Review: Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice (1972)

Did you ever wish you could un-see something?  That’s how I feel about this nasty little exploitation film.  The first in a trilogy of movies about Edo-era police officer Razor Hanzo, this movie appears to have been made for the sole purpose of making star Shintaro Katsu (of Zatoichi fame) appear to have an enormous penis.  Maybe he thought he’d gotten all the action he could off the nice guy character of Zatoichi and he needed to add the bad girls out there to his list of potential lovers.  Whatever the reason, I think this could be enjoyable if you’re in the right frame of mind, but since I didn’t expect it, I found much of the content to be offensive.

The story is fairly straightforward and comes right out of the Dirty Harry vein.  Hanzo is a cop — a dedicated pro who seeks justice above all else and who’ll do pretty much anything to get it.  He learns that a much sought after criminal was freed from custody, so he goes after the criminal along with the corrupt officials who allowed that to happen.

My issues weren’t with the plot but with the Hanzo character’s actions and the overall presentation.  I knew I was in trouble when Hanzo had his servants torture him just so he could see what it felt like then he explains that pain gives him a hard on.  Soon after, we’re shown a scene of Hanzo pouring scalding water on his penis then hammering it with a stick on a specially designed flagellation table with a precut mold for his swollen member.  What the what?!  Later, Hanzo abducts and ties up a female suspect so he can rape some information out of her while romantic funk music plays.  That’s bad enough but bad turns to worse when she suddenly begs for more while we’re treated to a speculum-eye-view of the event!!!  Whoa!

Seasoned director Kenji Misumi (Lone Wolf, Zatoichi, Diamajin, etc.) treats us to sumptuous visuals but they aren’t enough to distract from the weirdness here.  His addition of the funk soundtrack and a bunch of 70s hipster shots bring the whole thing down a notch or two as well.  Yes, the funk is funny but it really doesn’t suit the period story.

I should also mention that the fight scenes are nothing to write home about.  Despite the film’s subtitle, most of the swords on display here are metaphorical (ahem).  Hanzo’s weapon of choice is obvious, but he also uses a ninja-tastic modified jutte with a long chain to wrap up opponent’s swords, necks, hands, etc.   It sounds interesting, but it was obviously hard to film the use of such a weapon without harming the poor guy on the receiving end.  Due to this, most of the fight scenes come off as a bit…well, flaccid.

Maybe I’m being too hard on this piece of trash cinema.  I’m sure it was (mostly) made with tongue firmly planted in cheek.  But I can’t recommend it unless you’re a true, dyed in the wool, grindhouse fan, or if you simply wonder what kind of movies Takashi Miike might have made had he been working in 1972.

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