Yasuharu Hasebe’s brooding but action-packed Massacre Gun (Minagoroshi no kenjū) is a great example of the Japanese gangster film that’s well worth a look. Starring chipmunk-cheeked Jô Shishido (he has plastic surgery to look that way), the film packs in plenty of beatings and shootings into its 91 minute running time while maintaining its not so sunny outlook for just out everyone in its cast. Then again, when the “happiest” looking guy in the movie is the angry one with the titular firearm you know you’re in for a wild ride.
Shishodo stars as Kuroda, a hit man who turns on his employers after being sent on a job to kill his girlfriend. Kuroda fires himself after the work and teaming up with his brothers Saburo (Jirô Okazaki)and Eiji (“Tatsuya Fuji”, or director Hasebe’s acting persona) also wronged by the crime boss, set off to take down his empire. This trio of men setting out for vengeance on other men thing is a high risk gig and yes, the film has a very fatalistic tone running throughout that works heavily in its favor. Some Japanese gangster films tend to have running themes about codes of honor and men maimed or dying in as respectful a manner possible (well, given the violent ways in which they meet their ends). There’s a lot of that in Massacre Gun, but Hasebe’s fluid, innovative direction and use of a jazzy score make the film compelling even in its most violent moments. That and the film is amusing when it needs to be. Someone gets a nice surprise in the form of a booby trapped coffin and some of the sudden violence can be funny because it arrives when least expected and lasts longer than you’d think.