If you didn’t know this already, Joe Shishido is AWESOME. This is one of his first starring roles (you might remember him as the puffy-cheeked rice-smelling Number 3 hitman in Branded to Kill) and it’s clear that he deserves the top billing. Shishido’s character, Kamimura, is loyal to his friends, excellent at his job, and, above all, the badass to end all badasses. The ending scene alone is one of the greatest sequences in cinema, and one I’ve seen images copped from in other films. The black & white photography is iconic, and, well, the film is just about perfect.
Takashi Nomura’s film, though definitely a Yakuza picture, borrows a lot from the Western genre, and Shishido is the top cowboy. The Western feel of the movie is best exemplified by the soundtrack, which owes a great debt to the Spaghetti Western, but that’s not the only thing. Though the action takes place in 1960s Japan (then the present day), there are lots of nods to Western standards — for example, when Kamimura and his partner Shiozaki (played by Jerry Fujio) are on the run, they go to a small restaurant/bar — complete with beautiful barmaid who has the hearts of all the roughnecked clientele but wants to escape for something better. Kamimura looks out for his younger, more naive partner and takes care of him above his own safety. Admittedly, he’s so handy with a gun that his safety isn’t TOO much in question, but it’s still a noble gesture.
I’m hesitant to reveal too much about the film’s plot, as, though it may not have too many twists and turns, is a joy to watch unfold. The film just sucks you in and makes it impossible to look away. Like many of the Nikkatsu films, the photography is gorgeous and again works to show that Suzuki was NOT the only maverick artist at the studio. This film is outstanding and, of the four Nikkatsu films screened at “No Borders, No Limits” from Outcast Cinema, by far my favorite… and I loved the other three, too. Unfortunately, right now, the only place to see this film is at the touring show, but here’s hoping that a DVD is imminent. The film certainly deserves it — it is OUTSTANDING.