At the end of the 1970s, Toru Murakawa’s Game Trilogy launched actor Yusaku Matsuda as the Toei tough guy for a new generation. Sadly, he would die from cancer at the way too early age of 40 after appearing in Black Rain.
As Shohei Narumi, he’s a killing machine who speaks little, shoots often and never falls for anything. The new Arrow Video set of these films is the first time these movies have been released outside of Japan and man, I loved every minute of these movies.
The Most Dangerous Game (1978): You first meet Shohei Narumi when he’s being roughed up after he contests a game of mah-jong. mah-jong game. He recovers from that in time to find and rescue a kidnapped businessman, at least for a few minutes before that guy is killed in the middle of a gun battle. Narumi is saved by Kyoko (Keiko Tasaka), the mistress of one of the men he’s trying to stop. He gets another job once he’s back on his feet: kill the boss of the kidnappers, which he does. Twice.
How twice? The guy has a public double, so they both have to go. But even the cops are on the take, setting an ambush, but he escapes and, well, kills everyone except one car of criminals who kidnap Kyoko and drive her across Tokyo while somehow, incredibly, Narumi keeps up while wearing cowboy boots. Look, I’ve been on Japanese streets and even though they are clogged with traffic, there’s no way you can chase a car on foot.
The one issue I have with the movie is that it’s kind of hard to like the hero. I mean, he isn’t even a hero, for one. He wins over Kyoko by assaulting her. But then, the film almost demands that you become a fan of him, what with the cool as cool gets clothes, him drinking gin when shot in the stomach instead fo going to the hospital and just being an all around amoral killing machine. Because you never see anything the bad guys do or plan because the movie moves from action moment to action moment like an ADHD kid playing with his toys, you eventually have to concede that he is the protagonist that you must be in favor of.
Directed by Tôru Murakawa and written by Hideichi Nagahara, this film has literally a slam bam pace that never slows down. Ever.
The Killing Game (1978): Shohei Narumi has been in hiding for five years after a major assassination assignment. He’s poor, no longer able to afford his fancy lifestyle. He can’t even get a drink at the hostess bar he gets pulled into.
We don’t have anything like a hostess bar in America. They aren’t places of prostitution but instead a modern version of geishas, providing entertainment and flirtation to lonely salarymen.
While there, Shohei Narumi runs into two women from his past. A hostress named Akiko (Kaori Takeda) was the daughter of the man our protagonist killed five years ago. Yet she doesn’t hate him for it. The other is the mama-san — the boss of the place — named Misako (Yutaka Nakajima). As he shot everyone he could five years ago, she is the one person he let live. Now she’s dating another boss, Katsuda (Kei Sato), and he wants Shohei Narumi to start killing for him. So does another boss. That means that everybody is going to die, many of them from bullets that Shohei Narumi shoots.
What comes across at the end of this film is the fact that without someone to kill, his existence is pointless. He’s like an unfired gun. All he knows in this life is how to end others.
The Execution Game (1979): Shohei Narumi wakes up alone in a filthy room. All he can remember is a girl, a car and a hit to the head, but now he’s hanging from a ceiling and finds out that this is all a trial to test his skills for a new client. They want him to kill their current hitman, who has started acting strangely, but that’s just the start of his new work.
He also has a relationship in this movie, even if she betrays him, and tells a young woman to avoid shady men at one point. This is in contrast to how he acted in the first film, so is this growth? I believe so, as is the idea that he sees the ocean as where he wants to return, growing up close to it and its ebbs and flows symbolize the way his life goes: bloody bursts of ultraviolence mixed with solitude, sometimes for years.
The past films have seen him exhausted and nearly passed out as women strip around him or frantically trying to pay for everyone in a hostess club, knowing that he has nearly nothing. Here, he’s a man that knows his job and what he has to do. That means always being ready to be sold out, always prepared to be in the sights of someone’s weapon and constantly willing to kill someone, anyone, at any time.
The limited edition Arrow blu ray box set of The Game Trilogy has a high definition blu ray version of each movie with new English subtitles. You get a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella, a double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella and an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Hayley Scanlon and Dimitri Ianni.
The Most Dangerous Game has new audio commentary by Chris Poggiali and Marc Walkow, a 30-minute interview with director Toru Murakawa, the original Japanese theatrical trailer and an image gallery.
The Killing Game has commentary by Earl Jackson and Jasper Sharp. The Execution Game has new commentary by Tom Mes. Extras include an interview with Yutaka Oki, film critic and personal friend of Yusaku Matsuda; an interview with screenwriter Shoichi Maruyama, the original Japanese theatrical trailers and image galleries for both films.
You can get the set from MVD.