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Home Vision Entertainment presents

Hanzo the Razor (1972-74)

"A WOMAN'S BODY LEAKS SECRETS!"- Onscreen text, trailer to Razor: Who's Got the Gold?

Stars: Shintaro Katsu, Ko Nishimura
Other Stars: Yukiji Asaoka, Mari Atsumi, Kei Sato, Toshio Kurosawa, Kazuko Ineno, Mako Midori, Mikio Narita, Etsushi Takahashi
Director: Kenji Misumi (Sword of Justice), Yasuzo Masumura (The Snare), Yoshio Inouye (Who's Got the Gold)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexual violence, nudity, violence, adult themes)
Run Time: 04:23:00
Release Date: 2005-04-19
Genre: martial arts

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BAA- D+


DVD Review

Where does one begin to describe a series of films like the Razor series? It's the kind of thing that no leading Hollywood male star would ever touch, yet these films starred an icon of Japanese cinema, Shintaro Katsu, better known to hip Western audiences as Zatoichi. Needless to say, the Japanese aren't so prudish with subject matter as American filmmakers and audiences, and the Razor series blends two favorites, the samurai film and the police procedural, with an added helping of sexual violence, albeit in a way that, for the most part, tries to play it for laughs. If this doesn't sound like your thing, it's understandable, but we haven't even gotten to the most unique feature of these films.

"Razor" Hanzo Itami isn't your typical cop; he is fanatically dedicated to his job, for one. He doesn't take bribes, he routinely angers the powers that be with his scorn for their phoniness and lip service to duty, he undergoes torture to understand its effects on the criminals they use it on, and finally, he has a unique weapon in the fight against crime: his comically large manhood, which he trains for duty by beating it with a club and copulating with sacks of rice. Yes, you read correctly. He uses this "longest arm of the law" to "interrogate" female suspects, who as a matter of course eventually beg him continue while they spill what they know.

For his part, Hanzo never seems to get any pleasure from this, nor does he have any conflicted feelings about using rape as a tool for acquiring confessions. The film plays Hanzo's outrageous behavior for laughs in most cases, but let's face facts: our hero rapes women, and in the world of the film, they eventually enjoy it and have no problem with it. Needless to say, some people aren't going to find that a particularly enlightened viewpoint. But this is an exploitation film after all, and the film makes it clear that the women involved are all guilty to some degree (although this guilt gets hazy in the final film), thus earning the punishment (and eventually pleasure, when they confess) that Hanzo doles out. If there is one thing to remember about the world of the Razor, it's this: no one is innocent.

So with all that said, the first film, Razor: Sword of Justice, sets out the pattern the sequels will follow. None of the films have much character depth; they're genre films, and as such follow the formula. We see from the start that Hanzo is a cop who cares about his job above all else, and damn the consequences. He appears to have no personality outside of his work—simply put, he is his work.

Razor: Sword of Justice (1972)
The first film in the series sets the template for what will follow, although the latter two films don't really exceed the original. Hanzo is introduced, fighting against authority of course, and we view his training methods. The plot revolves around Hanzo's search for Kanbei, a supposedly exiled killer back in town. The search leads to far more than Hanzo bargained for, though, as he uncovers deep corruption.

Razor: The Snare (1973)
With the second film, Razor: The Snare, the filmmakers stick to what worked the first time. The usual elements are all there; the training, the "interrogations," the antagonizing of his boss, Snake Magobei, and the flouting of authority. This time out, Hanzo offends the treasury official while chasing two perps. The official's bodyguard squares off with Hanzo briefly, but the official is impressed by Hanzo's dedication to duty and lets him off. The bodyguard informs Hanzo he'll kill him later. Nonplussed, Hanzo returns to the business at hand, which involves the Edo equivalent of back alley abortions. It turns out women are trying to get abortions because they can't afford the children, because prices have gone up so much, due in part to bad coins being turned out by the treasury. Remember how we met the treasury official earlier? Things dovetail for Hanzo as he gets deeper into a plot to rip off the treasury and destabilize the government. A side plot involving Japan's "most notorious thief" seems shoehorned in to help the plot make sense, but by that point, you have to admire the writer's attempt to make some sense out of things.

Razor: Who's Got the Gold (1974)
By the final film, Razor: Who's Got the Gold (1974), the formula remained more or less the same, but the tone had shifted to more overt humor, playing off the audience expectations of the characters. Consequently, Devil-ray and Viper, both ex-cons, are less Hanzo's lieutenants than wacky comic relief; when Hanzo prepares to put the final element of his plan into action, they beg him to re-consider, forcing Hanzo to ask them to show their arms. But this time they tell him "This plan is too crazy!" and consider returning to prison a better option.

The film, as with the previous entries, revolves around money. When Devil-ray and Viper, spending the night boozing and fishing, see a female ghost, they tell Hanzo. Hanzo immediately considers some action with said ghost, prompting incredulous reactions from his lackeys. This film makes Hanzo much more the sexual predator than the other two, as he had previously only used his sexual skill for interrogation; in this film, it's suggested that he actually might enjoy it. Hanzo manages to apprehend the "ghost," and submits her to his special brand of interrogation. Before she gets the whole story out, she is killed by her husband, who has shown up with a band of guards. Cue fight sequence with all of Hanzo's boobytraps and hidden weapons.

Hanzo continues the investigation, finding that it leads to an old friend, a corrupt government official (not that there's any other kind in these films), and a subtly sleazy loan shark who doubles as a monk. This final installment ramps up the humor as well as the trippy nature of the imagery; there are far more odd angles and imagery used by director Inoue. This does help alleviate the sense of "been there, done that," in the film, as one can almost check off the standard Hanzo film elements included here: training sequence, check, punching out statues, check, Hanzo goes on tirade about his duty to the law, check, Hanzo asks his lackeys to show their criminal tattoos, check, and so on. It's probably just as well the series ended with this film, as it was well on its way to going stale.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: All three films look absolutely great. These discs have clean, crisp prints with very little noticeable damage (aside from the first film, which is missing a few seconds of footage due to print damage), and transfers to match. What else is there to say?

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: All three films were made in mono, and that's what is presented here. As the viewer is informed before Sword of Justice begins, 26 seconds of the soundtrack are missing due to element damage. It isn't especially damaging to the viewing experience. Otherwise, all three sound fine. The always funky, anachronistic music in the three films sounds great.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 47 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The trailers for all three films are on each disc.
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The trailers for all three Hanzo films are presented on each disc of the set. The main extra of note for each disc is the insert, which features original poster art (sadly, not as lurid as one would hope) and a unique essay for each film, which provides some background for each film as well as some critical appraisal. My only complaint is that the essays are too short.

Extras Grade: D+

Final Comments

Odds are, if you're into jidai geki, you'll find something to appreciate in these efforts. Zatoichi fans will be interested in seeing their man in another, vastly different role, and fans of sex and violence will find amusements as well.

Jeff Wilson 2005-04-19