Killers on Parade

Year: 1961
 Masahiro Shinoda
Rating: 7.5

AKA - My Face Red in the Sunset

This was one of director Masahiro Shinoda's first films as part of the Japanese New Wave and one might guess that it was to some degree influential on some of the films of Seijun Suzuki such as Branded to Kill and Pistol Opera as well as later films like Black Tight Killers. Vibrant colors, pop sensibilities, absurd surrealism gives this film a very distinct off-beat personality. It is as if Andy Warhol had made a Japanese film back in 1961 and just threw colors at the canvass. All it needed was "bam", "wham" blazoned in text across the screen to feel like a very cool Batman episode. As much as anything, it is an exercise in style and comic parody that barely needs a plot and there isn't much of one.

It is about professional killers. A group of them who all take great pride in their skills and practice by shooting an apple off a little boy's head at about 50 yards. They are more than a group - eight of them - more like a fraternity as they have their own clubhouse and hang out talking about their work just as we might in our jobs but it is about who they killed and how they did it. They all have their own methods. They are rather an odd ensemble - one a doctor, another wears a football helmet, there is a poet who plays guitar, an old hand who prefers a knife, one who wants to unionize and one of them is a female who takes her single sheep for walks. Every now and then they break into song ("I'm a graveyard. Your lonely graveyard") and a pop and jazz soundtrack inundate the film like an Annette Funicello Beach movie. One of them so loves jazz that he is stuck at 99 kills - all documented in his scrap book - because just as he was about to kill he heard jazz and had to stop and snap his fingers. An eccentric group and on the surface like kittens that haven't been housebroken. But they are killers.

The so-called plot kicks into gear when a construction owner hires them to kill the secretary of a newspaper editor who has the goods on him. But through a series of plot turns, the job is given to a new killer, an amateur who is a dead shot. This is Haruhiko Ishida (Yusuke Kawazu) who takes one look at the photo of the secretary Mana Arisaka (Shima Iwashita - who Masahiro was later to marry and cast her in a number of his films) and falls in love. So instead of killing her he decides to save her. The Eight Killers suddenly turn out not to be so good at their job in their attempts to knock of Ishida and Mana - and it gets downright silly. The action is staged in a way that is intentionally very stilted and theatrical and as far from a tough hard edged Yakuza film as you can get.

Much of the pleasure of the film are the oddities that Masahiro just throws in for the heck of it - a bunch of children disguised all in black who look more threatening than the killers, their club that has a big puddle in it and parts of a mannequin strewn around, a giant fake moon, a nightclub's weird décor, another female killer who is as sweet as pie and duels the sheep walker killer, all of the killers riding around town in a jeep like kids out on a lark and a bet to shoot the hat off the jockey of the winning horse in full stride. It is all nonsense and quite frivolous but feels very different from any Japanese film I have seen from this period. Masahiro would go on of course to make a few classic films such as Pale Flower, Samurai Spy, Silence (the original), Double Suicide and the Ballad of Orin.