Tetsuji Tamayama stars as the hitman with a heart of gold in this neo-western-noir based on the popular Monkey Punch manga character. Following a shoot-out in which his famed gunslinging abilities are let down by a hairsbreadth accuracy defect in his gun, Jigen (Tamayama) returns to Japan, where he hasn’t been for years, to find a legendary gunsmith named Yaguchi (Mitsuko Kusabue). On arrival he finds that Yaguchi has given up the underworld and is now focussed solely on watch repairs. However, when a young mute girl (Kotoka Maki) arrives bearing a token from a former friend, Yaguchi asks for Jigen’s help, promising to fix his gun in return.
Jigen is a traditional outsider hero, finding himself drawn into helping people for his own ends, but slowly learning to love his young charge. The character is something of a blank canvas, as is typical with this kind of protagonist, as we see him early in the film travelling the world and showing of his quick-draw abilities. Even when he returns to Japan he seems to have few contacts or connections and we learn little about his life. The film has an interesting mix-and-match tone, with some fantastical sets, such as Deigyo-gai, the home of the cities criminal underclass, alongside many scenes shot in the ‘real world’. It consistently steps a toe outside the bounds of reality, with some comedically over the top fight sequences. The best example of which is perhaps the central villain Adel (Yoko Maki), who performs a backflip in her wheelchair, while firing a gun at multiple assailants. This whole sequence is beyond ridiculous, but in keeping with other moments in the film, such as Jigen’s own preternatural skills with a weapon, or the other antagonist (Masatoshi Nagase), a man who is able to shapeshift his appearance at will. While the story is one that has been told before: lonely hitman has to take care of a young child, the film does a good job with it, layering in several characters, such as Yaguchi, the villains (whose nefarious schemes are as over-the-top as their characters), and some excellent set piece fight sequences. The score also has a western-noir feel, moving between the high-octane action of fights and the emotional moments. A fun watch and it will be interesting to see where the character of Jigen goes in any potential sequels.
The film’s antagonists are attempting to steal hormones from children in order to produce a drug that halts the aging process. Reminiscent of the procedures in “Helter Skelter” (2012) it is a rather gruesome plot for a film that seems quite light-hearted on the surface.The aging Yaguchi stands in stark contrast to Adel, whose obsession with eternal youth sees her becoming increasingly unhinged. Meanwhile, Jigen himself is clinging on to using his first gun, suggesting that he too is tied to his past. In one interesting scene the characters discuss a version of the “Ship of Theseus” thought experiment, questioning whether Jigen’s gun, which has had every part replaced, might still be the same weapon. Jigen explains haughtily that the memories remain, suggesting that this is what is most important in acscertaining whether it is the same item. In the same way the characters appearances, shown most prominently in the chameleonic Kawashima, have little bearing on who they are, it is what is in their heart that is important. While Jigen might exude the aura of a cold-hearted killer, he is inside someone who when it comes to it decides to protect the innocent.