Massacre Gun follows Kuroda (Jô Shishido) a mob hitman who turns on his employers after being forced to execute his lover. Telling a lightweight story with little to grasp onto. This film is barebones in covering the essentials for competent storytelling; partial characterization, half baked exploration into the themes of brotherhood & the Yakuza code of honor, and proper escalation of story events. At it core it should be a crime thriller, but moves at a leisurely pace it becomes soothing to watch. Unfortunately, it is also attempting to tell a story about Kuroda friendship falling apart because of the ways of the Yakuza. Kuroda, and his best friend both being bound to violently resolve their war through their violent encounters, even if it against their personal intentions. This lays the groundwork for possible in depth characters who remain about the same when they are introduced sadly. Resulting in a storyline that should carry weight to it, but does not due to how little it does to create sympathy for anyone involve. A shame too since the film provide plentiful instances where expansion on character are hinted at. They are simple characters, and remain that way just like the film’s story.
Familiarity is also an issue with the film, but only if you’re familiar with Yakuza movies. If you’re not, than the film is a good introduction into Nikkatsu’s Yakuza films. Covering the familiar of loyalty, blood brotherhood, unrequited love, not following the same wrong path, loosing oneself, and yep that’s about it. Character archetypes are here make the cast of characters; from the age old veteran wanting who is bound to his boss, the best friend in a rival gang beholden to loyalty over friendship, the partner thinking of calling it quits, and the upcoming youngest member desiring his chance to join the Yakuza. Those familiar with Nikkatsu’s Yakuza films will know what to expect, and Massacre Gun is more than comfortable with itself on that front. For newcomers into this kind of films it’ll serve a good introduction to get familiarize with the basics of Yakuza films in a more grounded state.
The only aspect of the writing that shines is the character of Saburo (Jiro Okazaki). He’s given a history, a dream, and conflict that gets expanded on as the film progresses. It initially starts a story about him being unable to become a boxer, and grows into Saburo finding himself again in life. Unlike the main storyline, Saburo has more to him that the film is more than happy to flesh out leading to him being the most engaging part of the movie. Unfortunately, his part is superfluous in the overarching narrative with his biggest contribution in the movie is having to be rescued twice in order to escalate events. Being a missed opportunity to add something more to the simplistic, and lightweight film.
One aspect that is unquestionable about the film is that it has class to it. Without question, this has to be the classiest presented Yakuza movie I’ve seen unrivaled by any other. Helmed by director Yasuharu Hasebe he surprisingly shows no sign of inexperience despite it being his second directorial effort in his career. Giving the film the qualities of a cinematic experience that enhances what could have a basic film. Through his eye for visuals he is able to create a beautiful looking movie from the first frame. Do except the questionable visuals choices at times; like one where there are burning ships in the background for no reason, but thankfully odd visuals touches like that are sparse in the film.
What isn’t sparse is his careful attention to framing. Several sequences in the movie he’s able to perfectly show turmoil without dialogue. An example of this is during a wide shot scene when Jiro Okazaki is depressed, sitting down at a bar looking down at his bandage hand, and hearing jazz music being played. The elegant usage of lighting in crisp black and white, and atmosphere further empathizes the mood meant to be convey in this scene. Subtle touches like these to convey characters make the sillier moments, like a bomb being strapped to a dead body, be easily overlooked. Another highlight of the film is a sequence where a major character seemingly escapes a hit, and tricking the viewer that he has made a getaway only to realize that he’s trapped up against a wall surrounded by men with gun. Yes, it takes an absurd amounts of bullets before the man is down, but it’s a great sequence that gives cinematic quality to simplistic writing.
When the film numerous actors aren’t wearing suits to class things up the soundtrack composed of Jazz keep things classy. With numerous musical interludes, and (somewhat) erotic dancing splice during the movie makes it come across as elegant. From a technical standpoint, the music used shouldn’t work, but it does. On the violence side there’s not much of it. Same with the body count not being close what a person would consider a massacre, but the action sequences are fine being carried by smart direction. Except for one that takes place on a ship; the sequence is finely crafted, and confined until the two major characters escape from a trap. The characters are corner on all direction, and there seems no way out. This action sequence ends when one of the two major characters shoots the light, and then cuts to the two running out of the ship. Due to how it was framed it’s impossible to tell how exactly they escape a constant barrage of gunfire when surrounded. Aside from this slip up, the old fashion action sequences are pretty well done.
The only actor in the film who I felt shine was Jiro Okazaki. It helps that he has the most fleshed out characters, but even without that his screen presence is simply attention grabbing without being commanding. He has all the charm to pull off his character with ease, and the dramatic chops to subtly act out the inner separation of his character. He’s a delight to see on screen, even if his supporting role ensures he’s not given the center attention.
Jo Shishido stars in the film, and delivers a solid performance. His botox cheeks gives him a recognizable look, but in terms of acting here he isn’t allowed much range. Always being bound to restraint any emotion to just being collected. Tatsuya Fiji is a bit more loosed, but has the same problem with the material being too limited. Also, a moment in the film has him slapping a woman several, and having sex with her which the woman complies with. It was a different era, but luckily the direction prevents that moment from being worse than it could have been.
Hideaki Nitani is the second standout in the film playing Jo Shishido friend in a rival gang. Emoting his characters complex emotions with ease. Takashi Kanda portrayal as a Yakuza boss is simple; just come off as evil, and over controlling which he does. Aside from that, the other remaining in the cast from Yoko Yamamoto, Tamaki Sawa, and the rest of the actress simply act concerned over their men. They don’t get much to do either, much like Ken Sanders who plays the jazz player Chico, but make the most with what they can.
Massacre Gun is an above average movie whose only stand out is Jiro Okazaki performance, and its classy direction from Yasuharu Hasebe elevating what could have been a mediocre Yakuza movie. It’s a evident case of style over substance that for those familiar with Yakuza movies make it worth looking into a little. While for newcomers it serves as a good introduction into Yakuza films having all the traits other Yakuza movie past, and future would retain. It might not offer anything unique besides it’s style, but it still makes for a solid viewing experience.