Friday, June 24, 2011

The Hanzo Trilogy (1972-1974)

It took me a while to actually watch the Hanzo films, but when I finally sat down it was something that was hard to stop watching. Shot between 1972 and 1974 and produced by legendary actor Shintarô Katsu’s own production company, it’s easy to get the feeling that this was a 100 % ego-trip for the eccentric actor mostly famous for his characters Zatôichi (which he played in 27 movies) and Lone Wolf. Maybe he took the chance to be a troublemaker, and somehow I think Hanzo is a slightly exaggerated version of himself: brutal, almost too self-confident, a sexual force, a hero and someone that other obviously was afraid of.

The first movie, Sword of Justice, has a weaker storyline than part 2 and 3, but very effectively sets upp the persona of Hanzo. A sado-masocist, a rapist, a torturer and someone who just don’t give a fuck about his bosses. He’s in charge and he knows it. He has enough dirt on anyone so they just leave him alone. In the second part he pretends to take hara-kiri just to scare his bosses, and this very brutal manipulation goes on one time after another. In the end of the slightly vague first movie (storywise) he stands on a big map, looking out in his town. It’s a powerful image that both evokes American cop shows and the departure from realism that you can find in mangas, comic books – when we suddenly leave the “real” environment to be in something that only can be show literary.

When the second movie starts we already know Hanzo, we’re aware of his fondness for penis-pounding, that he prefer raping women to tell them the truth (and of course he’s so good at it that they love it). The Snare, as the second movies titles is, starts with a dead woman – probably after a failed abortion, found in a mill. This leads Hanzo into a dark path, a combination between murder mystery and conspiracy. His trademark of killing enemies inside his trap-filled house is here and the sex is getting more intensive and violent. This sets a theme, money and gold, which leads into the third movie, “Who’s got the gold?” which starts in bit comical way when Hanzo wants to have sex with a ghost. He and his two servants found out that she’s not a real ghost, but placed there to scare of people to find some hidden gold – but who has stolen the gold and why is it hidden down in a lake?

I’ve heard the third movie is the weakest, but I’m not sure I can agree on that. The only weakness is that we know Hanzo’s character so well that nothing comes as a surprise. What makes it better is how much more intensive he’s decided to find out who the guilty is, including hiding in a closet for days until he can get clues he needs. One detail that I find interesting his how his servants are talking about him getting tired of women, because he seem to protect a man instead. Then they start to laugh and look at each other and say “But he has us!”, which points to the concept that he actually uses them sexually when he wants it. The affection he shows the inventor, the man he hides in his attic, is also a bit off compared to the two first adventures.

In the end the stories isn’t the most important thing with the Hanzo films. It’s the concept of being totally un-respectful at authorities, at least from Hanzo’s point of view. According to him they are just humans, greedy humans, and should be treated the way they deserve. He shows more respect towards thieves and killers, maybe because he can see himself in them. The Hanzo films are radical, both sexually (the sex scenes almost boarders to the absurd, the comical) and politically. The violence is graphic and bloody. Let me also say that it’s the third movie that has the most impressive and well-choreographed sword-scenes in the whole series, which people tend to forget when they say it’s the weakest part.

The Hanzo films are Japanese classics with a stunning performance by Katus and the rest of the actors. They are perfectly created sado-masocistic fantasies from the mind of Japanest biggest troublemaker. After a life of drugs, sex and getting into fights with Kurusawa, the great Shintarô Katsu died of cancer in 1997.

What a guy, what a guy…

1 comment:

CiNEZiLLA said...


Makes me want to watch the Babycart series again...