Though I’d categorize “Cruel Gun Story” (Kenjû zankoku monogatari, 1964, directed by Furukawa Takumi, available as part of the Criterion Eclipse set Nikkatsu Noir) as a heist film or a gangster film, it is nocturnal enough to count as a noir, and is more nihilistic than the American noirs. Joe Shishido’s character Togawa, is not a patsy, but tough as he is here, multiple others try to play him.
A disbarred lawyer, Ito, has arranged to get an early release from prison for Togawa, and set him up for ye olde one last job: a heist of the take from the Japan derby. The plan is to shoot the two motorcycle policemen who escort it, then the driver and guard when they get out of the armored car. They are not so stupid, and are loaded up (did this inspire the original “Italian Job”).
Togawa leaves his trusted confederate Shirai (Odaka Yûji) and goes off with his newfound would-be girlfriend to contact Ito. It makes no sense that Togwa would leave the money and his wounded friend with two other men he trusts not at all (and has disarmed). He and the girl escape the trap Ito set, but lead an army of yakuza, Ito, and the Big Boss to where the loot is.
After a major shoot-out, there is a kidnapping, another major shoot-out and some one-on-one shootouts, which leave all the characters except Togwa’s paralyzed sister Rie (Matsubara Chieko [Tokyo Drifter]) —for whose treatment he decided to take on the heist against his better judgment in the first place. I don’t understand why the bad guys did not seize her, though they kill everyone else Togawa cares for.
Things hurtle along through the 87 minutes. The US presence (naval base) in Yokohma is not coincidental, since the truck is hidden in a warehouse that the Americans had used, and Takizawa (Suzuki regular/Nikkatsu contract player Kawachi Tamio),who was engaged to run a jazz bar frequented by African American sailors. Plus jets scream overhead periodically, but Togawa has no dealings with Americans, and I don’t see the US Occupation blamed for the greed and duplicity of the yakuzas.
©2016, Stephen O. Murray