The Plot: Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice is essentially a warm-up title, full of introductions and kind of a summary of the character that is Hanzo “The Razor” Itami (Shintaro Katsu). A policeman in feudal Japan, Hanzo is an officer with several distinguishing features. For one, he’s covered from neck to foot in scars that are self inflicted in attempts at practicing his torture techniques. The way Hanzo feels, if he can find the end levels of human endurance; he can push all men to their breaking point when interrogating them. Another thing to note about Hanzo is that he is earnest in his convictions, he can not be bought or bartered with when it comes to enforcing the law. A stickler for the rule book, the only thing that enrages him more than crime is the corrupt officers and officials who accept bribes in reward for allowing fugitives to run free. The other thing you might want to make a mental note on is his gigantic penis. Yes, that’s right, he sports a massive rod that he uses when interrogating women. No, I am not making this up. Hanzo, while being forced to pick up vagrants, stumbles upon a troublemaker who informs him that Kanbei the killer is no longer on the prison island that he was exiled to. In fact, he may have never even been incarcerated in the first place! With his two assistants, two former criminals (Devil-Fire and Viper) who have cleaned up their act and have committed themselves to Hanzo, the hunt is on for Kanbei the Killer and what they soon find out is that the reason this killer is now walking the street; may in fact be due to police corruption. As the heat is put on Hanzo, he is forced to solve this mystery and dispatch of Kanbei once and for all!
Hanzo the Razor has the most unusual start for what, without any further knowledge mind you, would appear to be a traditional period piece. The movie starts and immediately you’re clued into the fact that something just isn’t right in this picture. The opening sequence features this split screen camerawork ala Brian De Palma, then you’ve got the funk-rhythm soundtrack ala every blaxploitation movie ever made and on top of this you’ve got Shintaro Katsu wandering the streets looking incredibly funky. He is even rolled on a track in front of a solid background, as if he’s floating on air. Where things get awkward is that this really IS a period piece! Samurais, shoguns, ronin, geisha and all! With horns blaring over the soundtrack! Welcome to the wacky world of Hanzo the Razor! Things just get considerably more weird as the movie goes along, but that’s what has endeared it to so many genre fans it would seem. Made just one year after the release of Dirty Harry and Shaft, you can’t tell me that such films didn’t have an impact on the style of Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice. Obviously the film takes the classic action film cliche of the “cop who does his job on his own terms”, but it’s surprising how well the concept transfers to a more classical setting. We actually get Hanzo calling his boss a “idiot” within the first thirty minutes! His disrespect for authority is pretty well established from the get go. It’s also a disrespect based on a well displayed lack of actual order within the higher ranks of the police system. Reflecting the social climate of the seventies, where Shintaro Katsu may have made his name playing a very noble man with his Zatoichi series (for those unaware, the Zatoichi series is based on a blind swordsman, played by Katsu, and it spawned quite literally dozens of sequels) the Hanzo series is in direct conflict with both that character as well as the majority of Jidaigeki (Japanese period dramas, featuring samurai and ronin) from the time. This character, while also featuring some trademark decency to him – is much closer to Katsu as a person, which is to say… a man with faults!
I actually feel bad for comparing anyone to the character of Hanzo the Razor, boorish drinker or not, Hanzo Itami is not a good man and few men not serving a life sentence in prison deserve to have their name sullied with such a comparison. What is so wild about this series is how the character of Hanzo Itami is portrayed. He is a self righteous man who feels superior to his fellow officers who all accept bribes in one way or another, but this character who vows to fight injustice and claims to be incorruptible, is essentially just a rapist! The moral mixed signals that the film sends could be offensive for those with thin skin, but for the rest of us its such an odd and perverse little title that it can elicit a lot of entertainment. I can’t even fathom what the movie says about women. Essentially, when a woman says NO in Hanzo the Razor it just means “I assume you have a small penis”. However, due to the gargantuan size of Hanzo’s unit, when he gets to thrusting these women become mere putty in his hands. So no only means no to those of us who don’t have a rod built like a baseball bat. When your member can actually be considered a kickstand or a smaller arm, then essentially the laws of rape no longer can relate to you because apparently all women want to be forced into sex by a man with a very large member. Made as Katsu’s Zatoichi series was winding down, Hanzo is filled to the brim with extreme violence and sexual content, this newer and more hip series for Katsu seemed to miss out on the feminist movement entirely. At face value, for women in particular, I’m sure this will be a bit too much and incredibly offensive. However, if you step back from it and remove the veil of reality that surrounds you and just look at the piece as something from a different time and a different place; what you have is a movie that doesn’t directly adhere to any correct morality or decency but instead confounds your expectations and deliberately throws you into a man’s world. This will either offend or entertain, I just ask that you give it the benefit of a doubt in that sense.
In Japanese erotica there has definitely been some exploration of the rape fantasy in popular culture, it is something that has littered erotica since its inception really. A relatively common fantasy, even amongst women, the Japanese rumination on the idea is something from a completely different angle. From the famous shunga painting “The Dreams of the Fisherman’s Wife”, where the tentacle-rape fetish was born up to the Pinku genre which helped solidify rape within the erotic realm of Japanese cinema – it’s certainly a fetish with both roots and growing room within the Japanese market. Often in Hentai or animated pornography, the idea of a dominant male pressuring a woman for sex only to have her turn around and enjoy it by the climax is something that has certainly thrived within the realm of erotica. In recent years it’s been said that violent rape play in Japanese pornography has been tuned down, due to laws abroad that would censor the videos when exported, but the softer kind of “pressured sex” as in Hanzo has remained pretty popular. As complex as women are, so is this issue dealing with rape, but I actually enjoy the way Hanzo… spearheads the issue and all but makes a joke out of the moral implications of this characters actions. The sexuality of Sword of Vengeance, while not as explicit as you might actually imagine, on the whole is an odd assortment of fetishes and taboos – and I’m talking about the issues outside of just the forced sexual encounters. Hanzo’s self inflicted torture that he goes through is apparently both for the sake of those who he would torture as an officer of the law, as well as his own sexual gratification. His explanation to his immediate authority is that he wants to know the limits of human tolerance so that he can better understand the torture that he puts criminals through and although the masochistic elements are toned down, he is shown to have an erection after first torturing himself. He explains to his chief that it sometimes becomes erect due to the pain. Later on there is another sequence that shows him hammering away at his member with a hammer, like a blacksmith crafting a sword and afterward he jams it into a bag of rice shards inside of a bag that has a very vaginal looking entrance. Such scenes really show the character of Hanzo’s own masochistic urges and his treatment of women show he is also sadistic in his sexuality as well. Unfortunately the film doesn’t explore this area to its furthest degree, but the infamous “net” sequence is one hundred percent pure bondage on film.
Sword of Justice is unapologetically crass and exploitative in its nature. There are few minor details to the plot that don’t revolve around sex or at least some perversion of it. When we’re introduced to a female who is witness to the wherabouts of a criminal, the person who identifies her doesn’t do so by her actual appearance like you would expect in just about any other movie. No, there’s no “oh she was about yay tall, had darker skin, wore a purple kimono with a leopard on the back, had a hunchback, had six eyes and had a chainsaw for an arm”. Nothing that simple. The only recognizable trait that Hanzo has to go off of, in accordance to the witness who saw her making love, is the fact that she lacks pubic hair. We then follow our characters as they hunt for a woman with no hair down stairs. When she’s found, she is of course raped into submission by our hero’s sword of justice, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that the movie is generally crude in every direction it goes. From Shintaro’s hand to hand combat (which surprisingly leaves a lot to be desired, his punches look more like he’s pushing objects over than smashing them with his fist) to the gory violence that erupts from out of nowhere. Eyeballs are punched out, geysers of blood erupt from the neck of villains and Hanzo stabs through (and breaks) the nose of a simple beggar in what has to be one of the most brutal and realistic looking effects in a film this old. The big “moment” of the film that tends to get the most press is a bit of rope sex. Another one of Hanzo’s “torture” devices, he has his assistants strip an accused woman nude and placed in a net suspended from the ceiling where he then has her lowered up and down on top of his Sword of Justice. The sequence is as utterly ridiculous as you might expect, but at this point did you expect anything less?
Produced by Shintaro Katsu through his own Katsu Productions company.
Based upon the Manga (Japanese comicbook) by Kazuo Koike, who is also responsible for another popular manga series: Lone Wolf & Cub, which was also serialized on film by director Kenji Misumi with Shintaro Katsu in the producers chair and starring his brother Tomisaburo Wakayama.
The original title for the film is Goyokiba, which as you may suspect does not translate as Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justine. The closest translation found is “Fangs of the Detective”.
Hanzo the Razor is referred to in the film as Kamisori Hanzo. “Kamisori” is of course directly translated as “Razor”, but Kamisori is also likely a small nod towards the legendary Hattori Hanzo, a famed samurai of the Sengoku era.
I am personally of the opinion that you really can’t defend Sword of Justice from being anything other than a button-pusher full of seedy sex and violence, but for purveyors of trash cinema that makes this a veritable goldmine! It’s sleazy, nasty and so far over the top that John Waters might have even gasped when watching this one. I personally had a great time while watching and burst into laughter on more than a few occasions and I do think that was the point. It’s a really awesome four out of five. If you’ve read this review so far and thought “wow, I have got to get my hands on this flick!” then you’re likely going to love it regardless of what anyone says so go out and pick it up!