Film Reviews

The Game Trilogy (1978-1979) – Blu-ray Review

One thing about movies is that they tend to make bad people look really, really cool. Thieves, conmen, and assassins are constantly portrayed as being super-cool, with the latter applying particularly to Shouhei Narumi and the “Game” trilogy, which has been released in a new box set by Arrow for the first time outside of Japan.

Yusaku Matsuda plays Narumi, a quirky but supremely talented hitman whose services are constantly required in Japan. He inhabited the role over three films in a short period, The Most Dangerous Game and The Killing Game (both 1978) and The Execution Game (1979). Narumi’s adventures are very much like violent comic book adventures, with the character having an alter-ego as a bumbling weirdly-clothed country bumpkin type until he springs into action and becomes the coolest and craziest assassin around.

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The Most Dangerous Game sees Narumi hired by an electronics company to rescue a kidnapped executive from a Yakuza gang. However, Narumi is caught up in corporate manoeuvres as the company tries to strike deals to get their execs to the top, all while the girlfriend of a Yakuza boss Narumi killed falls in love with him. The Killing Game has him coming out of retirement and getting involved in more yakuza shenanigans while trying to avoid the spectres of his past in the guise of two women. Finally, The Execution Game sees him set up before being forced to take on an ultra-killer who is just as good at dispatching people as he is.

All three movies are an absolute blast, with so much coming from Matsuda’s lead as this odd superhero type. It’s priceless seeing him turn up at the big skyscrapers and lairs of his clients as this lumbering, rude, constantly-smoking flake who nonetheless is amazing at hand-to-hand combat as well as using guns. And he has the coolest outfits when he decides to go all John Wick, not just suits but also an amazing array of leather jackets and sunglasses.

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The action sequences are thrilling, especially one audaciously hilarious and brilliant part where he’s chasing down a carful of police officers on foot along to a chilled-out jazz melody. The scores by Yuji Ohno (Lupin III) are fantastic, and add a unique layer to Narumi’s exploits. There’s also a villain in The Killing Game who is like a Japanese version of Paul Williams’ character in the Smokey and the Bandit movies. One note is that there is some violence towards women included, and some sexual violence, just for a content warning.

Arrow Video has brought The Game Trilogy to Blu-ray with new high-definition transfers and mono Japanese soundtracks, with newly translated English subtitles. The films have a fantastic and distinct look from cinematographer Seizô Sengen, and this and Ohno’s ultra-cool and laconic scores are faithfully translated onto disc. A fantastic audio-visual experience.

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Also present are several terrific extra features. Each film has an audio commentary – Chris Poggiali and Marc Walkow feature on The Most Dangerous Game, Earl Jackson and Jasper Sharp on The Killing Game, and Tom Mes on The Execution Game. Then there is a trio of interview pieces, with director Murakawa, film critic Yutaka Oki, who was a friend of Yusaku Matsuda, and Shoichi Maruyama, who wrote The Execution Game. Finally, there are Japanese trailers for each film.

The Game Trilogy is three films worth of eclectic mayhem, powered by the fantastic lead performance of Yusaku Matsuda. Arrow has done right with the transfer and the extras, and it’s great to see these highly-entertaining pictures outside of Japan. Essential.

The Game Trilogy is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

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