Well, that was disgusting. In many ways it's another strong film, but its rapes are more horrific. (This is another Shintaro Katsu film series based on a Kazuo Koike manga, like Lone Wolf and Cub. I'd been expecting "anti-hero", but what I got was sometimes "villain protagonist".)
I'll get the plot out of the way. Hanzo the Razor (still not using that razor) is an Edo-era cop who outrages his superiors. They don't mind him torturing and raping suspects, obviously. That's normal. What they hate is the fact that he knows absolutely no boundaries and will hunt down aristocrats just like any other criminal, if they've done anything bad. (They have, of course.)
This time, the plot's obviously based on two separate manga stories. I was mentally dividing the film into episodes one and two. Fortunately things come together satisfyingly in the last ten minutes, but even so this film is mostly two unrelated investigations into unrelated crimes. Investigation #1 involves a convent where the priestess auctions off her girls to men who are going to rape them and whip them until they bleed. "You like tormenting girls and she likes to be tortured. A perfect pair." (The priestess watches, as do other male customers.) Hanzo gets involved because a girl got an abortion and died.
After that, Investigation #2 involves a raid on the national mint by Japan's most notorious (and, of course, rapey) thieves.
As always, Hanzo puts his penis to work. (He also once again beats it with a stick before having sex with a rice sack. Presumably it's rape training.) He did all that last time too, of course, but this is much, much worse. The question, of course, is why I see a difference. I can imagine four possible reactions to these two films:
(a) "They're both appalling and should be burned."
(b) "This is ridiculous 1970s ultra-violent sleaze. You knew it was a snake when you picked it up, etc. What's the problem? They're both fine."
(This argument at least has consistency.)
(c) "The 1973 rapes are actually less offensive than the 1972 ones, because they're more disgusting. The first film makes victim-friendly rape seem plausible for these characters in this story. They're enjoying it. The film's message is that rape is acceptable. The second film, on the other hand, goes so far and makes the rapes so disgusting that no one could possibly take what they're seeing as acceptable. This Hanzo is a monster."
(This is quite a subtle argument. In short, the second film is less offensive because it's more offensive.)
(d) "I couldn't stomach it. It breaks the film."
(This is my stance on the matter, incidentally.)
Hanzo's first rape involves the priestess who'd been selling her own disciples and then helping her customers to enjoy their purchases even more by giving them whips. That had needed stopping. No arguments there. However the film seems to think that "merely" being raped would be to get let off lightly, because women love being raped by Hanzo. Our hero thus starts with some torture. It's medieval. We're talking giant stones and bloody leg-crushing. Hanzo's servants protest (convincingly) that she's going to die, but Hanzo isn't listening and tells them to pile on more weight.
(She's topless during all this, incidentally. Did I mention that the sexploitation levels are through the roof this time?)
Hanzo then rapes her and she enjoys it. "No, don't stop." In other words, not only is this priestess getting horny for the man who'd been having her legs crushed, but she's capable of getting in the mood with crushed legs.
After that, Hanzo's second rape is of a widow who remembers her late husband. He's not even interrogating her! All his other rapes had been for the purposes of extracting information, but this is rape as therapy. Hanzo's lying in wait for thieves, you see, but everything needs to look normal for this to work. "You've been acting nervous. Your employees will know I'm here and then the thieves will know."
In other words, rape is the best road to recovery for a grieving widow.
Hanzo's a character of extremes. Send thugs to assassinate him and he's like a Bond villain. His deathtraps at the end of ep.1 are horrifying. However his defence of that maid at the end of ep.2 is heroic and he's suicidally rude to his corrupt superiors. (That's not a figure of speech. Hara-kiri is a thing in this film.) Sometimes, he's cool. At other times, he's worse than the villain of anything you've seen in the last month.
It must also be admitted that the film's going out of its way to put the boot into its historical era. Here's our hero's idea of victim support counselling:
DISTRAUGHT FATHER WHO'S JUST HAD TO IDENTIFY HIS DAUGHTER'S CORPSE: "She was a virgin. She never had an affair."
HANZO: "Fool! A pregnant virgin? I see... your daughter was beautiful. You didn't want to give her to another man, so you had her yourself."
FATHER: "I did not!"
HANZO: "Incest is common."
Hanzo's two servants I disliked. They've become comic relief, which can be either jarring (e.g. when they're torturing a screaming woman) or just plain distasteful (e.g. when they're having a lewd discussion about Hanzo's prowess and his current victim). The actors are quite good, bringing much more presence and character to their roles, but I think they're damaging the film.
On the other hand, though, Ko Nishimura is magnificently slimy and made me laugh as Magobei "Snake" Onishi.
Everyone in authority is disgusting. Hanzo is, genuinely, preferable to any of them. The priestess sex trade was on a lord's orders, while one of the film's messages is that thieves aren't just thieves. They're victims of the government's monetary policy. (They're like a corrupt junta, debasing the money supply by mixing gold with lead and hence driving the poor into deeper poverty. Governments can do that more easily today, of course, by printing money.)
There's a lot to admire here. If you censored ten minutes, you'd have one hell of a film. It's got extreme content, of course, but that's what makes it so startling. It's demonstrating the power of exploitation. You'll see lots of boobs, on both the living and the dead. It's got spectacularly memorable villains, who this time don't get off scot free. Compared with Hanzo's rapes, though, everything else in the film is secondary to the discussion. In some ways I was impressed by this film, but I have absolutely no intention of ever watching it again.