Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice (1972)
Alexander Smith
August 13, 2012
Note: review may contain spoilers

I'm not gonna lie, my first reaction to a film like this was “what?” But this was the 1970s, and seeing a renaissance of exploitation films like Shaft, Shintaro Katsu wanted to make his own. And this is essentially a Japanese Shaft, right down to the earworm of a score. So if you keep this in mind and don’t take any of the film’s more infamous elements seriously, it’s great to watch.

Hanzo Itami is a “cop” for the Shogun Magistrate’s office in Edo Japan. He is known for questioning his authorities, especially his superior officer, Magobei Onishi, or “Snake Magobei” as Hanzo derisively calls him due to his penchant for taking bribes and affairs. The greatest thing he is known for is his large genitalia, which he uses to get women to confess to anything. Hanzo is after an escaped convict and known murderer, who has escaped from prison. Using every skill available to him, Itami Hanzo must find the killer, and bring him to justice!

A forewarning: This film is one of those things where the premise may alienate most audiences; I really have to question, is Hanzo a good guy or is he just as bad as the thieves and murderers he pursues? Rape is never an OK thing. However, as long as you don’t take any of the films torture/self-torture/rape scenes seriously, you could enjoy this.

That out of the way, the plotting follows a formula repeated in all three films, with Hanzo hearing of a corrupt government plot, encountering someone who knows of the information, strengthening his “member” with rice bales and self-flagellation, then preceding to get a woman to tell him what she knows using it. After this he usually tracks down the criminal through classic detective skills and faces them to either take them into custody or kill them. It’s very formulaic, but very fun to watch courtesy of the well done cinematography.

The acting on the part of Shintaro Katsu as Hanzo is well done, but the character never seems to display emotion beyond a scowl. You never feel Hanzo is in danger, which is another flaw. The shining stars of the acting come in veteran Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) actor Akira Yamauchi as Onishi, who ends up being comical due to his constant bickering with Hanzo. The two comical assistants are another highlight, bumbling and energetic, you can’t help but laugh at their antics when they feel insignificant compared to their boss Hanzo. This is a film where the secondary characters shine.

Speaking of which, the movie is filmed like a lot of exploitation flicks were at the time, unique uses of lighting, blood spurting like high-pressure water, and camera angles that are quite unorthodox. For instance, the camera angles during the infamous “interrogation” use trickery to hide Hanzo’s penis. The camera uses a fisheye view lens from “Hanzo’s penis” during sex…this sounds weird, but it works. The editing present throughout the film is also reflective of the times, with the film beginning and ending with Hanzo standing on a map of Japan. Quick jump cuts are used throughout the film. The cinematography is the movie's strongest point.

Kunihiko Murai’s score sounds exactly like something Issac Hayes would do for Shaft, and it fits the film too well. Using horns, classic “wah-wah” guitars and some string work, the score feels 70s exploitation, and it works awesomely well. The song at the end, “Goyokiba” is done by 70s glam rockers The Mops, and it’s awesome, with a constant laughing vocal that is really catchy and fun to listen to with guitar and horns peppering the fun. The score is another highlight.

Overall, this film isn’t for everyone, but if you like exploitation or weird things, this should be right up your alley. It’s essentially a cop film set in Edo Japan. The only thing “jidaigeki” is the setting and fight scenes. Everything else feels 1970s. If you’re up for this sort of thing, go see it.