• Hanzo The Razor (Homevision) DVD Review

    Released by: Homevision
    Released on: April 19th, 2005.
    Director: Kenji Misumi/Yasuzo Masumura/Yoshio Inouye
    Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Yukiji Asaoka, Mari Atsumi, Ko Nishimura, Kei Sato, Toshio Kurosawa, Kazuko Ineno, Mako Midori, Mikio Narita, Asao Koike, Etsushi Takahashi
    Year: 1972/1973/1974
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    Hanzo The Razor - Movie Review:

    If you look up the term 'bad ass' in a Japanese encyclopedia, right along guys like Sonny Chiba and Bunto Sugawara you're going to see a big picture of Shintaro Katsu. Not because he was Zatoichi in about a gazillion pictures. No. Because he was Hanzo. Hanzo? Yes, Hanzo 'The Razor' Itami, to be precise.

    A little story to kind of give you a rough idea of just how amazing these films are. In the early 2000’s, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted DVD-R rips of the then out of print Hanzo laserdiscs as he knew I was a big fan of Samurai films and of the Zatoichi movies that Katsu starred in. I had never heard of Hazno, but he sold me on them when he stated, 'Shit, everyone who has seen these has a "the first time I saw Hanzo" story.” And he was right. They're that good. I didn't forget the first time I saw Hanzo, and neither will you.

    But let's get back to the movies at hand, not my sordid and filthy past....

    The three Hanzo films were based on some manga by Kazuo Koike, one of the co-creators of the Lone Wolf And Cub Series that was pilfered by Quentin Tarantino for his Kill Bill films. Like the Lone Wolf And Cub films, the Hanzo stories followed a rather unorthodox samurai, the aforementioned Mr. Itami. He's not a Ronin like Itto Ogami was though, quite the opposite - he's a cop. A samurai cop (but not the Samurai Cop) who shares similar views of how justice should be meted out to those of Harry Callahan or Paul Kersey. I won't go into much on his story, just let it suffice to say that he's a copy with a 'whatever it takes' attitude who doesn't take shit from anyone. Ever. Three films were made in the series and they're all included here in this boxed set released by Homevision in 2005. They play out as follows (these plot descriptions are intentionally vague so as to avoid spoilers for those unlucky enough to not have come across these films before)…


    The first film in the series finds Hanzo in trouble with his boss when he won't sign off on some papers for the higher ups as they jeopardize his honor. When he looks into things a little more, he uncovers some problems that all the way up to the top of the ladder. As he works his way up to the top with the help of a pair of former criminals who now wish to do well, he finds that he can't trust many of the people he meets along the way and that he'll have to interrogate many ladies to get the information that he needs.

    Herein lies Hanzo's claim to fame - his interrogation tactics. You see, Hanzo possesses the 'long arm of the law' but when he says that, he's not referring to one of his two upper limbs. You figure the rest out. In order to procure the information he needs from the suspicious women he encounters, he has them bound in a mesh net above him, then lowered onto his 'long arm of the law' where he spins them around on his mighty man meat until they finally give him the information he needs.

    It’s a cute trick.

    Director Kenji Misumi (who also worked on the Lone Wolf And Cub films as well as a few of the Katsu starring Zatoichi vehicles) manages to blend the perfect mix of pinky style sexual violence, samurai action, seventies funk (just try not to shake it when you hear the killer soundtrack) and black, twisted comedy. The film is an exploitation fan's dream come true and Katsu makes the most out of his rather absurd role, obviously putting a lot of himself into making it all work.


    Round two! This time out, we find out well-endowed warrior cop fine tuning his secret weapon by washing it, burning it, and beating it - you know, you've gotta keep everything in working order and all, right? Anyway, this time out he's going to bust an illegal abortion ring wide open and he'll do whatever it takes to stop those dastardly crooks cold. Once again, he'll have to deal with government corruption but this time out the filmmakers wisely decided to throw in some strange sadomasochistic cultists as well. You can never have too many of them in your film.


    In the final film of the series, Hanzo has to deal with a slightly more supernatural element than he was subjected to in the first two movies. When he gets word of an illegal gold smuggling ring being run involving a group of monks, Hanzo once again is on the job and busting crime. Hanzo also encounters a female ghost who isn't really a ghost, and who soon finds herself on the end of his infamous interrogation tactic. There are also a lot of ninjas running around in this film as well.

    Like I said, the plot descriptions are intentionally vague. If it seems like a cop out on my end, I'm sorry, but if you haven't seen these films before, you'll thank me for it later.

    In all three films there are plenty of sexual, violent, and sexually violent set pieces. Hanzo's trademark skills lay the films wide open for that type of thing and there are multiple set pieces to demonstrate just how wacky the filmmakers could get throughout the trilogy. Katsu plays the role as straight as one could expect, never winking at the camera and always maintaining his patented stone faced grimace, not cracking a smile like he would occasionally do in the Zatoichi movies.

    While the films certainly aren't going to appeal to everyone - it's not too much of a stretch to ascertain that Hanzo is essentially raping the women that he interrogates all in the name of justice - they are a blast for those who are either comfortable with such material or numbed to it. Readers of this site will probably fall somewhere in the middle, giving our viewing habits and all. You won't want to bust these out when Grandma comes to visit on Christmas Eve, but neither will you have to hide them if company arrives. They're closer to nasty than not, but they never go so far as to really border on pornographic or anything like that. The sense of humor that runs throughout the films and the sheer ridiculousness of Hanzo's technique ensure that things stay firmly grounded in unreality. As such, they make for great, trashy entertainment.

    Hanzo The Razor - DVD Review:

    In 2005, these were given brand spanking new 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfers that looked great for their day. Sixteen years later and they still look quite good by DVD standards but would clearly benefit from high definition upgrades and proper remasters. The colors are bright, bold and very well defined. The black levels are strong and deep and don't ever once break up or fade out or pixelate. Skin and flesh tones, of which there are a fair amount of during the playback of the trilogy, look lifelike and natural and even healthy at times! Print damage is extremely minimal and basically consists of the odd speck here and there. Grain, though present, is never out of control and the image is clean and strong on each of the three movies from start to finish - but you can't help but wonder how much better they could look than they do here.

    The Dolby Digital Mono Japanese language sound mixes on each of the three discs are about as good as forty-some-odd-year old mono mixes are likely to sound. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion at all and the dialogue is clear and clean as a whistle. The English subtitles anre clear as day and very easy to read without any typographical errors present at all. The only minor quibble with the audio on this set is that way up in the high end one or two of the female voices can be a little bit shrill and, as such, they reverberate ever so slightly. But in all honesty, this really isn't even noticeable unless you're really and truly looking for defects (and this really doesn't count as defects). These movies sound just fine. Worth noting, however, is that in the first film there are two spots where the audio drops out. According to the note at the beginning of the movie this is because the negative was damaged beyond repair.

    Extras? This brings us to the weakest part of this set. Sadly, the extra features for the Hanzo trilogy are sadly lacking, but here's what we do get to go along with the three fabulous main features:

    Trailers. Each of the three discs in the set contains the same set of three trailers - one for each of the films in the boxed set: Sword Of Justice, The Snare and Who's Got The Gold? Each one is accessible off of the funky swirly seventies looking menus and each one is also presented in anamorphic widescreen. They serve as a fun look at the way that the films were marketed when they were initially released theatrically in Japan.

    Aside from that, inside each of the three keepcases are liner notes: Patrick Macias covers Sword Of Justice and Michael Raine covers The Snare as well as Who's Got The Gold? Each of the three essays do a good job of filling in some background information on the films as well as supplying some cool trivia facts about the movies and those who made them. On the front of each of the inserts containing these liners notes are reproductions of the films' theatrical poster art, which is always a nice touch.

    Hanzo The Razor - The Final Word:

    Ninjas. Samurais. Ghosts. Hot Japanese lesbians. Plentiful nudity. Blood. Guts. Swordplay. A giant penis. These movies have all this and more. Exploitation/Samurai/Cult movie enthusiasts the world over should appreciate the effort that Home Vision went to, even the extra features are sadly quite lacking, because the Hanzo The Razor movies is just that damn good.

    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      These Hanzo flicks are so messed up. Wish they'd get a blu-ray release.
    1. AngelGuts's Avatar
      AngelGuts -
      There are HD versions of them now. Source is Japan.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      But are they English friendly?
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ian Jane View Post
      But are they English friendly?
      Everything is if you're wasted enough when you put it on. Just don't expect to remember any of it.
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ian Jane View Post
      But are they English friendly?
      Yes, they have English subs. I spot checked them, and they look very nice.