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Hanzo the Razor Trilogy

Sword of Justice, The Snare, Who's Got the Gold

Japan (1972, 1973, 1974), 94, 89, 84 minutes
Starring: Shintaro Katsu
Reviewer: Jeremy Silman
Genre: Comedy, Martial Arts
Rating: 5
HANZO THE RAZOR: SWORD OF JUSTICE (Japanese, 1972) Directed by Kenji Misumi, 94 minutesHANZO THE RAZOR: THE SNARE (Japanese, 1973) Directed by Yasuzo Masumura, 89 minutes
HANZO THE RAZOR: WHO’S GOT THE GOLD? (Japanese, 1974) Directed by Yoshio Inoue, 84 minutes

Thirty-five years ago a friend told me about a samurai series (he couldn’t remember its name) where sex, nudity, and perversion stood side by side with interesting stories, solid acting, and nicely created fight scenes. At first I thought that it was all a product of his imagination, but ten years later I came across Hanzo The Razor and immediately recognized this as the show my friend alluded to.

Hanzo The Razor is a three movie series starring the wonderful Shintaro Katsu (famous for making the role of Zatoichi his own). In fact, it was produced by his company, Katsu Productions, which also did the legendary Lone Wolf And Cub series. Here he plays Hanzo Itami, a police constable in old Edo (Tokyo) who deeply cares for the public he’s sworn to protect, while also hating the corruption that’s found in all levels of government.

Unlike most men of that era who bowed to tradition, Hanzo (a magnificent swordsman) spits in its face. With his two male servants/helpers/slaves in tow, he will dare anything to solve a case and put the guilty party(s) behind bars.

In my view, The Snare is the best movie of the three (though others might easily disagree), so this is the one I’ll discuss. Like the other films, things begin in outrageous fashion with a nude Hanzo (in the privacy of his own home/spa) strengthening his enormous manhood by first dowsing it in hot water, then placing it on special wood board and beating it with a club, and finally having intercourse with a huge bag of rice. These things are reminiscent of the iron hand technique, though in Hanzo’s case, hands have nothing to do with it.

In The Snare, Hanzo first has to stop a very strange woman from doing illegal abortions. After that, a whiff of heavy government corruption takes him to a sadomasochistic Buddhist nunnery where he arrests a powerful, bald headed nun so he can interrogate her and find out the names of the instigators of such perversion. When she refuses to talk (after being painfully tortured), we get his famous “torture of pleasure” in which he lays down on his back, has his slaves place the (now naked) female criminal in a hanging net, and has her lowered upon him. After a short time, the nun (raped and tortured in the name of justice) is willing to tell him everything and, in this case, actually moves in with him!

One would think this would be more than enough to wrap one’s mind around, but Hanzo is barely getting started. He still has to: hide for weeks at the Shogun’s mint so he can catch a vicious group of rapist/killers/thieves; do ritualistic sepaku (suicide) in front of his corrupt boss, and have a final to-the-death sword match vs. a highly skilled enemy.

Hanzo Itami is a rabidly moral man that doesn’t hesitate to use highly immoral methods to create justice in an unjust society. The quirky mix of dark humor, sex, kink, and old-fashioned samurai battles (replete with spurting blood) blend seamlessly together to create movies that will affect different people in different ways. Some will be deeply offended and/or shocked and disturbed, others will be titillated, while others may simply laugh out loud and have fun with the satirical madness.

Personally, I enjoyed most aspects of these films, but what really draws me to them for multiple viewings are Katsu’s depiction of a man at odds with the times, an outsider who isn’t understood by anyone, is feared by the good guys and the bad, yet symbolizes true moral strength despite what your eyes/beliefs/upbringing may tell you.

Hanzo the Razor is the anti-hero of all anti-heroes. And, unlike many films where women use their sex appeal to manipulate men, Hanzo (as fat and gruff as he might appear to be) uses his overwhelming, very primal sexuality to terrify men and bend every female to his will.