Still from 1967's "Massacre Gun."

Massacre Gun June 7, 2021


Yasuharu Hasebe



    Joe Shishido
Tatsuya Fuji
Jirō Okazaki

Hideaki Nitani







1 Hr., 29 Mins.


assacre Gun (1967) is never very surprising — it’s overall a by-the-book, uncomplicated yakuza thriller about a turf war. But it’s steadily generous to the senses. Its minimalist, percussion- and guitars-driven score, seasoned appropriately with wistful saxophone, has a hypnotic lilt; its black-and-white photography has a seductive chilliness and is particularly kind to shadows,

smoke, and sudden bursts of light emitted from fired guns. Massacre Gun is beautifully crafted formula. There’s even a piano man, in the style of Casablanca’s (1942) Sam character, who sings sad tunes at the end of many scenes as a way to summarize the movie’s emotional terrain; he’s here basically for no other reason besides additional flavor — a testament to the movie’s way of supplementing the routine with a certain lyricism.


The movie — director Yasuharu Hasebe’s third — stars the dependably intense Joe Shishido as Ryūichi, a yakuza hitman and bar owner. Shortly into the film, he has an epiphany: he’s going to sever ties with local leader Boss Azakawa (Takashi Kanda), whom he’s worked for since he was a teen. What else is one supposed to do when someone is responsible for mangling your younger brother (Jirō Okazaki) for refusing unwanted career support, and for ordering you to kill your girlfriend? (The latter task opens the film.) Ryūichi’s first instinct is simply to free himself from Azakawa. Then Ryūichi, who was among the select few men being groomed to someday succeed Azakawa, reasons that retaliation is more sensible. This soon evolves into an all-out effort to usurp the boss’ power over the community. Ryūichi has his two brothers on his side; whether Azakawa’s other flunkeys will be willing to switch teams is but another risk of a nervy scheme. 

Massacre Gun is a movie less memorable for its action sequences than its convincing displays of the anxiety and sadness inextricable from organized criminal life. Major parts of the storyline, for instance, revolve around the breakup of Ryūichi and his best friend, who continues to work for Azakawa (their decision to end their friendship is so formal it’s like a business transaction; “the next time we meet, we might be enemies,” Ryūichi says sadly) and the violent end to the younger brother's promising boxing career. When Azakawa brags just after Ryūichi “quits” that his former employee is still too naïve to realize that he won’t easily survive without him, the film explores what that exactly means through both physical and emotional violence. Whether experienced temporarily or in the long-term, the trauma that comes from this way of living is multifaceted. 


The movie’s action bluster is still inspired when it appears, even if it has a somewhat incidental quality. I won’t soon forget the sight of Azakawa having a coffin, filled out by a corpse with a bomb attached to his torso, being delivered to Ryūichi’s bar as if it were a colorful bouquet; a pitch-black warehouse lit up by enemy machine guns when Ryūichi wanders into it; the sight of the two criminal factions, at the end of the film, lining up on an empty highway to engage in an old Western-style shootout. What happens in Massacre Gun 

won’t stay with me, but how things looked and felt will. B