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Massacre Gun ("Minagoroshi no kenju")

North American Premiere
  • Japan
  • 1967
  • 89 mins
  • HD
  • Japanese
  • English (subtitles)

Three brothers take on the mob in a hard-boiled, doom-laden, little-seen gangster film from the height of Nikkatsu’s period of “Borderless Action” productivity. Eldest brother Ryuichi Kuroda is a hitman for the Akazawa gang who, at the whim of his stern boss, is forced to eliminate a woman he loves. Existing doubts about remaining loyal to the gang turn to outrage when youngest brother and aspiring boxer Saburo is maimed in retaliation for trouncing the gang’s ringer in a training bout. And after his club is trashed by the gang, hothead middle brother Eiji is ready to go to war. The trio begin to strong-arm boss Akazawa’s other businesses, but retaliation is swift, and Ryuichi finds himself on opposite sides of the fight from his buddy Shirasaka, who still works for the gang. One brother is kidnapped, another killed, and only one of the friends will survive when Kuroda and Shirasaka meet for a duel to the death on a lonely stretch of highway outside town.

One of three monochrome hitman movies Nikkatsu B-idol Joe Shishido made in 1967 for Nikkatsu — the others being Seijun Suzuki’s BRANDED TO KILL and the iconic proto-Western A COLT IS MY PASSPORT, from Fantasia 2008 — we are happy to be able to complete the loose trilogy with this screening, presented as part of Nikkatsu’s 100th anniversary, and possibly the first time the film has ever been shown in the West! Alternatively known as THE SLAUGHTER GUN or RUTHLESS GANGSTER, MASSACRE GUN was director Hasebe’s third film at Nikkatsu, and he would later do other notable gangster films, three-fifths of the STRAY CAT ROCK series, and some very politically incorrect Roman Pornos. But MASSACRE GUN finds him in full-on dark noir mode, and the heavy atmosphere of the film foreshadows many of the rough subjects he tackled in later films. Hasebe manages to enliven the gloom with a jazzy milieu and some colourful minor characters. Action scenes are relegated to the film’s second half, but they more than make up for the wait, from one character’s execution by headlight to the final showdown on a deserted road. Don’t miss your only chance to discover a new classic of 1960s Japanese genre cinema!

— Marc Walkow