Monday 20 April 2009

Hanzo the Razor: Who's Got the Gold? (1974)

Director: Yoshio Inoue
Star: Shintaro Katsu, Ko Nishimura and Mako Midori

Hanzo the Razor's two assistants, Devil-Fire and Viper, are fishing in the river near the shogunate's treasury when they see a ghost, and their master's response is to head straight out there himself. Every man should want to make love to a ghost once, he says. Never mind that ghosts apparently don't have lower halves and this particular one has large facial scars, he's all set on taking her. Given the rather kinky nature of these Japanese sexploitation films, it comes as a disappointment that we never see this necrophilia too.

But of course, like every episode of Scooby Doo you've ever seen, this ghost is a fake, though she's far cuter than every janitor they ever had. She's keeping people away from the river because someone is stealing brand new gold coins from the treasury, loading them up into rods of bamboo and literally throwing them between the bars on the windows into the river. The sharpened ends ensure that they embed neatly into the river bed, ready for our ghost and her cohorts to come and collect them. And naturally Hanzo has just broken that racket right open.

And just as naturally, once they've captured the fake ghost and discovered the gold in the bamboo, they take her home and we're thrown straight into the first torture net sequence. This third film certainly starts as it means to go on, because just as she's about to confess to everything under the sheer power of Hanzo's irresistible pecker, she's murdered, making at least a second or two of this experience necrophilia after all, however unintentional. And after a torture net sequence, we get an attack on Hanzo's house, prompting even more unveiling of secret weaponry within the walls of Hanzo's awesome house. He really has it all: a pecker for all women to lust after and a house full of secret weapons for the men.

The killer is this lady's husband, a samurai guard at the treasury who is pissed off at the low wages he gets. However he can't have seen the first two films in this series, because it really doesn't pay off to well to attack Hanzo the Razor in his own house. They're all killed and Hanzo returns the stolen money to the shogunate, prompting Elder Hotta to pay him a reward. And get this, after all the sexploitation and violence in these films and all the bad blood between Hanzo and Magobei the Snake, he gives all but one coin to his chief and they pinky swear to keep it a secret! Hanzo the Razor doing a pinky swear is a freaky sight indeed.

All of this sets us up with the few plot threads that weave together to form our story. The first thread is the fact that there's someone still out there behind all these thefts from the treasury, and they obviously have a purpose beyond just acquiring money. The second is the sad state of affairs that working samurai are finding themselves in, including one of Hanzo's childhood friends, Heisuke Takei. They're paid so little that they fall for such schemes as the treasury robbery; they flock to Elder Hotta's palace every day, hoping for work; and they borrow money from Kengyo, a blind loan shark. The third deals with a rebel doctor who tries in vain to persuade his leaders to use western weapons to save the country from foreign invasion.

All of these threads tie together. Heisuke owns a valuable antique spear that the Elder dearly wants, and he owes Kengyo money. Kengyo visits the Elder regularly to give his wife, the Lady Yumi, koto lessons. He also hosts wild parties three times a month at which Lady Yumi is a regular attender. The doctor, Genan Sugino, used to be the personal physician of Elder Kotto, until he fell into disfavour. And of course Hanzo the Razor is involved with all of them. He was a childhood friend of Heisuke, he's impressed the Elder with his results, he's tangled with Kengyo and he has hidden the doctor in a secret room at his house.

You can guess what he has to do with Yumi, and you'd be half right. Yes, he sneaks into her bedroom to treat her to his magnificent member, while Kengyo is in the next room playing the koto for her, no less. However he also breaks into one of those wild parties to see what really goes on, cunningly concealed in a fake barrel of sake and in ninja gear to boot. Lady Yumi and her friends go there to sow their wild oats in secret, now that they're past thirty and their husbands prefer younger ladies who are more likely to bear heirs. He brands them all with the mark of a plum petal that they can't remove.

It doesn't take too much imagination to see how all of this is going to end up and there are no real surprises here, beyond a general one. After two outrageous exploitation flicks, this third and last in the series is surprisingly tame, content to get almost all of its exploitation content out of the way in the first ten minutes. What continues from there is a far more conventional story with a more consistent plot and even some added humour, not entirely from Viper and Devil-Fire either. It's certainly the most accessible of the three, if mainstream audiences could get past the opening scenes. It even has the most appropriate music, with all the koto work much appreciated, even though there is one repeated blaxploitation style theme that sounds suspiciously like Satisfaction by the Stones.

Yet somehow it's not as much fun. Having seen all three Hanzo the Razor movies together, not quite as a triple bill but all in the same day, I found them reasonably consistent in quality. The first is the most fun, especially from the perspective of a confirmed exploitation fan. The second is the most twisted, pushing that envelope just a little bit more. The third is the best or the worst, depending on your perspective. If you ate up the first two, you'll find it a lot tamer and less satisfying. If you worked your way through them but wished they'd just tone it all down a bit and concentrate on the story a bit more, you'll have got your wish. All in all it's a pretty amazing trilogy, and it makes me doe eyed for all the Zatoichi movies and prompts me to get round to watching the Lone Wolf and Cub series in one go.

1 comment:

Your Twinlet said...

Congratulations on the 1000th post!
Good review to boot, i pinkie swear it!