CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Sometimes it's quite a thrill to find a movie you've never heard of sitting in your mailbox. Literally, all you have is a title: in this instance, Massacre Gun, which could be absolutely anything. What's even more exciting is when a film that has come out of nowhere turns out to be a terrific treat: exciting, involving, astonishingly beautiful to look at and almost making you want to watch the whole thing again immediately. Why isn't this film better known? Why have I never heard of it before?
Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe, who went on to one of the Female Scorpion films and the Stray Cat Rock series, as well as a vile-sounding series of rape-themed exploitation films, Massacre Gun is a wonderful Japanese gangster thriller from 1967 concerning Kuroda (Jo Shishido), a hitman who quits his gang when he has to terminate his own girlfriend. Inevitably the gang don't take kindly to this and take on not just him but his brothers, a boxer and a jazz/blues club owner: equally inevitably, retaliation follows retaliation until it has to come down to a final blazing shootout.
It's shot in gleaming black and white which adds enormously to the mood of vintage Hollywood film noir - you could easily imagine Robert Mitchum or Ava Gardner or any of the legends of noir walking into shot (albeit in full glorious widescreen rather than plain old 4:3 Academy ratio). The monochrome looks absolutely stunning and it was clearly the right choice instead of colour. I'm slightly less keen on the use of jazz and blues but that's just down to my personal musical preferences.
I confess I'm not particularly knowledgeable about Japanese cinema (though pleasingly the disc arrived just as I was starting a little exploration of the subject) so I don't have a vast range of references. I can certainly say it's a lot better than any of, say, Takashi Miike's numerous gangland action films such as Deadly Outlaw: Rekka (which purely by chance I happened to watch the following night) which is honestly not in the same league. By comparison Massacre Gun oozes class and style and is infinitely more rewarding.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's less in the way of extras for a Japanese crime thriller nearly half a century old than we're used to on many retro releases. Here there's a recent interview with star Jo Shishido, much of which centres on memories of his childhood rather than his films, and a half-hour talk by Tony Rayns about the rise and fall of the Nikkatsu studio. More intriguing are the trailers for Massacre Gun which look to include scenes and shots that don't look to be in the film itself. Relative lack of bonus features aside, though, it's a terrific film and thoroughly enjoyable. And now I'm really looking forward to Arrow's imminent release of 1968's Retaliation from the same director and the same star. More please.