Words: Brody Rossiter
DEATH OR GLORY
Rooted in the inherently violent and aggressively traditional world of warring Yakuza factions, Yasuharu Hasebe’s Massacre Gun is a Japanese gangster flick that not only startled audiences upon its original release in 1967, but thanks to this latest Arrow Video Blu-ray restoration, still has the ability to get your blood pumping with its visceral flurries of action.
The iconic genre star, Jô Shishido, stars as Kuroda, a mob assassin, who, after being ordered to murder his lover, rebels against his cold-blooded employers with deadly consequences. Aligning with his equally disgruntled brothers, Eiji, and once lethal boxer, Saburô, the trio cut a vengeful swathe through gangland territories – sparking a ferocious turf war that will end in either their death or glory.
Presented in monochrome throughout, what Massacre Gun lacks in aesthetic colour, it more than makes up for with narrative flair, startling cinematography, and a feverish jazz score. Electing to adopt a much more satisfying and surprisingly sumptuous tone – largely due to its lounge club inflections of tinkling ivory, sharp tailoring and hard liquor sipping – the picture establishes itself as a noirish slow burner as opposed to a furious hunk of exploitation fuelled predominantly on action. Nevertheless, the struggle for autonomy and honour beyond the strict confines of gang society are key themes of Massacre Gun, and privileges which must often be earned through force. When such occasions occur, violence is exhibited in an unnerving and psychological manner, relaying a hefty sense of consequence for every punch, slash and pull of a trigger.
Equally brutish and stylish, Massacre Gun’s robust direction and punchy editing instantly set it apart within the Yakuza film genre, allowing its typical narrative of blood feuds and geographical supremacy to feel fresh and exciting. The film balances subtlety and sly humour with dishonourable bitch slaps and creatively choreographed beatdowns; a juxtaposition which is exhibited to great effect when the brothers first rise up and launch their offensive against ganglord, Akazawa, raiding his various business and establishing the disgruntled might with the aid of whatever makeshift weapons are within reach.
Despite its distinctly Asian narrative and themes, Massacre Gun is a film which integrates numerous American and European stylistic influences, elements which subdue and enhance those moments of stark Japanese ferocity through their contrast. It elegantly dances between the warring brothers’ bouts, dreamy lovers’ trysts, and patient plotting, all of which exhibit diversity in terms of narrative tone and pacing.
Limited to three thousand copies, this superb restoration showcases a concise and thrilling picture, which, with its brooding atmosphere and highly stylised take on a classically bloody battle of feuding Yakuza wits, will delight hardened fans of the genre while also offering a perfect introduction to the curious. As always with Arrow releases, the bonus features are both vast and deep, offering an abundance of contextual information to bolster an already enthralling and tale of blood and honour.