Film review – みな殺しの拳銃 / Massacre Gun (Yasharu Hasebe, 1967)

A stylish yakuza film originally released in 1967, みな殺しの拳銃 / Massacre Gun has received a lovingly-created remastering by Arrow Video that’s well worth picking up for fans of the genre.

The plot concerns three brothers. Ryûichi (Joe Shishido) is the eldest; he’s level-headed but he’s also a member of the Akazawa yakuza gang, turning on his employees when he is forced to murder his lover. Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji) is the middle brother – hot-headed but loyal to his siblings. The youngest, Saburo (Jiro Okazaki), is an aspiring boxer who over-exerts himself at a training session to prove his worth, infuriating the yakuza bosses who now have an injured star fighter. When the yakuza seek retaliation on him and ruin his career, this is the catalyst for their feud to quickly get out of control. Tensions rise as the stand-off escalates to full-blown gang warfare and a brutal final shootout.

The film oozes style. The sultry jazz soundtrack provided by Naozumi Yamamoto is almost a character in itself, providing an edge to the sharply-dressed brothers and the gritty world they inhabit. The monochromatic tones serve the film in a way that full-colour just wouldn’t have achieved.

massacre gun still

There’s a unique edge to everything that happens in the film, which is clearly an attempt by Yasharu Hasebe to mirror typical American film noirs. The world these characters isn’t a world that a typical viewer is familiar with outside of cinema, though the dedication to the genre is so absolute that it becomes absorbing. True, there are better film noirs out there, though few give themselves so absolutely to the concept of film noir itself.

However, there is something extraordinarily off-putting about the appearance of lead actor Joe Shishido. His cheeks seem puffed-up and almost chipmunk-like. Apparently, and I only found this out after seeing the film, this was by choice. He had his cheekbones enhanced to give himself a more masculine appearance. This really isn’t the case. In this particular film he looks like the most unlikely of lead actors, especially alongside his two brothers. It is an unnatural appearance, though it has the unintentional affect of providing Shishido with a heightened sense of being the underdog, which plays into the plot wonderfully.

This is a mere minor annoyance in an otherwise perfectly good film. It lacks the notoriety of the more popular Shishido yakuza film noir released in the same year – Branded To Kill – but both seems to inhabit the same world and will reward fans of the genre willing to seek it out.

Massacre Gun is out now on Arrow Video dual format Blu-ray and DVD, limited to 3000 copies.

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