An Outlaw
Year: 1964
 Teruo Ishii
Rating: 7.0

Aka - Narazumono

One lesson people should know - you don't hire a killer and then try and set him up and not pay him. It rarely works and then they come after you. Especially if he looks like Takakura Ken, Chow Yun Fat or Lee Marvin. Minami (Takakura) is a decent man, an ethical man as shown when he sucks the blood out of the mouth of a dying prostitute that he doesn't know who is drowning from her own blood. But he is a hired assassin. But only to kill people who deserve it of course. He is doing a job in Kowloon and easily and efficiently accomplishes it and goes back to his hotel room to get his pay off. Instead he finds a dead woman in his bed and he soon learns that the man he killed was a cop from Japan and the woman his daughter. He then sets out to find who hired him and this takes him from Hong Kong to Yokohama to Macau.

Parallel to this is another narrative - Minami is accidentally given some drugs by a gang headed by actor Tanba Tetsuro. Tanba sends a femme fatale (Yôko Mihara) to persuade Minami to give the drugs back which she tries to do with her body - but he wants something else - information on whoever hired him. These two narratives don't really connect but keep bumping up against one another. A lot of people's behavior feels very off and the narrative doesn't always make sense but Takakura Ken holds it all together with his quiet charisma. He is just one of those actors who are fascinating to watch - kind of Clint Eastwood like in the sense that his acting is very understated and he never has much to say - but he takes up great space. There is much less action or violence than one might expect from the premise but Minami kills when he has to.

The location shooting in Kowloon and especially Macau is terrific - very street level through these poor crowded narrow streets. The one thing that really hits you is how poor both places were back then. At one point the camera pulls back from above and the rickety broken down buildings are revealed in Kowloon - street after street of them. And at one point Minami is chased through the slums of Macau that are horrendous. Clearly, a lot of change since them. Even old Shaw films made back then usually focus on the more upscale parts of both cities.

This is directed by Teruo Ishii. He was one of Japan's most successful commercial directors knocking out a passel of Yakuza films in the late 1950's and 60's. He started the very popular Abashiri Prisoner films that made a star of Takakura Ken, which began a year after this film. He was to direct ten of them. When the Yakuza films began to go out of style he left Toei and began making films that pushed the boundaries of what good taste in film was considered at the time with Horrors of Malformed Men, Orgies of Edo, Inferno of Torture, Female Yakuza Tale and others. Then he made a few Sonny Chiba films and then went back to Takakura Ken for some films. So a varied career that I need to explore more.