September 5th, 2019

Death Chess

Leaving What You Can't Leave

Why does any gangster think it's possible to leave the life, after so many works of fiction have clearly demonstrated to the contrary? I don't think the central character of 1967's Massacre Gun (みな殺しの拳銃) ever truly believes he'll escape, though. But his life, in this stylish and effective film noir, has been whittled down to only two bad alternatives--continue working for the outfit that orders him to murder his friends and lovers or join with his brothers in a hopeless battle against that outfit.

Joe Shishido plays Kuroda with a grim weariness. The first part of the film has no audible dialogue as he drives into the night with a beautiful woman who seems to adore him--right up until he executes her by order of his boss, Azakawa (Takashi Kanda).

The film has a nice jazz score by Naozumi Yamamoto and the next scene is set in the bar run by Kuroda's brother, Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji), where we see a black piano player named Chico (Ken Sanders). His performance is striking--generally any Westerner in a Japanese film in the 60s is a little odd considering the limited pool casting had to draw from. Sanders gives one of the best performances I've seen from any of these bit players, his mannerisms quick and feminine and his singing voice deep and soulful.

Kuroda's youngest brother, Saburo (Jiro Okazaki), is a boxer. When Saburo is roughed up in retaliation for beating up one of the gang's favoured boxers, Kuroda's finally pushed over the edge and tenders his resignation. It's a polite and calm scene when he does so, as though it's something you can just do--decide to quit being a yakuza one day. He stands respectfully in front of his boss and bows. He doesn't for a moment seem like he has any hope for the future, though.

He has this same quality of numb hopelessness later when he confronts his boss in a restaurant Kuroda and his brothers have taken over. As the territorial war escalates, he never seems surprised, right up to the inevitable end.

Director Yasuharu Hasebe always makes the film visually interesting. A scene where one of the brothers is gunned down by a group of men with machine guns is amazingly similar to Sonny Corleone's famous death scene a few years later. Eiji's apartment is filled with Expressionist paintings that oddly complement his sadomasochistic love scenes with Azakawa's girlfriend.

But it's primarily the music and performances, particularly from Shishido that make this film worth watching. Massacre Gun is available on Amazon Prime.

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A mirror lane contained another knife.
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A melted shirt assumed the human seat.