May 9th, 2019

Big Sword

In the Jungle of Guns and Opium



A man claiming to be "a hunter" wanders into a remote mining town with a shotgun in Seijun Suzuki's 1961 film Man with a Shotgun (散弾銃(ショットガン)の男). A tale of yakuza, bloody revenge, and a surprising amount of moral confusion, it has some beautiful locations and is an early example of how Suzuki's impatience with the genre led to some amusing and fascinating editing choices.



Hideaki Nitani stars as Roji, who's immediately set upon by toughs in the woods who pummel him heedless of the shotgun he carries over his shoulder. After they've given him what looks like a good thrashing, he laughs, gets up, and punches out two of them who stand in his way. Suzuki is off-handedly subverting the conditioned expectations of audiences to establish Roji's preternatural skill. Suzuki then goes for something more extravagant, having a bridge suddenly give out while Roji's trying to cross it.



An impossible instant after the thugs are laughing at his fate, Roji is seen napping on a nearby rock in his underwear, his clothes hanging up to dry. He musters just enough energy to ask the thugs to let him sleep.



Things get more serious when Roji gets to the mining town where the yakuza boss, who runs the town, almost immediately offers him a job. The sheriff is a pathetic, ineffectual man who took his position to avenge his dead wife. The yakuza are really in charge, a fact underlined when the local business owners and some outside investors arrange a meeting to ask the boss to bring in more "security" after it turns out there's a killer on the loose. After this, Roji, who initially seemed happy to take the job offer, suddenly decides to strike out on his own. It turns out he's been hunting the man who raped and murdered his wife in the Japanese Alps.



Confusion arises when it turns out several people are hellbent on endeavours with contradictory perspectives. There's the current sheriff who's willing to kill anyone else who tries to act as sheriff, there's a rival almost as skilled as Roji who also wants to hunt the killer for unclear purposes, and there's also the younger sister of the sheriff (Izumi Ashikawa) who's constantly trying to get everyone to stop fighting.



There's also the boss' wife, played with a magnetic, saucy insolence by Yoko Minamida, who demands Roji hand over his shotgun to her for safe keeping. When Roji's told her relationship to the boss, he surmises this is the only reason the rowdy bar thugs haven't assaulted her. She pushes her precarious authority to the edge--the bar scenes in this film, which feature a lovely musical number performed by Nitani, are marvellously grimy and reeking of desperate, ruthless folks. It comes off as a more dangerous version of the tavern in Only Angels have Wings. The jungle environment gives this yakuza film a nice adventure vibe. Man with a Shotgun is available on Amazon Prime.