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Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice

tn_hanzoWhat the fuck is up with Hanzo the Razor? I want to respect him as a samurai, but I just can’t get past his behavior. Here’s the #1 issue I have with his first movie, RAZOR: SWORD OF JUSTICE: the scene where he interrogates a woman by forcing himself on her, and then she ends up liking it so much she gives up the information to keep him from stopping. #2 issue: the second scene where he does that, this time with her in a net and three assistants pulling a rope to lift her up and down on him. And gentle love song type music playing while she spins on his “sword of justice,” screaming. That is fucked up, Hanzo the Razor. What kind of garbage is this?

If not for that, though, perfect movie!

I know people got mad years ago when I complained about Jason Statham’s character Chiliman Chevrolet from the CRANK movie pulling one of these “it doesn’t count as rape if you win her over before you’re done” moves, known on the streets as “the ol’ Straw Dogs.” But I haven’t changed my stance on that. It’s a misogynistic fantasy and kind of a dangerous thing to depict in movies. What kind of influence could this have on the samurai constables of the future if they grow up thinking this is how the world works?

To be honest he kind of looks like a pervert too.
To be honest he kind of looks like a pervert too.

I can’t say I completely fathom what they’re trying to do with this movie. I know there’s gotta be some cultural differences going on here, but I’d really like to know what the thinking is on this. Director Kenji Misumi also did the LONE WOLF AND CUB movies and writer Kazuo Koike did both the movies and the comics (and the comic this is based on). So he’s a genius storyteller, creator of supreme badassness and (from what I understand) critic of samurai era values. He points out the hypocrisy of these codes of honor that serve the corrupt elites more than the citizens they’re meant to protect. Like LONE WOLF’s Ogami Itto, “Razor” Hanzo Itami (Shintaro Katsu, guy who played Zatoichi, producer of this series and brother of the guy that played Itto) is an extreme figure who recognizes the evil of the system he works for. But Itto calls himself a demon while unable to avoid doing heroic things. Hanzo intentionally fights for justice while casually using barbaric techniques. Like the Punisher, maybe?

At first he seems like Serpico. He flat out refuses to sign the officer’s oath because he’s too honest. He knows his office takes bribes and it would be a lie to say otherwise. His superior Magobei Onishi (Ko Nishimura, YOJIMBO, SWORD OF DOOM) – who he maliciously calls “Snake” – is outraged, a perfect example of treating a ritual as sacred while violating its actual meaning, much like certain people who rally around the flag or the cross while being ideologically opposed to freedom or Jesus’ teachings.

Hanzo isn’t gonna back down. “Simmer down and listen!” he yells at his boss. He might get fired for that. For being more pure than the other officers. Or at least that’s what it seems like at first.

But then he goes home and… well, jesus, man. You need to know that Hanzo has, like, an eccentric lifestyle, you know what I mean? First he has his two underlings brutally torture him so he can feel for himself which techniques are the most painful and do a better job when he does it to suspects. I guess he has to know these tortures in case he ever interrogates a man. In this movie he only interrogates women, so he only does the rape one.

I mean, that’s some freaky shit, but also he gets a little alone time when he seems to be… hold on, is this what I think it is? Yes, I’m pretty sure he laid his dick out on a board and is banging it with a club. Then he cuts a hole in a basket of rice and fucks it. Again, sensual love music. Huh.

See, now days we’re used to this, because of the internet. And the movie ZOO. In the moderm world anybody that has some crazy sex thing, they like to wear diapers and a wolf costume or make little miniature hotel rooms for lobsters and make them fuck or watch all the episodes of My Little Pony or whatever sicko wacko baloney gives em a hard-on, it doesn’t matter, they will find people on the internet that do the same thing and make up lingo and a websight and now it’s officially a subculture and it’s okay. But I believe even in the modern world Hanzo would not have to join some sort of bulletin board for dick clubbers and rice bangers. He doesn’t give a fuck about your acceptance of his lifestyle. He just does what he thinks is right. Or what he thinks will turns his dick into a Kanabō.

There’s alot of talk about his dick. He admits that the pain of torture gives him a boner. A group of adversaries exchange legends of seeing his johnson, say it’s huge and covered in warts. They’re in awe of it. They say this cat Hanzo is a bad mother. From the opening moments, the wah wahs, saxophone, split screen, strutting and later freeze frame credits suggest a blaxploitation movie. He’s Shaft with a deadly shaft. The score by Kunihiko Murai is straight up funk. If you played it to somebody out of context only the Japanese lyrics on the theme song could give away its origins.

There’s other weird fetishy stuff that happens. He identifies a woman based on her not having pubic hair, and verifies it by having one of his guys pull a Chuck Berry maneuver. And there are some abstract shots during the sex scenes that I think are supposed to be, uh, some sort of internal closeups. Freaky shit. So it’s always a relief when he turns his interest away from his dick and towards cool weapons. He has spiked knuckles and little dagger things and a chain that he swings and it is a delight when we learn about the booby traps and secret compartments full of weapons hidden all over his house. He has levers he pulls that make huge spikes come out of the walls or ceiling. He uses it to kill attackers or, in one case, a lizard that gets in his house. It’s overkill, but it’s Hanzo.

still_hanzo2

This guy is so close to being one of the all time greats. I can’t judge a man for fucking rice, but I can judge him for treating women like bags of rice. I mean, they eventually go willingly into his hot tub and have sake with him. Why can’t he start with that?

But if I could set aside the sex predator stuff this would be the type of extreme character I really gravitate toward. A dude that just takes things way too far, and then moves through polite society as if he belongs there. Like Blade walking around in broad daylight with a vampire slaying samurai sword on his back. He doesn’t give a fuck. Hanzo is the same way. Yes, I have a secret arsenal hidden in a flip-over panel in the wall by my sauna. What’s wrong with that? That’s my style. That’s just my thing.

still_hanzo

Other than the raping he has it all figured out. And he has sort of his own rehabilitation program where he catches criminals and instead of the harsh punishment the system prescribes he takes them under his wing and makes them officers of the law. Almost like how the Shadow and the Phantom get favors from the guys they saved previously. One day he’s supposed to round up transients and lock them up but he thinks that’s bullshit so instead he breaks this guy’s nose and tosses him over his shoulder telling the other officers he’s dead. Later he has the guy play dead, bloody smashed up nose and everything, as an excuse to arrest somebody. Dirty tricks.

At one point he seems to have taken badass to preposterous levels. SPOILER. It turns out to be a fake out but when he reveals bloody bandages around his torso and claims to have already slit his belly and just be holding it in for now it seems like he’s serious. Because that’s the type of shit this guy would actually do! He’s ten times crazier than Riggs.

This guy is a total freak, and that’s why the movie is amazing. The huge distance he goes over the line is obviously intended to be outrageous. It feels almost like Verhoeven doing ROBOCOP, daring you to root for this fucked up super hero. But if Robocop was going around raping people I’m not sure I would enjoy that movie as much, in my opinion. It makes it even more extreme but harder to have a fun time with.

This is the first part of a trilogy, and it seems like it was planned that way. It’s a good beginning of a story type of story, and then instead of coming to a conclusion it takes a left turn and goes into a little mini-story about euthanasia. Come to think of it, about the youth in Asia dealing with euthanasia. It’s a nice little bit about using smarts and fighting skills to get around rules and codes and put a poor old man out of his misery. And then it points toward the Razor’s future adventures.

still_hanzo3

The part of me that suppresses the existence of those rape scenes enjoys the “tune in next time” ending where he stands on a giant map, looking toward the castle, stroking his chin. I mean, it’s hard not to get swept up in the theme song describing how “the veins in his temples stand out / his lips firmly pressed together” and “his spirit snarls at the government.”

Ah, shit. I’m gonna have to watch part 2, aren’t I?

God damn it. This is like how Mike Tyson is interesting and then you remember what he did time for. An inconvenient truth. Say it ain’t so, Hanzo. You would’ve been my hero.

 

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, November 10th, 2014 at 1:22 pm and is filed under Action, Comic strips/Super heroes, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice”

  1. Crushinator Jones

    November 10th, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Clearly they typo’d a letter in “Hanzo the Razer”.

  2. Crushinator Jones

    November 10th, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Aw shit I fucked up the joke, that doesn’t work, try this one:

    Poster Artist: “Wait, I still don’t know the title of the movie. Hey Mitsuki, what’s the name of the movie?”

    Mitsuki: “Hanzo…” *mumbles* “…the Raper.”

    Poster Artist: “Hanzo the Razor, got it.” *adds title to poster*

  3. ‘Almost like how the Shadow and the Phantom get favors from the guys they saved previously.’

    Don’t forget about Ip Man! My favorite part of those movies was when he meets the fellow in the sequel that he’d deafened in one ear in the original. If he hadn’t been defeated by Ip Man, he wouldn’t have realized that he makes a poor criminal, given up the life, met a nice girl and settled down to have a family. ‘And where would I be then?’ (or something to that effect) And then he thanks Ip Man!

  4. (Possible spoiler) I believe in one of the sequels he takes on a lady giving out back alley abortions. Not sure if the filmmakers were actually anti-abortion, but I always loved that the hero had the values of his era (nothing annoys me more than period era movie characters that have modern values). Having said that, the rape stuff is still troublesome because it’s so obviously contrived to go in that direction. It’s a series built on a dumb joke.

  5. Good to know there is a little more to this movie but I came across it on IFC right in the middle of the part where they are lowering the girl onto Hanzo, and man that was a deal-breaker right out the gate.

  6. Rape tends to bring the party to an abrupt end. I wonder how Clint feels now about his rapey cowboy in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER?

  7. Tyson got shafted. He was pretty clearly innocent.

  8. You might want to end your Hanzo exposure here. Don’t remember much about the sequel other than its tone losing the tongue-in-cheek outrageousness … which shifted the perversities from shake-your-head wrong to turn-it-off grim.

  9. It´s impossible to defend these movies. I do like them, though, and seeing the main character beat his dick with a stick is always funny. I like the sequels too.

    I really hope you get around to Lady Snowblood, and the awesome badassness of Meiko Kaji. The Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion trilogy is also really good, especially part 2 and 3.

  10. This is one of those movies where, if it came from anywhere else, I’d probably be disgusted or delighted or some combination of the two, but instead I just shake my head and say “Oh Japan.” I can never tell what’s supposed to be transgressive and what’s just another day at the office for Japanese audiences. Not being able to get a handle on the filmmakers’ intent can sometimes be exciting, but when it comes to Japanese shock cinema, it often takes the edge off it for me. There are plenty of really weird Japanese movies I like (including this one, more or less) but they often don’t pack the punch they seem to want to. How can anything be perverse when I don’t even know where the baseline for normal is?

  11. If you knew anything about Kazuo Koike you’d understand the messed up sexual politics, dude is pretty infamously misogynistic, but the guy is also totally insane, so I think it’s more of a “he just doesn’t know any better” kind of thing.

  12. Been meaning to get around to this one for a while, but mainly because the great Masumura Yasuzo directed one of the seuqels. I was a little put off when I first read what they were about, but after my little brother showed me all his favorite Japanese exploitation movies over the last year or so I’m pretty jaded; at this point, I’m shocked if I watch a Japanese movie and nobody gets raped. I mean, these guys really went rape crazy in their movies in the 60’s and 70’s, not really sure what their fucking deal was.

    A nice antidote to this is the first FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION movie. It hits the normal Japanese quota for men raping women, but then in a nice turn of events, during the last act the women take over the prison and rape some of the male guards. I think that counts as progress.

  13. Well, I think that the japanese obsession with rape is a sorta weird reaction on warcrimes permitted by the japanese army during WW2, often sanctioned by their beloved emperor. There was a lot of rebellion, counter-culture and even terrorism in Japan during the late sixties and early seventies, maybe as a reaction to basically the same people, who sanctioned these atrocities, staying in power. Maybe the japanese population suppressed, and ignored, how shamefully the japanese army behaved. The movies keep portraying japanese men as disgusting rapists, or in this case, makes the japanese women beg him for it. (if I remember correctly, Hanzo often refuses to raping them as a mean of torture?)

    They even refer to Nanking in FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: BEAST STABLE, when a group of japanese guys are boasting about how many chinese girls they raped in Nanking, only to be raped, castrated and murdered by a group of escaped female prisoners. That´s addressing the most shameful taboos of japanese history, at least twenty years before the japanese government acknowledged that warcrimes took place during WW2.

  14. Griff – I don’t think it could just be a matter of Koike being a nut. He didn’t direct the movie, he’s not a famous actor who starred in and produced the movie. There had to be a group of these guys getting behind this idea, and I feel like there’s gotta be more to that than I comprehend.

  15. That sounds different though. We certainly have alot of movies in the U.S. where rapists (or just random dudes who grab women in alleys) get avenged. Those are easy to get behind. But then there are these and the KARATE BULLFIGHTER trilogy and stuff where the hero rapes somebody and it doesn’t seem intended to be a bad thing. In fact, the women often fall in love with the attacker later in the movie.

    HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER was a good American example to bring up. I always wished that scene wasn’t in there. But at least there’s all the Hell symbolism, he’s supposed to be this devil figure.

  16. I think Hanzo is an outlier in terms of Japanese heroes who are rapists, but it is bizarre just how frequent rape and gang rape was in their movies back in the day. It’s not exactly portrayed positively, but it’s so frequent and often ickily lingered over that there’s no doubt it was put in their to appeal to prurient interests.

    There are definitely exceptions to this (I think the FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION movies are genuinely using the rape/revenge formually towards a female empowerment type message), but the really fucked up thing is that these weren’t just minor, low budget skin flicks. Toei and Nikkatsu were major studios who put out mainstream movies that were filled with rape and intense violence. Normal people were going to see these movies for a fun night out. Some of them are, in fact, excellent movies in their own right, just with this weird elements we would find completely unaccaptable in our mainstream culture.

    I don’t know enough about Japanese culture or history to spitball about why this might be, other than the usual bit about sexual repression on a cultural level fucking with people’s heads.

  17. True story: When I was twenty-two, I drove an hour and a half away from my apartment and paid $80 dollars for the three DVD box-set of Hanzo films. It was worth it.

  18. Maybe Hanzo is a satire on japanese cultures fascination with rape? I hope so. It would be nice to enjoy these awesome movies without feeling like a creep.

    Most of the “bad girl” genre, the Girl Boss series, Female Prisoner Scorpion, Lady Snowblood, etc, is defenetly anti-establishment, with young criminal women kicking a lot of ass, and being treated horrible by japanese society. Japanese authorities are always portrayed as corrupt and greedy perverts, and japanese middle-class are often hypocrites (and perverts, off course).

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