Movie still from 1967's "A Colt Is My Passport."

A Colt Is My Passport June 5, 2017        

You won’t be forgetting his face or his disposition once you become acquainted with them for the first time. 

 

The actor, at his most successful a half-century ago, was a huge box-office draw for the Nikkatsu Corporation, Japan’s oldest movie studio, in the 1960s. Shishido was most often used in yakuza films — a subgenre devoted to sugar-coating the goings-on of the perpetually romanticized crime syndicate — and was usually cast either as brisk villains or emotionally enigmatic anti-heroes. Today, he remains best known for his work in 1967’s Branded to Kill, the surrealistic hitman classic beloved by such modern filmmakers as Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino.

 

As a result of the aforementioned film’s popularity among cinephiles, another one of the seven features he made in 1967, the wonderfully titled A Colt Is My Passport, sometimes goes unnoticed, despite its containing an excellent performance from the indelible actor. Whereas Branded leans toward the more hypnagogic side of things, A Colt Is My Passport is lean and mean, a taut thriller circling around an assassin’s quest to survive after a hit proves to be a catalyst for betrayal and greed. In the film, Shishido is in fine form. He's athletic, slinky, cool.

 

Here, he is Shuji Kamimura, a skilled hitman who, along with his assistant, Shun (Jerry Fuijo), is hired by the yakuza to off an enemy conglomerate’s boss. The mission isn’t any more strenuous than what Kamimura usually experiences. The job runs smoothly, and he’s in and out of the apartment complex from which he snipes his target in a matter of minutes.

 

It’s the aftermath which proves to be fateful: Kamimura and Shun are captured by their rivals shortly after their assignment concludes. Escape eventually becomes imminent, but because their opponents are hardly simplistic workers dwelling within a small-time crime factory, Kamimura and Shun discover that all methods of transport are crawling with enemies. The area in which they do their dirty work is suddenly a prison. Things get even worse when the people who hired them to do the job in the first place unexpectedly make nice with the son of the recently slaughtered and decide a double-cross is the way to go.

 

A Colt Is My Passport loses some of its footing when Kamimura and Shun are in the hiding phases of their dog days. But the first act of the film, tension-ridden and fluently bracing, is beautifully paced and convincingly dangerous. The finale, slightly ridiculous though nonetheless audacious, is a highlight in the way it stands by the action movie staple that no number of opponents can ever really be too high (see the House of Blue Leaves showdown in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 [2003]). Shishido, of course, is terrific.

 

It’s an electric example of what Nikkatsu did best in its days of trying to emulate American film noir as well as it could — it’s not to be missed. One might suggest watching it as a double feature alongside 1964’s Cruel Gun Story, which also stars Shishido and which also is an amalgamation of everything the Japanese gangster movie genre created.  B+

DIRECTED BY

Takashi Nomura

 

STARRING

Joe Shishido

Jerry Fujio

Chitose Kobuyashi

Shoki Fukae

Hideaki Esumi

Jun Hongo

 

RATED

NR

 

RELEASED IN

1967

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 24 Mins.

J

oe Shishido is among the more distinctive action stars of the 20th century. But unlike Arnold, instantaneously recognizable for his Herculean physique, and unlike Clint, memorable for his rigid masculinity, Shishido is something of a sendup of tough guy brawn. He’s lanky, soft around the edges, and is immediately identifiable for his chipmunk cheeks (a feature which was intentionally augmented by the actor in the late 1950s to get him more interesting parts). He doesn’t look like your typical gun-toting hero. And yet his unusual visage, complemented by his deadpan delivery, makes him hypnotic.