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Thread: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

  1. #41
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Abashiri Prison 6: Duel in the South (Japan, 1966) [DVD] – 2/5
    Sonny Chiba's second appearance in the series comes in one of the weakest Abashiri Prison films. This instalment takes place as far away from Abashiri as possible in Okinawa. The actual Abashiri prison is only featured in stock footage. The storyline mostly focuses on Ken Takakura and goofy pal Kunie Tanaka coming across a pick pocketing kid (whose hooker mom is played by Ishii regular, pinky violence supporting star Yoko Mihara). Veteran star Kanjuro Arashi is the best thing about the film. Chiba has a slightly bigger role than in the 4th Abashiri film, but he doesn’t have much to do. He plays a distinctly different character than last time, unlike some other actors. One characteristic of the series was actually that the same actors would return in sequels, playing essentially the same roles even if their characters had been killed before, which could be a bit confusing at times.

    * Original title: Abashiri bangaichi: Nangoku no taiketsu (網走番外地 南国の対決)
    * Director: Teruo Ishii
    * Chiba's role: Small supporting role
    * Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles), Toei Blu-Ray (Japan) (No subtitles)

    Takakura and Tanaka


    Mihara and the kid


    Chiba and Toru Yuri




    Chiba and Takakura


    Chiba


    It's an Abashiri Prison film, so you know Kanjuro Arashi is going to show up and kick everyone's ass sooner or later






    The original trailer is cooler than the film itself





  2. #42
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    The Terror Beneath the Sea (Japan/USA, 1966) [DVD] – 3/5
    The young & handsome Sonny Chiba stars as the lone Japanese lead in this Japan-US co-produced sci-fi cheese-fest. Chiba and his attractive blonde companion encounter mad scientists and horrifying underwater men who usually jump (yes, jump) from behind the corner with their hands in a “boo” pose. Hardly great filmmaking, but it comes with plenty of amusing SFX work and unintentional laughs. Chiba is the only cast member who evidences any kind of acting talent. It's solid campy fun, and a more enjoyable movie than Golden Bat, which was also directed by Hajime Sato and released the same year. This was probably the first time for many foreign audiences to see Chiba, as it was released in a number of countries, such as Germany, Austria, Italy, and USA (as a TV film).

    * Original title: Kaitei daisenso (海底大戦争)
    * Director: Hajime Sato
    * Chiba's role: Starring role
    * Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles, all dialogue in Japanese), Dark Sky Films DVD (USA) (English dub)

    I seem not to have taken screencaptures for this, so I here are the original Japanese, Italian and German posters instead.




  3. #43
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Kamikaze Man: Duel at Noon (Japan/Taiwan, 1966) [35mm] – 3/5

    Sonny Chiba and Kinji Fukasaku head to Taiwan in this international action thriller influenced by spy films and Hitchcock movies. Chiba is a playboy pilot who is mistaken for someone who he isn't after witnessing a murder in ski centre. The other witness is a Taiwanese lady who is vacationing in Japan. Chiba agrees to fly her back home, but as soon as they land they run into gangsters who are searching for a lost WWII treasure and believe Chiba is the key to finding it.

    Kamikaze Man is, first and foremost, an action showcase for Chiba, who designed all the action sequences which contain car chases, boat chases, fist fights, gunplay, and hanging on to a plane that is about to take off. One of the stunts - Chiba trying to hold on to a speeding car - sent him flying through the air and landed him in a Taiwanese hospital. There's a lot of fun to be had, although some of the chases suffer from minor under-cranking. In many ways, Kamikaze Man was a predecessor to Chiba's action work in the television series Key Hunter (1967-1972), which finally made him an Asian action super star and earned him fans like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

    The action scenes and foreign locations do pretty good job covering up for the screenplay, which is frankly a bit of a mess. For a film that intentionally plays with its audience, the final revelations are disappointingly simple. A clever storyline is not a necessity for a good action film, but it would be advisable to keep it simple from the beginning to avoid disappointment when there is no reward waiting at the end. It's also obvious this was a "fun project" for Fukasaku, who helms solid action fun doesn't invest too much care or ambition into the film, especially when compared to some of his later work.

    As an interesting note, Kamikaze Man was the first time three major Toei stars (Fukasaku, Chiba, and guest star Ken Takakura) worked outside their own studio. Most Japanese filmmakers at the time were studio employees, who would work on any films their studio assigned them to. There was an unwritten rule among the major studios, that they would not try to steal each other's stars, except maybe for a guest appearance. Although (technically speaking) this system came to an end in the early 70s, much of the industry, especially Toei, kept operating much in the same way until around 1977.

    Kamikaze Man packed Toei's top talent, but wasn't produced by Toei. It was mainly financed by Ninjin Club, a small independent studio founded by three women in the 1950s to provide actors and filmmakers possibilities to do original films outside of their normal employers. Ninjin Club was able to exist because big studios wouldn't really take notice of such a small independent studio, and the finished products would still be sold to (the filmmakers' native) studios for distribution . The rest of the money came from Taiwan, where most of the filming took place. The majority of the supporting cast were Taiwanese actors, including the female lead. Toei would only distribute after acquiring the completed movie.

    Though hardly a great movie, Kamikaze Man is a fun film that travelled quite a bit after its release. Japan and Taiwan aside, it also appears to have been released at least in Germany, Spain and Mexico - sometimes with highly misleading advertising campaigns (in the Spanish language poster Chiba has become a white man... and has a machine gun!). The filmmakers also all headed to international arenas: Fukasaku was involved in Japanese-American co-productions such as The Green Slime (1968) and Tora Tora Tora (1970), Takakura starred in Sidney Pollack's The Yakuza (1974), and Chiba, who had already appeared in an international co-production before (Terror Beneath the Sea, 1966), would soon hook up with Bruce Lee girl Nora Miao in Tokyo-Seoul-Bangkok Drug Triangle (1973).

    * Original title: Kamikaze yaro: Mahiru no ketto (カミカゼ野郎 真昼の決斗)
    * Director: Kinji Fukasaku
    * Chiba's role: Starring role
    * Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles), VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

    Chiba




    And the girl




    Welcome to Taiwan, Mr. Toilet




    Takakura


    Chiba just before earning himself a hospital vacation




    Yep, he's gonna grab to that plane


    DVD NOTE
    Toei's DVD release is seriously flawed, I'm afraid. The image keeps turning green throughout the film. Basically, from every three seconds the first two look fine, and for the last one the image is green. It gets a bit less serious towards the end, but remains very distracting. The 35mm print screened at the Chiba festival had no such problem, nor does the old, VHS quality VoD version. When I re-watched the movie at home, I actually turned the DVD off after 10 minutes, and watched the VoD version instead.







    Last edited by Takuma; 01-28-2016 at 03:42 AM.

  4. #44
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Here's some artwork for Kamikaze Man from around the world







    And the original Japanese trailer:


    I forgot to mention in my review: Chiba sings the theme song.

    Also forgot the mention Chiba's nickname in the movie is "Mr. Toilet".
    Last edited by Takuma; 01-28-2016 at 11:37 AM.

  5. #45
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    Game of Chance (aka Samurai’s Lullaby) (Japan, 1966) [35mm] – 3.5/5

    Ninkyo yakuza films were probably Toei’s most important genre in the mid / late 60s. The chivalrous yakuza films pitched honourable outlaws who followed the codes of honour against corrupt gangs who exploited the innocent. The hugely popular genre made actors like Ken Takakura, Koji Tsuruta and Junko Fuji some of the biggest stars of their time. It was therefore no wonder that Toei also tested Sonny Chiba as a ninkyo hero. His run in the genre was brief but produced some interesting results.

    Chiba as a single father and swindler who has to escape with his 6 year son (Hiroyuki Sanada in his first role) after being caught cheating in the gambling table. The father and son travel to Tokyo, where Chiba is hoping to leave the kid to his mother's care, but things don't go as planned and he ends up joining bad guy Bin Amatsu's gang.

    Game of Chance is quite an unusual film for it is clearly built on ninkyo film pillars, yet Chiba commits some dishonourable acts that a typical ninkyo hero would never do. However, many of the best ninkyo films contained a major supporting character who was an honourable man but would be working for the enemy because of a blood relation or some obligation. Chiba's character in Game of Chance is, in fact, much like a typical ninkyo supporting character who has been made the main character.

    The unusual approach makes Game of Chance an odd bird, and we could argue it's not a pure ninkyo film to begin with, but it also adds to its interest. The things Chiba does in Game of Chance may be dishonourable, but they can also be defended to some extent, adding more shades of grey to the ninkyo formula.

    Game of Chance also stands out for its heavy focus on feminine drama, which was unusual in the masculine genre. As the film proceeds, Chiba occasionally takes the back seat and makes way for Sanada and his mother candidates, including his biological mother and and a lovely young lady (Reiko Ohara) who becomes his foster mother. It all works surprisingly well, with good performances from everyone involved. It's especially entertaining to see Chiba in a role that finds balance between his usual enthusiastic energy and quiet moments. The film doesn't get back to violent action until the last 10 minutes.

    Director Ryuichi Takamori does decent job helming the film, though he never approaches the greatness of true ninkyo classics (e.g. the Red Peony Gambler series, the Brutal Tales of Chivalry series). He was a mediocre director who rarely improved movies with his involvement, but a couple of times on his career he did decent job, and this was one of them.

    The 5 year old Hiroyuki Sanada performs here under his real name, Hiroyuki Shimosawa. He appeared in a number of other yakuza films in the following years, such as New Abashiri Prison: Vagrant Comes to a Port Town (1969) and Brutal Tales of Chivalry: I Sincerely Want to Kill You (1970), before joining Chiba's acting school Japan Action Club in 1973. In the late 70s and early 80s Chiba and Sanada would often play supporting roles in each others' films, until in Adventurer Kamikaze (1982) the two finally starred in equal leading roles.

    Game of Chance was followed by two sequels, both starring Chiba, and both shot in colour. These films remain the only time Chiba has played starring role in a ninkyo film, although he had appeared in supporting roles a few times earlier on his career (e.g. Gambler`s Love, 1964).

    Taro Hitofushi performs the theme song, which served as inspiration for the film's story.

    * Original title: Rokyoku komori-uta (浪曲子守歌)
    * Director: Ryuichi Takamori
    * Chiba's role: Starring role
    * Film availability: None! (review format: 35mm; screencaps from a TV print)

    Chiba and Sanada






    Taro Hitofushi singing in the background


    Ohara




    Sanada


    Sanada


    Chiba's had it

  6. #46
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    North Sea Chivalry (Japan, 1967) [VoD] – 2/5
    Sonny Chiba gives a solid dramatic performance in an otherwise uninspired semi-ninkyo drama. The storyline follows a struggling fisherman clan (lead by old man Kanjuro Arashi) that tries not to get in trouble with the local yakuza (with Tomisaburo Wakayama as the leader). The film struggles to find any kind of focus to the extent that there is no obvious main character. Chiba, however, is by far the best thing about the film as the clan leader’s son, who rebels against his father. He doesn’t participate in any action scenes, but his performance is solid and his character is easily the best written in the film.

    * Original title: Hokkai yukyoden (北海遊侠伝)
    * Director: Ryuchi Takamori
    * Chiba's role: Major supporting role
    * Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

    Chiba and Reiko Ohara






    Kanjuro Arashi




    Chiba


    Chiba




    Wakayama

  7. #47
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Tale of Kawachi Chivalry (Japan, 1967) [VoD] – 2/5
    Sonny Chiba stars in this misleadingly marketed semi-ninkyo piece set in the early Showa era. Chiba plays a young man returning to his hometown. He begins working as chef, but he seems more interested in fooling around and picking fights. Enter yakuza film regular Bin Amatsu, and we have a conflict between the honest townspeople and corrupt criminals.

    Tale of Kawachi Chivalry basically takes the typical ninkyo-yakuza film story, but strips it from the gloss and glorification. In a way, director Ryuichi Takamori was going the same direction as Kinji Fukasaku and Junya Sato with their late 60s works. Unfortunately, in the hands of the less talented Takamori it rarely translated into anything very interesting. Even more problematic was that his films were often missing the more complex themes of honour and obligation that could be found in the best ninkyo films.

    Tale of Kawachi Chivalry is not a terrible film – Chiba is alright, the crew is experienced, and there’s a pretty exciting rickshaw race – but it’s among Chiba's least memorable starring roles. The film’s magnificent poster, which shows Chiba armed with katana, is also very misleading: there is almost no action in the film, and Chiba never picks up that sword.

    Tale of Kawachi Chivalry and North Sea Chivalry could be seen as related works, although they had different screenwriters. They both utilize a ninkyo-like premise, but in a way make it more contemporary and realistic, and are not really ninkyo films. Both films feature ordinary men as main characters instead of yakuza, who only appear as villains. Unfortunately neither film excels as a character drama despite being story driven and stripped of action. Both were directed by Takamori – who was the walking definition of mediocre – and starred Chiba, who was easily the best thing about both films. Chiba and Takamori collaborated a total of 10 times, including the Legendary Lullaby (Game of Chance) series, which also resembles these two films but were more true to ninkyo cinema by making the protagonist a lone yakuza with a kid.

    * Original title: Kawachi yuukyoden ((河内遊侠伝))
    * Director: Ryuchi Takamori
    * Chiba's role: Starring role
    * Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

    Angry Chiba


    Furious Chiba


    Enraged Chiba


    Amatsu and Murota


    Surprised Chiba


    Frustrated Chiba


    Anxious Chiba


    Breathless Chiba


    Crazy Chiba


    Don't let the magnificent poster mislead you

  8. #48
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Organized Crime (Japan, 1967) [VoD] - 2/5
    This is basically a predecessor to the 70s jitsuroku yakuza films. The film draws a pessimistic image of gang violence that breaks out on the streets between rivalry yakuza clans. There's ambition to it, and the slightly documentary-like approach resembles the later jitsuroku films, but the film isn't especially captivating or memorable. Rather than following any specific character, the film focuses on the entire crime society and jumps back and forth between characters who come and go. Unfortunately none of them are that interesting. A detective played by Tetsuro Tamba is probably the closest to a central character. The second billed Sonny Chiba, who plays one of the lower ranking yakuza, only becomes a major character during the second half.

    * Original title: Soshiki boryoku (組織暴力)
    * Director: Junya Sato
    * Chiba's role: Major supporting role
    * Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

















    VHS art

  9. #49
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Diaries of the Kamikaze (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 3/5
    This is one of the better kamikaze dramas Toei put out in late 60s. These films are not well know abroad, as the subject matter made sure only the most pacifist masterpieces of Japanese war cinema found international distribution. Strictly commercial melodramas such as this remained domestic money makers. Hiroki Matsukata and Sonny Chiba star as two best friends who are drafted to the army and eventually become kamikaze pilots. While Matsukata is the number 1 star, Chiba has a pretty good supporting role. The all star cast is filled with big names, including Ken Takakura, Koji Tsuruta, Isao Natsuyagi, Bin Amatsu, and Junko Fuji. It's a solid film with decent characters, good pace and a touching subject, though there are even better films in the genre, such as The Last Kamikaze (1970).

    * Original title: Âa dôki no sakura (あゝ同期の桜)
    * Director: Sadao Nakajima
    * Chiba's role: Major supporting role
    * Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)



    Takakura, Tsuruta, Amatsu


    Chiba!


    Dirty Chiba


    Fuji and Matsukata




    More Chiba


    Chiba the night before he's to head for his final flight


    Air raid

  10. #50
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    The Young Eagles of the Kamikaze (Japan, 1968) [DVD] - 2/5
    Like so many other kamikaze dramas from the 60s, this film opens with a long training sequence that sees the young solders getting yelled at and bullied by their superiors. As it goes on , they develop a bit of tension between each other, and are occasionally visited by a family member. There lies the problem with The Young Eagles of the Kamikaze; it's all been seen before, and often done better than here. There is some nationalistic pathos but little energy to Shinji Murayama's direction, and the film lacks interesting characters. At 110 minutes it's also a good bit longer than it needs to be. The principal cast is made of relatively fresh faces, such as pop idol Teruhiko Saigo (Sing to Those Clouds, 1965), with big names like Koji Tsuruta and Tetsuro Tamba in supporting roles. Cute Reiko Ohara is the best thing about the film. Sonny Chiba is the 4th billed actor, but he only appears in one short scene. Fans of Chiba and war dramas alike would better turn their attention to superior films, such as Kaigun (1964) and Diaries of the Kamikaze (1967).

    * Original title: Âa yokaren (あゝ予科練)
    * Director: Shinji Murayama
    * Chiba's role: Cameo role
    * Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

    Murota


    Chiba in his only scene













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