It's the most thoughtful, grounded Hanzo the Razor film. This also makes it a bit boring, but I liked it.
The film's problem is that its villains aren't lurid. There's a blind music teacher and moneylender who organises orgies for bored rich men's wives who seem to be doing it voluntarily. No one's being coerced there. Gold has been stolen from the treasury (my heart bleeds) and is being loaned out to the poor (theoretically a good thing). As in the last film, the root of all evil here is just ordinary economics.
The problem isn't the action itself, since lending more money to the poor has often been the basis of international aid campaigns. No, the problem here is that bad people are doing it. They're getting vulnerable people into debt in order to extort from them for profit, blackmail them into crime and if necessary just kill them for their assets.
Hanzo has an old friend, Heisuke Takei, who falls foul of these people. Takei's a nice guy, a proud samurai who knows that some things are more important than money. However he's also one of many victims of an economic downturn, with no income and no hope for a job beyond sitting outside Lord Hotta's house and waiting to get noticed. (Unfortunately he's one of many samurai paupers, all sitting there pathetically every day. They're doomed. You might as well wait for Cinderella's fairy godmother. Hotta's such a cold bastard that the film can get laughs from having him say "the government must help the needy".) You like Takei and you want him to do well... but the guy's an idiot. He had absolutely no plan. He believed that Lord Hotta would come to his rescue if he just sat in the street for long enough, e.g. two or three years. On being asked by Hanzo if he could afford the interest payments, he laughed it off.
Alongside the rape and ultra-violence, this series has always had a fierce social conscience. That's still true. The title's all-important, although the focus is more on "Who's Got No Gold." What's different here is that this third film is spending even more time on poverty and social injustice, which means less nudity, sleaze and killing.
We learn the date of this series! "The first shogun opened the Edo shogunate 250 years ago." It's the 1850s, then, and Commander Perry's sailing the U.S. Navy into Japan around now. Centuries of isolationism will be overturned by modernisation, which is another theme of this film. Thus we have Lord Hotta revering tradition above all lesser foreign things, e.g. ideas, technology and social justice. So the country's full of desperately poor samurai? "Good!" says Hotta. Poverty fits the samurai spirit!
There's a minor theme of sexual inequality, although I'm not sure that fits a series where women love being raped. Nonetheless those aristocrats' wives are right to ask what's so bad about them having a porn-a-like gang bang. (Important men are almost encouraged to commit adultery and their wives can't even complain about it. However death will be the punishment for any wife who strays, or even gets raped.)
The A-plot involves those moneylenders. It starts with Hanzo raping a ghost and discovering some stolen gold. (She's not really a ghost, but was instead ordered to pose as one to scare people away. "Who made you do this?" asks Hanzo, in mid-thrust. Hilariously but soon horribly, the answer is "my husband".) Further investigations then lead Hanzo to that moneylender's orgies, which include Lord Hotta's creepy-as-hell wife. (She's got ohaguro and an unnaturally high-pitched voice that could kill whales.) Naturally Hanzo ends up shagging her too, in the most dangerous possible circumstances.
However there's also a rather odd B-plot about Hanzo helping a wanted man build a Western copper cannon. This makes for a highly entertaining finale, but I'm not convinced that it makes a scrap of sense.
How offensive are the rapes? Answer: not too bad. The first one is consensual within about half a second and the second one is arguably consensual from the start.
This is a mature, thoughtful film, so of course it killed the franchise. It's Hanzo the Razor! Audiences expected sexploitation. Normal viewers wouldn't have touched this franchise with a bargepole after the previous film. Here, though, the rape and ultra-violence feel almost cursory, while the net-hoisting and penis-beating are, frankly, getting old. We've seen them before. They melted my brain in the first film, but I'd like something else now, please. On the upside, though, the magnificent Ko Nishimura gets funnier every film as Magobei 'Snake' Ohnishi.
Is this film good? Well, it's okay. The first two Hanzo the Razor films will blow your mind (although not always in good ways), whereas this one's comparatively normal. I wouldn't really recommend it, but it's still quite interesting. I quite liked it. Apart from anything else, for me it wipes the floor with almost any other film you might see with samurai in it. (Samurai are overrated.)