A Hawk In Flight – The Blood Spray of Ishikawa Goemon

The Blood Spray of Ishikawa Goemon opens with a pastoral view, a field of lilacs before a stately manor, and singular butterfly amid the flowers. A dull thud in the distance causes the butterfly to unseat from its floral pedestal, fluttering away. A burly man with a thick, blonde beard is splitting firewood with an axe. A young girl shouts his name, Hawk, and joyfully runs towards him. She leaps into Hawk’s arms and it becomes clear that not only is the man burly, he’s positively colossal. She’s surely young, but one of his arms is the size of her entire body. He greets her happily, his sleepy eyes all-but-shut. Holding up three photographs, the girl informs Hawk that the master of the estate has a new job for him. His eyes cautiously narrow, darting between the three, committing each to memory. He smiles, remarking on how easy it will be. The next shot has Hawk, cowboy hat upon his head, speeding away on a motorcycle. The camera remains low, staring up at the frame of his motorcycle. The vehicle is adorned with an ornament reminiscent of Husqvarna’s old logo, an H within a crowned sphere, adorned by wings. Hawk flies toward a black iron gate, seemingly forever away, with an infinite white expanse beyond its threshold. It opens slowly, with a low creaking rumble, either automatically or by some unseen force. Before he exits paradise, the screen goes black, giving us a nearly silent title screen.

Hawk -02This cold open sets the stage for our feature. The Blood Spray of Ishikawa Goemon, a 50th anniversary production for Lupin III , beginning with someone new. If the titular character is our protagonist, then the language of this scene communicates that we have been presented with his opposite number. The source, or at least a factor in, the upcoming conflict. With most antagonists, their existence is opposition. Naturally: it’s in the name. However, in Blood Spray, Hawk is accepted on a more primal and natural level. He’s not a problem to be solved;  he’s an event to be escaped. 

For all intents and purposes, Hawk is the villain of this movie. Goemon is taken into a yakuza family as a bodyguard and Hawk’s presence causes that to go bad. He’s a hired gun (er, axe) sent to kill Lupin. Why Lupin needs to die is unspecified and unnecessary. Presumably, Hawk doesn’t even know why his employer has asked this of him, and yet he carries on with such singular drive that it’s beyond impressive. Hawk might as well be The Terminator. He is mythologized, both by those who reference his past and in the acts of power and purpose he commits throughout the film. As the “Bermuda Ghost” Hawk apparently killed 2000 soldiers entirely by himself in some unspecified conflict. Unstoppable, it took nothing short of an aerial bombing run to finally kill him. Now, he’s back, and coming for Lupin.

Any work can tell you how tough or strong a character is. It’s another thing to effectively show it, and Blood Spray is wildly successful at demonstrating Hawk’s power. Hawk might as well be a demigod in his presentation. Goemon is shown to be superhuman with his sword skill, but Hawk’s feats of strength put him to shame. Famously, Goemon can cut through steel with his sword; Hawk’s axes stop him cold. In their second encounter, Hawk halts his sword barehanded and proceeds to hack it apart with one of his hatchets. He steals at least three different motorcycles over the course of the film, destroying them in crashes while emerging unscathed. Jigen opens fire on him and he deflects every bullet back at him. He hacks away stone, felling a chunk of mountain in a landslide just to stop a car. His deeds are worthy of story and song, and all of them are for the purpose of turning Lupin into compost.

Hawk -05Perhaps one of the most excessive displays of this supernatural potential is the very first time we see Hawk in action. He destroys the engine of a giant barge. He does this not through explosives, indirect sabotage, or by commandeering the controls. He wields dual hand-axes throughout the film and he simply chops away at the engine with them. The engine room is enormous, a football field or two in length, and he just chops away at it by hand. He ignores Goemon until he’s finished, before revealing a metallic grin that would make Jaws proud. He takes a cigar and lights it against the malfunctioning engine’s heat and simply stands his ground as the exploding mechanism blows Goemon away. Wind and fire forces our samurai to cling to the ground while Hawk just takes it, as though nothing were happening. An enormous shard of metal is launched towards him by the explosion, and he stops it with a single hand. This is extraordinary, but the best part is that he didn’t even need to light the cigar like that. He has a couple scenes where he presses it to some burning surface, as he did there, but twice he ignites a match by striking it against his thumb! He’s a modern day Hercules, and Goemon can’t even put a scratch on him.

Hawk makes Blood Spray a different kind of experience from the usual Lupin affairs. Speaking broadly, not a lot can be said to happen over the course of the film. The movie is both front-loaded and back loaded, leaving a middle section that can be described simply as “Goemon is defeated by Hawk, and then meditates on it.” Goemon isn’t usually someone who has to deal with, well, threats. Jigen is a skilled gunmen who can make some incredible shots, but Goemon is downright superhuman. The first thing he does in this movie is leap into the air and slice a bullet in half to save the life of his yakuza employer. Even with the series’ loose grasp on realism, pretty much everyone is at a human level of strength and skill, while Goemon stands above. His quiet reservation is that of restraint and acknowledgement that a sword in his hands is more dangerous than a dozen men with guns. As far as he knows, he’s climbed to the top of what a human being can do. Enter Hawk. Goemon approaches him with caution, but he still treats him like an equal opponent in the beginning. After Hawk stops his sword barehanded and mangles the blade, it becomes clear that this man is a mountain that Goemon does not know how to scale.

Our Samurai fails in his duty as a bodyguard. Hawk wasn’t trying to kill Goemon’s employer, but he dies in the barge’s destruction all the same. It’s from here that Goemon undertakes the task of meting out retribution. He fails to stop Hawk, losing his sword and enduring what should be fatal injuries. Goemon is shaken to his core by this and spends roughly a quarter of the run time in meditation. He stands atop a spire in the ocean as an impossibly huge shark leaps into the air. His hands shake as he attempts to draw his sword. In his mind, he sees the shark as an even-more-colossal Hawk. He cannot strike, taking a wound on his back. He meditates amid bonfires, again envisioning the struggle as Hawk. He is burned, and does nothing. Beneath a waterfall, a colossal log flows with the stream, dropping upon him. Again, he saw Hawk, but could do nothing. Lupin and Jigen watch on, baffled. In Goemon’s mind, he sees an unstoppable force, an immovable object. Lupin and company see it too. He and Jigen never try and fight Hawk, instead seeming to pin their hopes on Goemon. Fujiko just leaves the entire movie, deciding she would be safer elsewhere. Oddly enough, the one person who sees Hawk as a human from beginning to end is Zenigata.

Hawk -09

There is a running thread throughout the film of Zenigata doing his police work, following the trail of the Bermuda Ghost. He treats it as a case of a man. A dangerous man, yes, but still a man. The most interesting part of this is that whenever Hawk is in front of Zenigata, the former seems to actively resist this interpretation. When Zenigata arrests him, Hawk yawns and accepts, knowing that a prison cell cannot hold him. After he escapes on another stolen motorcycle, a chase ensues and Hawk careens off a cliff. When Zenigata peers over to see the wreckage of the crash, Hawk just stands back up and flashes a steel smile, walking off. The Inspector is shaken, but not dissuaded. Prior to the final encounter between Hawk and Goemon, Zenigata has something of a tête-à-tête with Lupin in his police car. The two of them, finally, discuss the mastermind behind Hawk in vague terms. They reason that someone with power and influence must have faked Hawk’s wartime death in order to ready him for work like this. Someone who, for some reason, wants Lupin dead. It’s the first real attempt to de-mythologize Hawk in the entire film and it’s no coincidence that it comes shortly before the finale.

It took a significant portion of the film to accomplish this. Until just before the end of our runtime, the fights between Goemon and our Lumberjack Terminator aren’t duels. They are not man against man. Hawk deals with Goemon like he’s a pest. He doesn’t seem to belittle him or grow overly frustrated, he simply does his job. These encounters feel much more like man against nature, and that seems to be how Goemon interprets it as well. Hawk doesn’t defeat Goemon. Goemon merely withstands him, as though resisting the tides. Man does not conquer nature. He survives it or he does not. If he can withstand, then perhaps he will better himself in the process. That is Goemon’s arc and conflict in the movie. While he does seek to defeat a superior opponent, he does so for his own sake, rather than anyone else’s. His grudge is not against Hawk, it is against himself. If you leave something on a beach, and the ocean washes it away, you don’t blame the ocean. You blame yourself. The ocean just is.

Hawk just is.

Hawk -13The best part about this, to me, is that Hawk absolutely lives up to this comparison. Every action he takes feels larger than life and even with Goemon’s impressive swordplay, Hawk just gives off the air of being totally unstoppable. If he had any less presence, none of this would work. Despite all external threats and suggestions, this struggle is all internal for Goemon. He persists not because of a desire for revenge, but because he knows that he must succeed where once he failed. It’s not even about righting a wrong. When Goemon finally makes Hawk bleed, it’s already over. His divinity stricken, the demigod has been made mortal. Goemon prevails, even with his absurd injuries. The two are finally on equal footing. Hawk manages to slice off large, unpleasant chunks of Goemon’s shoulders, but Goemon claims an entire arm from Hawk.  Lupin acts as though he completely understands the situation, explaining the metaphor of the encounter. Goemon’s newly acquired precognition and his movement towards enlightenment. His victory was not a martial one, but a spiritual one. He overcame physical limitations. Just as the struggle was internal, so too was Goemon’s victory.

Hawk -17Goemon was always my least favorite out of the main Lupin cast. He always came across as an out-of-place weirdo to me and, for one reason or another, did not feel like he fit. I’ve completely turned around on that now. Hawk, like any good villain should, reflects the strengths and weaknesses of his counterpart. Even as overpowering a force as he is, it just makes Goemon shine all the brighter in the end.

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One Comment

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  1. This was an awesome essay! I loved Blood Spray, and it’ seems super cool to see someone explain why it stands out.

    So, I’d hate to be THAT guy, but I also thought it was absolutely fantastic in the movie how Goemon is compared to Buddha, like after the temple falls and the only things remaining are a statue of Buddha and Mara; and you see a shot with Hawk and the Mara statue amidst rubble, with Goemon and Buddha in the subsequent shot. It just made me go, “Woah!” It wasn’t a big part of the movie at all, but it was just a little extra thing that made the movie a lot more enjoyable to me. Anyway, I really enjoyed this post, and I’ll definitely be reading more from here!! 👍

    Like

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