by Jason Suzuki
1967 was a great year for Jo Shishido. It saw the release of not only what he says to be his favorite film of his, A Colt is My Passport, but also what he will probably be known for, Branded to Kill. Arrow Video, still in the first months of breaking into the North American market, has released another 1967 film starring Shishido. It continues on with their work to release the works of more underrated genre filmmakers from the 70s, Yasuharu Hasebe in this case (three entries of the Stray Cat Rock series and the upcoming follow up to Massacre Gun, also starring Shishido, Retaliation).
The film a beautifully shot, monochromatic gangster piece. Shishido plays one of three brothers who eventually go on to fight back their crime boss, who has finally went to far after order Shishido to kill the one he loves. Traces of the giri/ninjo conflict are abound in this film as much as the jazz score and the shot compositions, which are continuously striking, giving the film what should be a modern feel, but thanks to lackluster visual eyes of today, gives the film a retro feel. On a side-note, for violence aficionados, there’s a great scene where a guy gets a hand-crush from a dumbbell right after getting beat up by plain old fists. Moments like this give Massacre Gun a raw feel to coincide with its cool jazz tone. These types of films are like candy, highly entertaining but has not incited much social analysis like Fukasaku’s famous gangster series has. Still, it’s nice to see Arrow give the film such a great package (and in HD), after Criterion’s set, I have always wanted more of these film to be released.
What makes this release essential for fans of Japanese film are the two video extras on the disc, a new interview with star Jo Shishido and one with Tony Rayns. Shishido is extremely honest about his work, not much time is spent on Massacre Gun because he was making so many similar films so close together that they have started to blur together for him. Tony Rayns also doesn’t focus too much time on the film itself but instead chooses to go over the history of the production company Nikkatsu. Some of the information might be well known to Japanese film buffs but I found the majority of it to be very informative and if you are ever in need of a 30min crash course about Nikkatsu and certain trends in the Japanese film industry from the early 1900s to now, Rayns’ overview is fantastic and insightful. One of the best bits of info was giving more detail on Seijun Suzuki’s firing over Branded to Kill, which I believed was an instant thing, but according to Rayns was actually a drawn out affair. At the end he gives a recommendation of a recent film he thinks most successfully pays homage to these Nikkatsu noir quickies. This supplement, along with the fantastic packaging art, is justification enough to get this release.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.