No. 2 (Jo Shishido) and No. 1 (Kôji Nanbara)

Director Seijun Suzuki had what could have be a very run of the mill yakuza film. The number three ranked killer fails at a job so the yakuza come to kill him. In defending himself he kills the number two killer thus becoming the number two. So the number one killer comes after him. Who will survive? However, Suzuki did not make a run of the mill yakuza film.

The film begins firmly grounded in reality as Shishido’s character does a typical escort mission. He ends up having to do a fair amount of killing, but does the job. After that he is hired by a young lady to kill a man. He has the tiniest of windows within which to make the killing. A butterfly lands on his gun, he fires, and misses. That sequence is where reality begins to crack. For example, Shishido begins to see butterflies everywhere as he purses a strange relationship with the women who hired him.

Eventually she gets kidnapped and Shishido jumps into action. However, this time the action feels more surreal. In fact, he winds up stripped to his briefs by the end of the gun battle. That’s when the number one killer shows up.

Instead of just shooting him on sight, we find out that number one operates differently. In short order he moves in with Shishido. After making Shishido’s daily life miserable he leaves and sets a place for a final showdown. By the time we get to the end of the film reality has completely come apart.

This is one of my favorite films from the Japanese New Wave. I highly recommend it.