-ranking mobster who quits his gang after having a falling out with his boss. Attempts are made to muscle his back into line, and Kuroda’s brothers quickly find themselves drawn into the fray. Director Yasuharu Hasebe plays it totally straight – there’s no irony, no critical distance, instead he moves his tough, fatalistic characters towards their doom with a brisk efficiency and in a cold, controlled style that makes you think of Fritz Lang’s work of the late ’40s and early ’50s.

But, as with Branded to Kill, the fetishism and peacockery of the yakuza genre is all there – snappy duds, moody bars with subtle lighting, a nightclub with an exotic floor show, a tinkly jazz score, smoother than smooth widescreen b/w cinematography. In terms of action, you get a lot of scenes of men in sharp suits beating up men in slightly shabbier suits, but eventually the film lives up to its exciting title with a blistering shootout (lesson: don’t bring a handgun to a sniper rifle fight) on what was then a newly constructed motorway bridge. Studio Nikkatsu churned out this sort of film by the dozen in the mid-Sixties, but as formulaic fare goes, Massacre Gun hits its targets nicely. 7/10

There’s a slightly busy grain to some scenes, but no damage or artefacts. Plenty of texture to close-ups, a strong presence to some of the two shots, with the figures seeming to loom from the screen, and lots of detail to the deep-focus compositions. A slow dolly shot across Club Flamingo (Kurodo’s nightclub) after hours comes up particularly nicely. 7/10

A 17-min chat with Jo Shishido, 80 years old but still fiendishly dapper. He reminisces about his childhood and favourite films and explains how he choreographed his fight scenes himself. It’s a piece that’s particularly handy for anyone seeking biographical info about this indefatigable gangster movie star. Film expert Tony Rayns delivers an extremely clear and thorough 34-min survey of the long and often inglorious career of Nikkatsu, Japan’s oldest film company, going right from the silent days when male actors played the female roles to the genre quickies of the ’60s, when the studio made 104 films a year to fill its theatre chains. 7/10


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