Monday, May 20, 2013

A Colt Is My Passport (1967)

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A Colt Is My Passport (Koruto wa ore no pasupoto) is one of five films included in the Criterion Eclipse Nikkatsu Noir DVD boxed set. While the other four films are excellent this one is the standout.

Jô Shishido is hitman Kamimura. He is employed by a yakuza boss to kill a rival gang boss. The job goes smoothly but things start to go badly wrong afterwards. Arrangements had been made to fly Kamimura and his partner Shun (Jerry Fujio) out of the country but they’re cancelled at the last minute. What Kamimura and Shun don’t know is that they’re about to be rather spectacularly double-crossed.

Kamimura and Shun hide out in a motel, but the net is closing around them. Every time it seems like they’re about to escape something goes wrong and the double-cross against them becomes more sinister. It all culminates in an extraordinary visual tour-de-force of an ending.

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The first thing you will notice about this movie is that the music is pure spaghetti western. As the story unfolds the spaghetti western influence becomes more and more obvious - in fact this movie could have been remade as a spaghetti western with virtually no changes to either the plot or the characters.

There is of course a film noir influence as well although the movie that approaches this one most closely in feel is Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le samouraï which was released in the same year, 1967. Jô Shishido mines the same ice-cold killer territory that Alain Delon explored in Melville’s film and he manages to be almost as cool as Delon (which is no mean achievement).

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This is very much a buddy movie with the friendship between hitman Kamimura and his sidekick Shun being the emotional core of the story. Suggestions that have been made of a homoerotic element in this relationship must be dismissed as nonsense. Anyone with any experience of Japanese cinema knows that honour and loyalty are what always drives the hero (or heroine in the case of some of the best pinky violence movies of the 70s). Any Japanese movie made in 1967 is going to be influenced by both Japanese samurai movies and American westerns, and again honour and loyalty are the keys.

Jô Shishido is very much the star but Jerry Fujio gives him some excellent support, with Chitose Kobayashi also giving a fine performance as Mina, the love interest for the hero. Mina is a complex character, always expecting betrayal and always seeking to escape although she has no idea where to escape to.

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Director Takashi Nomura and his cinematographer Shigeyoshi Mine (who had photographed Seijun Suzuki’s extraordinary and brilliant Tokyo Drifter a year earlier) don’t go for an obvious film noir look, despite shooting the film in black-and-white. They don’t go overboard with the shadows. Most scenes are brightly lit and there’s an openness combined with a brooding quality to the outdoor scenes that reinforces the western feel. Where Takashi Nomura really scores is in the flamboyant and dynamic directing of the action scenes. The ending takes place in a bleak wasteland that could be a landfill, or the end of the world, or the desert setting for the climax of a spaghetti western. I’m not going to spoil it in any way, but it’s insane and magnificent.

Nikkatsu had turned to producing mukokuseki akushun (“borderless action”) movies in the late 50s in an attempt to give the studio youth appeal. By 1967 the cycle was almost played out. After the stylistic excesses of movies like Seijun Suzuki’s Branded To Kill and Tokyo Drifter, and indeed A Colt Is My Passport, there was probably nowhere left for the genre to go.

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The DVD is superb with the picture quality being satisfyingly crisp. The lack of extras is disappointing.

A Colt Is My Passport is one of the most stylish and exciting crime movies you’re ever going to see. An absolute must-see.

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