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Who's the Edo Police constable who's a sex machine to all the chicks?
on 22 July 2010
Who's the Edo Police constable who's a sex machine to all the chicks? Hanzo the Razor - Sword of Justice - can you dig it? With his funky theme tune and angry strut, he's the cop who takes no bribes and no excrement from the brass either, firmly on the side of the poor over the big rich who can buy their way out of trouble. He does things his way, whether that means torturing himself to find out how much pain a suspect can take, blackmailing his boss to stay on the force, beating his oversized penis with a wooden club or using it to secure confessions or information from female suspects. Yes, you did read that last bit right. Shintaro Katsu may bear an unfortunate resemblance to Stratford Johns but he's also not pounding a 20th century Tokyo city beat but a 17th century one, and this Police Constable is anything but PC. Even Harry was never this dirty...
Following the Zatoichi and Lone Wolf and Cub/Baby Cart series, Kenji Misumi's film should be deeply offensive or at best a smutty sex comedy - aside from Hanzo's interrogation technique, one female suspect is identified by her lack of pubic hair, observed under particularly perverse circumstances. Yet somehow, through a combination of cynical disillusion with all the old myths of honour in the samurai genre that are roundly condemned in no uncertain terms and some surprising stylisation (how many sex scenes are shot from inside a woman's vagina?), it somehow manages to come out as genuinely subversive and occasionally exhilarating rather than just exploitative. No doubt about it, this is an exploitation film, but a surprisingly classy one that's well aware of the inherent absurdity of grafting the John Shaft or James Bond aesthetic, complete with gadgets, onto a period swordplay film, yet still playing it absolutely straight. Even the plotting is anarchic, with Hanzo spending much of the film unravelling a plot that costs several lowlives their low lives to uncover a conspiracy that is at heart so trivial it goes nowhere, and rather than a showdown with the Man it ends with a surprising assisted suicide sequence that owes nothing to notions of honorable sepuku and more to do with the mercy killing of a complete stranger.
The result is a bonkers-on-paper movie with a surprising integrity, and a remarkable closing shot that promises great things to come, but unfortunately, Misumi didn't return for the second film in the series, Hanzo the Razor - The Snare, and it shows. Where Misumi used a pulp format to attack the pomposity of the genre and the false values they peddled, Yasuzo Masumura just makes a straight out sleazy exploitation film with added nudity, violence and S&M, very little of it especially interesting. The plot is considerably more lurid, with illegal abortions, a convent filled with nympho nuns being used as a brothel and a rapist/thief who, unlike Hanzo, doesn't leave his victims wanting more but in a pool of their own blood, but the execution is uninspired. It's not that Masumura has a poor visual sense, more that he lacks the imagination to lift the film out of the ordinary - no stylistic flourishes this time and despite an okay final twist the plotting is pretty perfunctory this time round. Social commentary is limited to the state diluting gold so they can siphon more of it into their own pockets, in the process devaluing the currency, forcing prices up and leading to a crime wave as the poor try to survive any way they can, but where his predecessor might have used the plot as a means of drawing attention to corruption and hypocrisy, Masumura just uses it as a plot Maguffin.
Despite recycling many ideas from the first film with considerably less panache, it has its moments (Hanzo gets into the convent by getting buried in its grounds and escaping from his grave, while there's a striking overhead shot of a duel on a bridge), but Hanzo spends an inordinate amount of time in the closet (literally) in this one and there's little in the way of originality in the by-the-numbers writing. Too much of the film feels like one of the lazier Dirty Harry sequels when they'd said all they had to say in the first film and from then on it was just about making money.
Curiously the trailer includes what is either a brief deleted scene or, as was fairly common in Japanese trailers, a specially shot scene of Hanzo and the Treasurer's bodyguard preparing to duel.
Worse was to come with Hanzo the Razor - Who's Got the Gold?, the third and not surprisingly last of a series that only took two sequels to run completely out of steam. Directed by former assistant director Yoshio Inoue, it cuts back on the gratuitous sex and violence but doesn't find anything more to replace it than a standard and rather drawn-out plot to replace it involving Treasury gold hidden in bamboo spears, a fake ghost, a blind priest lending stolen cash to impoverished samurai at high interest to fund his drug-fuelled orgies, a dying doctor trying to persuade the local elder to adopt western ways to avoid Japan becoming a foreign colony and the usual corrupt officials on the take. The odd original idea is thrown away and the film shows little enthusiasm even for the character's trademarks, which are given a perfunctory once over as if purely by contractual obligation. They really can't think of anything to do with the main character anymore and he just becomes another clichéd swordsman: the best it can manage is a joke about him possibly turning gay. At times it feels like Hanzo has just clumsily been grafted on to an existing run of the mill script for another period movie. The action scenes are nothing to write home about either. Even at 84 minutes, this tired effort drags its heels terribly, feeling like nothing so much as a film made by people who were bored with their job.
Extras are limited to the original trailer and a booklet for each film. All boast excellent 2.35:1 widescreen transfers with English subtitles, but bear in mind due to negative damage there are a few frames missing from one shot in the first film - very noticeable because a character suddenly disappears from the frame.