MASSACRE GUN

PrintE-mail Written by Dominic Cuthbert

BLU-RAY REVIEW: MASSACRE GUN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: YASUHARU HASEBE / SCREENPLAY: YASUHARU HASEBE, RYUZO NAKANISHI / STARRING: JO SHISHIDO, TATSUYA FUJI, JIRO OZAZAKI, RYOJI HAYAMA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

For many, film noir conjures images of smoky bars, the femme fatale and a smoking gun in a decidedly American setting. But since the ‘40s, Japan has been producing consistently exciting and visually dynamic films to rival the world over. Yasuharu Hasebe’s Massacre Gun, released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video, isn’t the definitive word or indeed essential viewing, but as a document on Japanese crime cinema, it’s a vivid entry point.

After being forced to kill his lover, mob hitman Kuroda (Shishido) resigns from his employers and joins up with his brothers Eiji (Fuji) and up-and-coming boxer Saburô (Okazaki), all of whom have been on the wrong end of the mob’s anger. The three of them orchestrate a calculated retaliation which quickly leads to a brutal turf war. The final scene is a beautifully choreographed shoot out, taken straight from a spaghetti western.

It has all the swagger of the archetypal film noir but with a superior technical prowess. The intricacy of shot construction leads to repeating motifs of shapes and shades of grey, but doesn’t stifle the fluidity of the camera movements. In fact, it’s often very playful, using quick zooms to pick out character expressions in a crowd. Cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka manages to use intimate shots of exquisitely lit night clubs, to vast open shots of a beach and burning ship with a meandering back and forth between light and dark. Between him and art director Takeo Kimura, Massacre Gun really does let you hang every frame on your wall.

But it’s not all shadowy figures and cigarette smoke; there’s some lush shots which show off the swinging ‘60s in the fashion, cars and haircuts. The understated soundtrack too is superb, from smooth jazz and moody blues, to more invigorating bebop. Many of the film’s best sequences are just of the shadowed club with songs from Ken Sanders. Many of the sound effects, particularly the punching, hasn’t dated well. But the gunshots, and there’s an absurd amount, pack a wallop.

Massacre Gun doesn’t have the most compelling plot, but it has terrific central performances, a considered visual style and great pacing. Filled with a sly humour and subtle gore effects, it’s the yakuza flick to introduce you to the heady world of Japanese mob movies.

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