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Sunday 19 April 2009

Hanzo the Razor: The Snare (1973)

Director: Yasuzo Masumura
Stars: Shintaro Katsu and Ko Nishimura

No, it wasn't a great film by most standards of critical measurement, but I'm not sure any exploitation film fan can watch the first Hanzo the Razor film, Sword of Justice, without wanting to follow up with the other two. Here's the second, The Snare, with both Shintaro Katsu and Ko Nishimura returning as the Edo officer Hanzo Itami and his superior, chief magistrate Snake Magobei Onishi respectively. There's a new director though, Yasuzo Masumura, who had plenty of experience making exploitation films (or what look like exploitation films) since 1957. Masumura also wrote, based on the original manga by Kazuo Koike, who is also well known for the Lone Wolf and Cub, Lady Snowblood and Crying Freeman series.

This time out we get straight down to business. Hanzo and his assistants, Devil-Fire and Viper, are chasing a couple of thieves when they run into the travelling procession of Lord Okubu, the government treasurer. His men are ready to kill these thieves for their insolence in happening to be in the way, but Hanzo saves them because they're his to chase and arrest and question. This leads to a battle, a duel and a whole bunch of rudeness to his Lordship, who listens patiently and leaves after letting Hanzo know he'll be summoned to the shogunate general himself, for which meeting he should prepare to die.

The thieves turn out to be more like opportunists, having stripped the corpse of a young girl they found at the water mill. Hanzo finds that she had had an abortion, so heads off to the local female only shrine, even though it's officially out of his jurisdiction. After all it's never been even remotely hidden that he really doesn't care about that sort of thing, luckily for us as these abortions are performed by a Taoist priestess who feels that she has to do an utterlly pointless but bizarrely sexy ritual dance first.

She provides the girl's name, so Hanzo can follow up with her family, only to find that they not only expected her to not be pregnant, they expected her to be a virgin. She lived at home and only left it to visit the Kaizan convent to learn flower arranging and the tea ceremony. Hanzo's innovative approach to finding out what really goes on in the convent is to organise a burial for the girl there, only to take her place in the coffin and burst out of the grave in the middle of the night. It's a memorable approach, that's for sure.

What he finds is Priestess Nyokai auctioning off to the highest bidder the young ladies who study there, with no restrictions. Our first winning merchant gets off on beating the young girl he wins and the priestess has plenty of viewpoints for the losers to watch. In comes Hanzo to take the place apart, free the girl and take the priestess prisoner, so he can torture her in the ways he knows best. First he shows her hell with the kneeling down on wooden blocks corner up routine we saw him go through himself in the first film, piling on stone slabs until she passes out. Then he shows her heaven with the net trick he used on another young lady in the first film, relying on the utterly sexist concept that no woman can say no to him after he's used his trained and conditioned wedding tackle on her. Which works. Of course.

We have some other subplots going on that all lead us to the finale. It can't be a surprise to anyone that Lord Okubu, the government treasurer, is behind the goings on at the Kaizan convent. He's also involved in devaluing the currency to line his own pockets while making the poor poorer. So Hanzo goes after him, while officially chasing Japan's most notorious thief, Shobei Hamajima, who apparently has his eyes on the gold coin mint.

That's where he meets up with Riku, a young widow who reminds quite a bit of Myrna Loy, and who manages the mint. That's also where we get the most bizarre scene from a western perspective. Hanzo gives her a lecture about how Shobei rapes his women after robbing them blind, and hey, that's not something she'd want. Like duh. But then he promptly rapes her himself, because he's Hanzo the Razor, and so the experience is what she's been waiting for. I'd love to read a feminist review of these films to see what they come up with. They're sexist beyond imagining and the machismo just drips off the screen.

Masamura does a pretty good job. I don't think this one looks quite as good as its predecessor but there are a number of scenes of great beauty, especially the building up to the inevitable duel between Hanzo and Junai Mikoshiba, Lord Okubu's fencing instructor. We still only get two sex scenes but there's a massive increase in the spurting blood department. Everything we know about that's hidden behind the plain walls and ceiling of Hanzo's house gets used, and there's new stuff to boot. This isn't a good example of the 'everything has to be doubled' in the sequel, but Hanzo's house is the exception. I want a house like that!

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