The best kind of genre filmmaking can be summed up in one word: Badass. The kind of films that render you unable to hold back cheers and clenched fists and smiles as all the black-hearted badness and revenge and violence unfolds. Films like Rolling Thunder or the more recent Blue Ruin or Big Bad Wolves touch on that primal need to see a wrong righted in the most morally corrupt of ways with few winners and a lot of death. So it is with great joy that I report that Kurando Mitsutake’s Gun Woman fits into that description like a well-worn baseball cap. It flows beautifully, it challenges and it disgusts in all the right kind of ways. It is a blast. It is mean and it is unrelenting and man, it is a cool-as-hell film.
The story focuses on Mayumi (Asami – Dead Sushi), a former junkie bought by Mastermind (the great Kairi Narita) to be trained as an assassin for his own ends. Mastermind was once a brilliant doctor but when his elderly mob boss patient Hamazaki dies, the bosses son (played with slinking gross glee by Noraki R. Kamata) exacts revenge on the doctor by raping and murdering his wife. Thus, Mastermind is born and the only thing he cares about is ending the life of the man who took his life away from him. The moral compass is all over the board here because, while Hamazaki’s son is a real piece of work, Mastermind’s enslavement of Mayumi for this task isn’t exactly warm and cuddly either.
The process of training her is a grueling one and I found myself wincing more than once watching her work through the process. Mastermind is not kind and reminds her regularly that failure will mean her death and, at times, that if she doesn’t complete the training he’ll ‘just go buy another girl’ – again, the morality of it all is just all over the place.
As we learn more about Hamazaki’s son, however, the moral majority pendulum swings back to Mastermind’s side. It turns out that he (the batshit crazy son) is part of a secret ‘club’ of folks that enjoy violating and eating recently dead women. The cut away (no pun intended) shows the process, the security and the blind, naked insanity that makes this super-rich but utterly screwed up man’s motor run. Sufficed to say, it lays out the challenge of trying to get to him but also frames him as a next-level terrible piece of crap human. We slowly let our serious misgivings about Mastermind fade out and be replaced with disgust towards the mobster’s son. Not an easy trick, that.
But then no sooner than we are getting settled into that uncomfortable new reality than the process of getting a weapon into the compound where all the badness takes place is laid out. Hey! The film isn’t called ‘Gun Woman’ for nothing and we see, in very stark and brutal detail, how the firearm will be smuggled into the building by Mayumi courtesy of some creative surgery and cosmetic covering up once she is smuggled in. This is part of the trick, she must complete the task before a certain amount of time or she’ll die of blood loss before a rescue team can retrieve her and give her a transfusion. Gun parts surgically inserted in her body which must be removed by her – yessir.
So this is our setup – former junkie with nothing to lose, wronged man obsessively mapping out a revenge plan through her that does steal away the last shreds of his humanity he has left and a target and a group of people who are so beyond wrong it is amazing. This is jet-black genre ass-kicking and we haven’t even gotten to the facility yet for the big final act!
It must be said that part of the mechanism for telling the story is two hired assassins (Americans) talking about the legend of this hit on a road trip in the Nevada desert. This setup immediately suggests that one or both of them have some more direct connections to this ‘gun woman’ legend and does take a little bit of tension out of their parts of the film.
That aside, the second half of the film (once Mastermind’s plan is in motion) is perfectly balanced, crazy, bloody and totally satisfying. You want her to succeed and earn her freedom. You want that nut to meet his end and in some small way, you want Mastermind to enjoy some piece.
How this all plays out I certainly won’t give away here but if anyone doubts Asami’s ability to act or commit to a role, or, the production team’s commitment to see this insane setup through, you’re definitely proven wrong. The film pushes all your expectations from the first half and forces you to endure it all with bated breath and nary a hint of how it will all play out. I love the level of confidence director Kurando Mitsutake shows in keeping the lead up to the finale tough to predict. Anyone could die. Evil could survive. This isn’t a situation where a director must scramble and re-frame the moral narrative and what the conclusion means on the fly. This is a situation where a director knows the tools he has are strong and stays the course to a much more satisfying final act.
Special mention must also be made to the incredible, synth heavy, 80s influenced soundtrack that brings enough familiarity to be cool and enjoyable but is unique enough to stand on its own. It is a driving, urgent style that works its way into the DNA of the film and could not be removed no matter what. The music is a character in and of itself and just adds color and texture in the best kind of way.
Gun Woman is, without a doubt, an excellent genre film steeped in the bloody revenge film history of the 70s and 80s without just being a copy. It is strong and simple and totally its own animal.
It is just badass.