Kenji Misumi & Yasuzo Masumura & Yoshio Inoue – Hanzo the Razor trilogy (1972 – 1974)


Welcome to the deranged world of Hanzo the Razor, a weird blend of swordplay and sexploitation. The first Hanzo movie, Sword of Justice, came out a year after Shaft and Dirty Harry and fuses the influence of both: stout and surly Hanzo (Shintaro Katsu), a rebellious yet obsessively moral samurai, is also enormously well-endowed and provides almost unbearable pleasure to the women he “interrogates”–that is to say, rapes in the name of the law. Hanzo also tortures and blackmails without qualm as he slices through crime, uncovering corruption at higher levels in each progressive film. In Sword of Justice he overturns his own craven superiors; in The Snare, he breaks into a temple used by local magistrates for the sadistic torture of young girls; in Who’s Got the Gold, the shogunate treasury is being looted by its own officials–had there been a fourth film, Hanzo would probably have confronted the shogun himself. But while the movies wallow in Hanzo’s ruthless treatment of criminals and women, it also ogles the torture Hanzo inflicts upon himself! Sword of Justice will knock you sideways as you struggle to balance Hanzo’s puritanical code with his masochism and brutality (as well as the funky ’70s soundtrack). The Snare and Who’s Got the Gold?, disappointingly repeat many of the same routines (in particular, the “net torture” of female suspects).But while the fight choreography in the first two films is often crude, Who’s Got the Gold (directed by Yoshio Inoue) has more visual finesse and social commentary–not many movies combine temple orgies and geysers of blood with inflation, unemployment, and high interest rates. (There’s a particularly eerie scene in which a samurai in debt is hounded by a pack of blind men.) Hanzo the Razor undoubtedly influenced the moral outrage/leering voyeurism mix of Death Wish and its ilk, but Shintaro Katsu’s gleeful ferocity (in contrast with Charles Bronson’s dour, repressed deadpan) makes this trilogy stranger and sleazier. Katsu was also the star of the hugely popular Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman series. –Bret Fetzer

Sword of Justice:
Hanzo working out
exercizing his authority
The Snare:
getting ready to use cruel and unusual punishment
defending himself
Who’s got the Gold?:
punching the head off of a statue
his two lackeys

no pass