Monday, June 13, 2016

Murder Unincorporated (1965)

Director: Haryasu Noguchi
Notable Cast: Jo Shishido, Kon Omura, Hiroshi Hijikata, Tooru Yuri, Shunji Sayama, Yoko Yamamoto, Juro Sasa, E.H. Eric

After a fun first film with Tokyo Mighty Guy and a phenomenal action comedy in Danger Pays, I was starting to see why Arrow Video wanted to do a compilation of Nikkatsu comedies for their second Nikkatsu Diamond Guys volume. The third film in the set, a comedy called Murder Unincorporated, easily represents the weakest of the three films though. For an action comedy, the balance is off and the humor is almost exclusively slapstick silliness which negates some of the heart that was represented with Tokyo Mighty Guy and the strong sense of poise present in Danger Pays. For those looking for some dumb jokes and a very easy to consume sense of style, Murder Unincorporated may certainly fit the bill. For those looking for something a bit more, then it’s perhaps best to look to the other two films in the set because this is a pretty basic comedy.

When a criminal boss is assassinated in a port town, Joe of Spades is the one associated with the crime and it puts the other four bosses in a frantic panic. They decide to hire out some muscle to find Joe and put him in the ground and so they get ten outrageous killers to do so. However, things may not be as they seem as these killers start to dig into the increasing body count.

Ten killers. Ten gimmicks. Ten times the silly.
For a film that is most certainly a comedy first, second and third, Murder Unincorporated is one that didn’t strike me as particularly funny. Sure, comedy is one of the hardest styles of film making to make work for everyone – so keep that in mind because my taste in humor hardly represents the mainstream – but the strange slapstick Benny Hill style of silliness in the film feels remarkably dated and ineffective. The film is utterly riddled with gimmicks, often very broad stoke ones like a knife wielding assassin terrified of fish or a baseball themed killer who’s gun is hidden in a bat and gets distracted by games, and if you are not willing to buy into them the film can be a bit rough to get through. There are a few fun self-referencing moments in the film that got a solid chuckle from me, including a scene in the end where one character spouts off a line about the lacking presence of police during the entire movie, but really this is a film rooted in its 60s Laugh In style jokes and it wasn’t working as well as one would hope. It's a comedy that tries very, very hard to be funny in a screwball comedy way, but that kind of effort usually don't pay off in laughs.

Original poster artwork.
There is an interesting idea on hand underneath the fast forwarded hijinks and silly gimmicks of the humor in the film and that includes the actual action and thriller aspects of the film. Believe it or not, there is a decent thriller plot buried underneath. Jo Shishido adds a level of thoughtfulness to the basic elements of the film and his mysterious character and his interactions with the various killers makes for a film that at least doesn’t bore the audience as they follow along. We’re not talking about anything too serious or heartfelt, outside of perhaps one subplot featuring the daughter of a local crime boss that could have been developed further into something worthy, but it does add some intriguing layers. It’s too bad that Murder Unincorporated has no intent in exploring these layers or their relationship to the comedic aspects. If that would have happened we might have had a good movie on our hands.

Shot through the heart...
To be honest, there is definitely a crowd out there that will appreciate the slapstick silliness on display in Murder Unincorporated and for those who like the 60s humor I hope that you find this film and appreciate it for what it is. For me, the film simply feels dated, poorly balanced, and ill fitted for some of the more intriguing elements of its cast and writing that it fails to grab onto. When you start to compare it to the two other (and much stronger) films in the Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Vol 2 set, then it seems even more disappointing. While Murder Unincorporated is not for me, there is a cult audience out there for it and I hope it finds itself in good hands.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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