Director: Takashi Nomura
Writer: Nubuo Yamada, Shuichi Nagahara, Nobuo Yamada
Cast: Jo Shishido, Chitose Kobayashi, Jerry Fujio, Akiyoshi Fukae, Zenji Yamada, Hideaki Esumi, Jun Hongo, Akio Miyabe, Toyoko Takechi, Kojiro Kusanagi, Ryotaro Sugi, Takamaru Sasaki, Asao Uchida, Zeko Nakamura
Running Time: 84 min.
By Kyle Warner
In the 1960s, the Japanese studio Nikkatsu was cranking out action films at a rapid pace. They were often made fast and cheap, but they were also wildly inventive, and gave rise to talents like Seijun Suzuki, Joe Shishido, Koreyoshi Kurahara, and Toshio Masuda. Today, I want to shine the spotlight on one of the lesser known action movies of the period: A Colt is My Passport, a film that’s just as cool as its title suggests.
Joe Shishido plays a hitman tasked with killing a rival yakuza boss. After completing the assassination, he and his partner (Jerry Fujio) attempt to escape the country, but the bad guys have all the airports covered. Joe and Jerry are told to hideout in a truck stop outside of town while things cool down. However, while waiting there, his boss makes nice with the son of the recently murdered rival, and an alliance is formed. In order to ensure friendly relations, Shishido must be killed, and his boss is all too willing to give him up.
Made the same year as Branded to Kill, some fans are quick to point out that the two movies share some interesting similarities. Both Nikkatsu films star Joe Shishido as a hitman that’s being hunted. Both feature an assassination attempt that is nearly foiled by a small creature in the crosshairs (butterflies for Branded, a small bird for Colt). And both have a quirky energy to their action sequences – the action is equally visceral and humorous. But beyond these similarities, they’re two very different movies. Suzuki’s film was a trippy nightmare way ahead of its time. Nomura’s film is more of a celebration of the genre, with stark black and white photography, hardboiled film noir dialogue, doomed romances, and a brilliant, bloody finale.
Joe Shishido is excellent as the hitman Kamimura. The actor has played more complex characters and given more showy performances, but he appears perfectly at ease here. At this point in his career, Shishido was adept at playing these sort of roguish antiheroes, and this should go down as one of his finest films thanks in no small part to his steely screen presence.
The director Takashi Nomura is something of an unknown name in film history. A glance at his IMDb filmography shows that he primarily worked in TV since the 70s. From what I can gather, his only other notable film was the 1961 western Fast-Draw Guy, which also starred Shishido. It doesn’t surprise me that Nomura made a western at some point, as we see many elements of the genre show up in A Colt is My Passport. The film’s score uses a harmonica to create the feel of a Spaghetti Western. Also, at about the half-way point, Jerry Fujio picks up a guitar and sings us a tune, and one could imagine the scene working just the same around a campfire. And the action-packed finale which finds our hero at the designated place as gunmen appear from out of a dust cloud in very similar to the imagery of various westerns. Beyond these nods to the western genre, Nomura’s style is less flashy than his Nikkatsu colleagues of the time. But I’m not complaining. A Colt is My Passport is the only Nomura film I’ve ever seen and it’s a great one.
But it’s not all perfect. For whatever reason, exciting car chases are a rarity in Japanese cinema. The car chase in Colt is strangely polite by Western standards. Thankfully it ends in a splendid way, but I can’t say that the sequence is one of the film’s finer moments. Also, Colt doesn’t spend much time with the villains, so sometimes the viewer may get confused as to who is who in the yakuza family dynamics. I’m not exactly wishing that we had more of the villains in the film, but I do think that they could’ve been more defined and memorable.
Some will find issues with the film’s crazy finale. I’m not one of those people. Shishido and his enemies are given a day to plan for how best to kill one another. The bad guys opt to use an armored car with bulletproof windows. Meanwhile, Shishido digs a grave in the middle of a patch of dirt and… I won’t spoil what happens next. Suffice to say that it may stretch believability just a tad, but it’s so energetic and cool that I personally count it as the film’s best scene.
A Colt is My Passport is available on DVD in the Nikkatsu Noir box set from the Criterion Collection’s Eclipse line. Unlike most Criterion releases, the Eclipse Series is completely devoid of special features. The only supplement is a short essay from Chuck Stephens printed within the case. Also included in the Nikkatsu Noir box is I Am Waiting, Rusty Knife, Cruel Gun Story, and Take Aim at the Police Van. It’s a great set of films – A Colt is My Passport being my favorite of the five.
When you look for lists of the best Japanese crime films, you’re going to see a lot of the same names repeated over and over. Titles like Battles without Honor and Humanity, Shinjuku Triad Society, Hana-Bi, Branded to Kill, and Pale Flower. Names like Kinji Fukasaku, Takashi Miike, Takeshi Kitano, and Seijun Suzuki. You’re not likely to hear A Colt is My Passport mentioned on such lists. And that’s too bad. Gritty, cool, lean, and mean — A Colt is My Passport is just about everything I ask for from an action film of the period. It’s one of the most underrated and underseen yakuza films currently available to Western audiences. I highly recommend it.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8.5/10