Massacre Gun Blu-ray Review

Japanese genre star Jô Shishido shoots to kill in this violent yakuza film

Genre icon Jô Shishido stars in this tense 1967 Japanese yakuza tale from Seijun Suzuki’s former assistant, director Yasuharu Hasebe. More conventional in structure and storytelling than another 1967 film starring Jô Shishido, the acclaimed Branded To Kill, Massacre Gun owes much to earlier American film noir. Produced by Nikkatsu, this movie is a relatively straightforward gangster story presented in stark black and white. Despite its sinister sounding name, Massacre Gun would have fit in quite well as a Hollywood mob film from the 1950s. The Japanese film would probably be forgotten today if not for Jô Shishido’s memorable starring turn.

Kuroda (Jô Shishido) is a hitman asked to kill his mistress by his boss. The powerful Akazawa runs the criminal gang by fear and intimidation. Kuroda follows Akazawa’s orders and kills his mistress. That decision leads Kuroda’s brothers, Saburo and Eiji, to stand up against Akazawa’s gang. Saburo, a promising young boxer, has his career cut short by Akazawa for opposing the powerful man. Their involvement makes Kuroda’s decision to leave the gang much easier.

The story could have come from an earlier Hollywood period without much trouble

Pushed to the brink for opposing Akazawa, the three brothers form their own gang and go after the protection racket run by Akazawa’s gang. The action gets violent between the two rivals, hurting everyone in the process. Kuroda and his brothers have a jazz club of their own to protect from Akazawa, which immediately becomes a target. Kuroda is the smooth, experienced criminal running the show. Saburo the boxer is young, he is troubled by his newly found gangster career. Eiji is enthusiastic about the entire thing, he relishes the good life it brings. It all leads to a dramatic showdown in a blazing gun battle on a bridge.

Massacre Gun (other translations have called it Slaughter Gun) is steeped in film noir, its shadowy style owes much to the genre. It’s such a conventional yakuza film that Western audiences will have no problem picking up its beats and themes. The story could have come from an earlier Hollywood period without much trouble. What makes it worth seeing is Jô Shishido, the Steve McQueen of Japanese b-films. The Japanese actor is the epitome of cool with his stylish acting.

The genre film is a solid gangster tale in black and white. A distinctive instrumental score with jazz leanings and very interesting cinematography make it a stylish success. Veterans of the genre will find much to like about Massacre Gun.

Movie ★★★☆☆

Massacre Gun Blu-ray screen shot 4

Arrow Video has newly restored Massacre Gun on some level. They were the first distributor in the world to bring the film out on Blu-ray. Arrow did the best they could with available film elements. Massacre Gun’s transfer is not in the upper echelon of their Blu-ray output due to random splicing errors found on the top edge of said elements. The 89-minute main feature is finely encoded in AVC at extremely high parameters, found on a BD-50. The 1080P video presentation preserves the film’s intended 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

Massacre Gun is filmed in noir-like black and white. The film’s distinctive monochrome cinematography takes center stage with fairly striking compositions. Filmed with a specific Japanese variation of CinemaScope, the gritty layers of film lead to occasional lapses in focus and detail. This is definitely not the sharpest film one will see on Blu-ray. The rich black levels give way to a few faltering moments of shadow delineation, crushing finer detail. Overall definition is ordinary for what appears to be a 2K film scan. There are no overt remnants of processing visible in the transfer but hints of sharpening in the first reel make their presence felt.

It’s a shame the film splicing used on Massacre Gun’s elements from probably decades ago still haunts its video quality. The recurring problem produces noticeable distortion and jitter to the top edge of the movie’s framing in this transfer fairly often and is distracting. The rest of the print looks in great condition, free of most positive and negative damage except in the mildly worn first reel. The newer film scan does produce decent gains in definition and clarity, reproducing the naturalistic grain structure in a very film-like presentation.

Video ★★★☆☆

Massacre Gun presumably gets its original theatrical audio in the form of a Japanese 1.0 PCM soundtrack. The Japanese-language film is accompanied with optional English subtitles, newly translated for this Blu-ray edition. The subtitles display in a white font, remaining inside the 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio at all times.

Massacre Gun has a jazzy sounding instrumental score; the jazz club is a setting for several significant moments. One character goes into smoky jazz vocals on occasion. Recording fidelity is decent for what was probably a low-budget, 1967 Japanese gangster film. A few dialogue passages are very soft in volume, the extremely wide difference in dynamics between louder musical scenes and quieter drama almost make it unintelligible. Nothing else sticks out as egregiously troublesome in the audio, this is rather typical monaural sound quality with mildly dated production.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Arrow Video’s Massacre Gun is supposedly limited to 3000 units, I guess in an attempt to capitalize on the marketing trend first seen from Twilight Time. This is a combo set with a DVD included for viewers that haven’t made the jump to HD. The reversible sleeve features original art and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan. I don’t find the chosen cover art particularly attractive. It’s a rare misstep for Arrow.

Like most of their newer releases, Arrow has added a booklet featuring new writing on the film. Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp writes at length on the film, adding more illustrated art by Ian MacEwan and original archive stills.

Massacre Gun doesn’t have quite the international acclaim of a film like Branded To Kill, the supplement package is relatively lightweight by Arrow’s standards. The disc has been encoded for all Regions.

Interview With Star Jô Shishido (17:38 in HD) – This is a new 2015 interview of the actor conducted by Arrow. A man in his eighties, he fondly recalls his early days and his samurai idols. Most pertinently to Massacre Gun, he explains how in those days he had to be the action choreographer since that job didn’t exist making films. The elderly man does ramble a bit, repeating himself on occasion. The entire interview is in Japanese with optional English subtitles.

Interview With Tony Rayns (36:26 in HD) – Renowned critic and historian Tony Rayns recounts the fascinating and colorful history of Nikkatsu, Japan’s oldest film studio. This is a remarkably lucid telling of the studio’s most important figures and their history going back to 1920s. He doesn’t hold anything back, going over the darker periods in Nikkatsu’s troubled history. This is the type of discussion I wish we would get on more Blu-rays; Rayns is an engaging speaker on the subject.

Original Theatrical Trailer (02:25 in HD)

Promo Gallery – Over a dozen rare promotional images for the film in 1080P resolution.

Extras ★★★☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review as a screener that may not represent the retail disc. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.