Baian, played by Kinnosuke Yorozuya (Nakamura), is a merciless acupuncturist assassin. Hokojiro Baian (Toei, 1981) has a truly fine script, from a great story by Shotaro Ikenami, & a superb emotionally scary performance by Kinnosuke.
There's no question but that Baian is highly expert at what he does. Still, he has come to hate his life, & has taken to drinking too much. Part of him is a healer whose acupuncture needles benefit those who are ill or in pain. The secret & darker part of him, the killer, can with a single thrust insert the healing needles murderously into the brain.
His humane side is becoming more & more troublesome to his conscience. The first assassination victim of the tale is killed while making love to a page, Kazuma. Afterward, Kazuma hung himself. Such collateral damage weighs upon Baian.
The mentally disturbed Osaki (Kimie Shingyoji) & her brother, the aging but handsome Osaka merchant Sahei Omiya (Juzo Otami), are incestuous lovers. She's not the real sister of boss Otawaya (Susumu Fujita); rather, she's the half-sister of the government official Nagato Abe. Osaki tries to kill Omiya with a razor while he gives her oral sex, as she's angry after he pimped her. But then she licks away his blood as apology.
Baian & his accomplice (Kinnosuke's real-life brother, Katsuo Nakamura) together complete a commission to assassinate Nagato Abe, the high official who killed his own son for being a bit of a psycho, then adopted Omiya as heir. Baian was hired for the hit through a go-between, Hanuemon Otawaya, the Edo gangster boss.
Unfortunately, the mad girl Osaki witnessed the hit. The professional thing to do would be to kill the witness. Baian likes to believe he kills only bad people, so he cannot just kill Osaki. She has a sort of a guardian angel, Jugoro Kosogi (Takayuki Godai), a beautiful ronin whose brothers have been threatened by Baian, & who loves Osaki despite her craziness.
If the job gets finished, Baian will become the final target. When a house burns, the witness is killed by Baian's assassins. Osaki the merchant's sister helps Baian, not knowing Oyima wants him dead. Omiya shows sorrow even though trying to kill only evil.
In 1973 Yasuke Watanabe directed the first two of the Hissatsu Shikakenin aka The Professional Killers trilogy for Shochiku Studios, starring Jiro Otama as Baian the Assassin in the first of the set, & Ken Ogata as Baian in the two films' subsequent episodes.
The films are 1) Hissatsu Shikakenin (The Professional Killers, Shochiku, 1973); 2) Hissatsu Shikakenin: Baian Ari Jigoku (Professional Assassins: Baian's Quarry, 1973); & 3) Hissatsu Shikakenin: Shunsetsu shikakebari (Professional Killers: Assignment by Night, 1974), this last directed by Masahisa Sadanaga.
These are about three Edo assassins, devil-tattooed Dr. Baian Fujieda preeminant among them. They live by an assassins' code that includes such regulations as 1) Kill only those who are harmful to people or society; never speak this side of the grave about one's commissions once they are complete; if an assassin is hired & acts under false or misleading conditions, avenge the guild by killing the client, this last bit of the code providing the climactic action scene for the first film of the trilogy.
In the first of the trilogy, the other two of our three assassins are played by Koji Takahashi as the ronin who works largely in the open & will kill his commission (in this case, a corrupt magistrate) in a fair fight, & Tamio Kawaji as Otowaya boss of assassins who becomes personally involved rather than delegating when the assassin's code has been breached.
Baian receives his assassination commissions through the intermediary of Otowaya, who also makes sure the individuals targetted are "harmful to people & society." The present commission is to kill the beautiful wife of a merchant who has discovered he fell for a con artist who wins her way into wealthy households in order to have her boyfriend Magohichi clean them out.
When Dr. Baian first sees who he is to kill, he says, "Kill that fine woman? A shame." But not only is the job quickly done, it is done skillfully in a very public place, & made to look like a heart ailment though it was Baian's acupuncture needle inserted by his usual method at the top of the spine.
Killing women is not Baian's favorite, but the choices are not always his. The next assignment will be a woman, too, & her boyfriend, the same professional thief Magohichi who tends always to work with women. She has poisoned her elderly husband, while her boyfriend plots to steal away a business & illegal "side businesses" from the dead man's rightful heir.
The woman he must kill runs a brothel & is a truly callous beauty who'd seem to fit the "harmful to people & society" rule. What Baian doesn't know is she's also his sister from whom he has been separated since they were quite little. They have the same blood, & so the same ease of killing. That Dr. Baian is unknowingly after his own sister provides the film's main tension.
This group of assassins loves to believe they never kill the innocent, though just under the surface they realize that they are themselves the sorts of men their code would find worthy of death. So they are frequently depressed, & Baian deals with depression by womanizing while the ronin-assassin tries to lose himself in his family without acting too angry in their presence.
An oddity of this film is a soundtrack that sounds like it was written for a bullfight arena or a spaghetti western, but good enough it works in the unlikely context of a Tokugawa period film.
Although Jiro Otama is pretty good in the first of the three films, Ken Ogata was better, & Ogata made Baian into a signature role, for he also starred in the extremely long-running television series Baian the Assassin (Hissatsu hichuu shigotoya kagyou).
Ogata's acupuncturist assassin was less ambiguous in his heroism than either Kinnosuke's conflicted multilayered version or Jiro Otama's worrying depressive version of Baian. Ogata's Baian takes money to assassinate the cruel & the wicked strictly to support his medical practice, which treats the poor who could not otherwise afford care.
His heroic wholesomeness as a killer is rather less ironically presented & Dr. Baian becomes something closer to, say, Zatoichi, who kills & kills & kills, sometimes with unforseen consequences, but isn't much forced to ask himself if he's a good buy or a bad guy, as did both Nakamura & Otama in this role.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl