Friday, April 25, 2008

Hanzo The Razor - Sword Of Justice (1972)

Samurai cinema of the 1970s took an odd twist, as it left behind the epic sweep of Kurosawa and instead embraced the trappings of American exploitation films to create comic book hybrids. This is best exhibited in the six-part Lone Wolf & Cub series of films which decorate a traditional lone-Samurai tale with geysers of blood and smatterings of sex.

Based on the manga by Kazuo Koike, those films were produced by Shintaro Katsu, best known for starring in the twenty six Zatoichi films (and TV series). In fact, it was Katsu's brother Tomisaburo Wakayama who starred in the Lone Wolf & Cub series of films.

Also by Koike was the manga Hanzo The Razor, and Katsu went on to star in three films based on the property.

The strongest influence on the style and attitude of the Hanzo films are rogue cop films like Dirty Harry and Shaft, though Hanzo has an interesting.. um.. twist. Early in the film, we witness Hanzo pouring hot water on his member before beating it with a rod, and then proceeding to.. have sex with a sack of rice. In fact, Hanzo is really into torturing himself so he can understand the pain of those he interrogates, but has discovered that the best results come instead from intense pleasure. You may see where this is going.

Yes. Hanzo coerces information out of his (female) prisoners by having sex with them, often aided by his fancy sex net that he hangs over his prone body while he spins the victim onto himself. After going through this, the women find Hanzo to be irresistible and always help him in his plans.

Absolutely mindboggling lack of morality aside, Sword Of Justice is a very well made film. Using the comic book violence of Lone Wolf & Cub, along with James Bond-like gadgets (Hanzo's house is filled with traps to stop intruders) pays off, and the funky soundtrack works despite the feudal Japan setting. Katsu is a charismatic performer, though it's quite the shock to see him as a rapist anti-hero after seeing the good natured masseuse of the Zatoichi films.

The plot is quite straight forward, and resolves itself rather early as this is a showcase for the star. People speak of him (and his penis) in hushed tones throughout.

The DVD contains only the trailers for three films as extra features, though attention must be paid to the astounding image quality on this disc. Despite damage to the source materials (which is exhibited before the film starts), the actual print is sharp and colorful, with subtitles clear and easy to read.

Certainly not as vital as the Lone Wolf & Cub films, and closer in the vein of Lady Snowblood (also based on a Koike manga and produced by Katsu's production company), but an entertaining film if you can get over Hanzo's virility.

Worth seeing. If only to laugh in disbelief.

1 comment:

Ash said...

I think the Hanzo series tries to have it both ways--it's tongue-in-cheek (I think), and certainly goes to extremes to take a satirical look at the uber-masculine heroes of both samurai films and 70s exploitation cinema. At the same time, though, it clearly enjoys the sexism and rampant violence it engages in. That's just my take on it.