Friday, April 25, 2008

Hanzo The Razor - Who's Got the Gold? (1974)

The third (and final) film in the Hanzo The Razor series is interesting in just how formulaic it is. Similar to the Zatoichi films, certain elements of the Hanzo series repeat themselves in each film; Devil Fire & Viper being admonished by Hanzo and threatened to be returned to prison, a corrupt government official, Hanzo torturing himself, Hanzo having sex with a woman who later becomes infatuated with him, Hanzo's gadget-filled house, Magohei 'Snake' Ohnishi (Hanzo's superior officer) being embarrassed consistently by Hanzo's disrespect. At this point, the series had begun to resemble a television series with exploitative elements.

And, in fact, this is the easiest to tolerate of the three films in terms of content. Admittedly, the fight scenes are still bloody and brutal, but the regular penis torture and rape scene are gotten out of the way before the title card, and one of the central themes is the inability of Japan to cope with the industrialism (and, particularly, weaponry) of the west. It certainly doesn't delve very deep into what could be a very interesting topic, but the attempt is at least admirable.

However, it also has some of the strangest elements in the series. The film begins with Hanzo's two servants fishing along a riverbank, before being frightened by the appearance of a female ghost. Hanzo's reaction?

"I want to make love to a ghost once."

Oh, that wacky Hanzo! The ghost ends up being a fake, and a way to scare people away from discovering the theft of gold from the treasury, the beginning of (once again) massive corruption from the elders in the village.

The plot meanders a bit, and certain plot elements don't seem to lead anywhere. It's also the shortest film at the series, not even reaching 90 minutes. Still, some novelty still remains at the bloodshed on display, and Hanzo remains an interesting, if reprehensible, character.

It's the exchanges between Hanzo and "Snake" Magobei that really work for me, however. Kô Nishimura steals all of his scenes as he suffers a complete meltdown every time Hanzo refuses to obey an order or show respect to a political figure. The humor here is a lot more effective than the broad slapstick shown in scenes with Hanzo's servants.

The DVD once again features the original 2.40:1 aspect ratio with a beautiful print. There are a few translation issues as always, but the subtitles are easy to understand. Trailers for the three Hanzo films are the only special features.

I would consider this the least of the three Hanzo films, with The Snare being the most entertaining and well structured of the series.

Mildly recommended for fans of sleaze, Samurai films or Shintaro Katsu. Everyone else should show caution. That last picture really says it all.

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