Infamous as the chanbara film where erstwhile Zatoichi star Shintarô Katsu portrays a hero who is a cross between Sherlock Holmes and, er, John Holmes, Hanzo the Razor concerns Hanzo Itami, an Edo-era police detective whose main mode of interrogation involves pleasuring female suspects with his monstrously massive, super-strong schlong. Sorry, but there is no polite way to describe this film’s premise. To keep his tool in tip-top shape, Hanzo practices torturous training sessions: using his erect member to lift huge piles of concrete bricks, shagging bags of dry rice or simply pounding his pizzle with a big mallet. No, really. The plot? Oh yeah... Suspecting his boss, the local magistrate, is corrupt after an infamous killer is released back on the street, Hanzo and his weaselly sidekicks frame and arrest the man’s mistress, Omino (Yukiji Asaoka). A night of orgasmic interrogation leaves her gasping for more and spilling the beans about conspiracy at the highest levels, involving the local lord and his daughter, Lady Oyaru (Mari Atsumi), who command an army of crack ninja assassins.
What in other cultures might be the premise for a sleazy low-budget porno served the basis for a glossy prestige production in Japan. Hanzo the Razor was based on an adult oriented manga or gekiga penned adapted for the screen by Kazuo Koike, creator of the internationally acclaimed Lone Wolf and Cub which was itself adapted into a series of films by innovative producer-star Shintarô Katsu as a vehicle for his elder brother, Tomisaburo Wakayama. In Japan, Koike is widely feted in elite literary circles for the wealth of meticulously researched historical detail featured in his samurai manga. But what his upmarket admirers are either unaware or else too uptight to mention is that Koike has a parallel career. He is also the writer behind some of the most outrageously lurid hardboiled semi-pornographic manga and anime thrillers ever made.
Take for example: Wounded Man (1986), wherein a soccer stud-turned-adventurer and his oft-naked girlfriends uncover a conspiracy perpetrated by Neo-Nazi porn barons amidst the steamy rainforests of Brazil. In one scene our hero injects liquid cement into his rock hard member so as to prolong a life-or-death shag. Or how about Mad Bull (1990), Koike’s reprehensible ode to American cop thrillers which has something to offend everyone. Hanzo the Razor unites both aspects of Koike’s character, for whilst its spectacularly violent action scenes and kinky sexual encounters are undoubtedly transgressive, the film has genuine substance mounting a stringent attack on the judicial system, the shogunate and other hierarchical areas most traditional chanbara films depict with respect.
Hanzo is your proverbial maverick cop whose unorthodox methods (try really unorthodox!) belie his morality, incorruptible nature, and sincere empathy with the downtrodden poor. This latter facet of his character is addressed in the poignant coda wherein Hanzo comes to the aid of two youngsters wrestling with the quandary of whether to help their terminally-ill father commit suicide. Almost all pinku eiga (Japanese sexploitation films) are wedded to the idea of sex as a form of revolution against a hypocritically uptight, secretly corrupt establishment. Hanzo is the embodiment of male virility, socking it to the man (so to speak) at a point in the early Seventies when many righteous young Japanese felt emasculated. The film is foremost a satirical black comedy. As is evident from the aformentioned training scenes or when Hanzo lowers one female from a net onto his erect member, spinning her around till she squeals in ecstasy, none of the sex scenes are meant to be taken seriously. Whilst glossy photography and impeccable production values can’t conceal the inherant misogyny of the premise, the sex scenes are more an extreme variant on the seduction techniques employed by James Bond than an endorsement of sexual torture. Koike’s screenplay states that, having tested all kinds of interrogation techniques on himself, Hanzo has come to the conclusion pleasure is a more efficient means of extracting information from women than pain. In fact he is downright courteous in his post-coital treatment of suspects than their male cohorts. Nevertheless, women will, perhaps justifiably, respond to such statements with greater scepticism than male viewers.
As directed by regular Katsu cohort Kenji Misumi the sex scenes unfold in psychedelic montages midway between baroque Seventies anime like Cleopatra (1970) and Tragedy of Belladonna (1973) and the kind of optical experiments one associates with Douglas Trumbull. Misumi, who made several of the most inspired films in the Lone Wolf and Cub series including Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972), brings his trademark vibrant visual style, translating the transgressive charge of Koike’s gekiga in audacious cinematic terms whilst the funky score by Kunihiko Murai sounds a lot closer to a blaxploitation movie or, dare one say it, a porno. Hanzo Itami and his crime-busting cock were back in action in The Snare (1973).