42nd Street Cinema

Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice (1972)

Today it is time to drift away from the trappings of conventional slashers and sloshy gorefests and instead explore what East Asia has to offer in the exploitation department. For this venture I have decided to take a look at Kenji Misumi's Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice, the first in a bizarre trilogy starring Shintaro Katsu.
Katsu who also produced the Lone Wolf and Cub series (1972 - 1974) including the something of a compilation and grindhouse favourite Shogun Assassin (1980), along with his portrayal as Zatoichi in the series of the same name.

Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice also known by its native title: Goyōkiba, blends Jidaigeki, Crime and Martial Arts into something truly stylish and spectacular.

The story revolves around the central character Hanzo Itami an incorruptible officer of the law in Edo, a Japanese village. Renowned for his unorthodox methods of interrogation, especially when it comes to a female suspect, who he will first penetrate with his 'sword' of justice and then later drink sake with in his bath to which, through what must be his sexual prowess they become infatuated with him. Hanzo also follows what appears to be a strict self-discipline régime where he will flagellate his large penis before practicing intercourse with a bale of rice. We also learn that Hanzo practices self-sadomasochism as he is covered in scars and becomes sexually aroused when in pain.
Through one of his hired vagrants Hanzo begins to suspect that his superior officer's mistress (identifiable by her lack of pubic hair) has ties to an infamous killer. Upon making such a discovery it becomes clear that the killer is no longer on his prison island, or that he was never banished there in the first place, after some more 'poking' around his investigation leads him to believe that the elitist group of Edo is entirely corrupt putting both his job and his life in peril.

While at it's core being pure sleazy exploitation the Sword of Justice serves as a perfect introduction to Hanzo Itami's character and the values that he stands for as well as providing a rather one-sided commentary about corrupt authorities and magisterial rules. The way in which Hanzo tortures himself both physically and mentally to appreciate what pain his victims go through is completely sadistic but at the same time his character wouldn't be so intriguing if he didn't have this trait, along with a subtext of cynicism and contradiction as he's seen to be the honest officer, yet his daring methods which involve rape and torture are not only acts which are clearly morally questionable but also against the law he is trying to enforce.

Beautifully shot using a style of close ups that reminded me of Italian westerns and an unusual, funky and sometimes awkward sounding score from Kunihiko Murai prove this is nothing more than unadulterated entertainment for those with the more unusual tastes.


venoms5 said...

The second HANZO is my favorite of this trilogy, James. This was Katsu's attempt at doing an "adult" samurai series akin to his brother Tomisaburo Wakayama's portrayal of Lone Wolf in the BABY CART series (Katsu was only a producer in that series). I've yet to watch all of Katsu's Toho ZATOICHI movies, but they are more violent than his earlier Daiei entries.

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