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Thread: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

  1. #71
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Bodyguard Kiba 2 (Japan, 1973) [VoD] -2.5/5

    This interesting, but uneven sequel was an important turning point on Chiba's career. Chiba had been trying to introduce martial arts into his films for a while, the original Bodyguard Kiba (1973) being the most prominent example, but the problem had always been that most Japanese actors were not fit for physically demanding action films. To address this problem Chiba had opened his own acting school "Japan Action Club" (JAC) in 1970, but it still took a few years before Chiba got his gang together. Bodyguard Kiba 2 was the film where it finally happened.

    JAC graduate and Chiba fangirl Etsuko Shihomi was the first addition to the team. Shihomi had joined JAC due to her admiration for Chiba, but had been too young to become a star before. Now, at the age of 17, she was finally ready for her first movie role as Kiba's sister. Though she doesn't have many scenes, the ones she appears in are loaded with both cuteness and fighting. It didn't take her long to become Japan's leading female martial arts actress, which happened with the following year's Sister Street Fighter (1974). She would also frequently play supporting roles in Chiba movies, such as The Street Fighter, The Killing Machine, and The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno.

    An even more important addition to the team was Masashi Ishibashi. Ishibashi was a real life karate master and Chiba’s senior, who had been acting in movies for a while but had not done much action before. The word is that Ishibashi often visited Masutatsu Oyama's dojo as a quest instructor on his way back home (he couldn't be a full time instructor since his karate style was different from Oyama's). With Ishibashi on board Chiba had finally found an actor who could keep up with the choreographies even when films had to be completed at lighting pace. Ishibashi would go on to play villains in countless Chiba and Shihomi movies (e.g. The Street Fighter, Karate Bullfigher, Sister Street Fighter) in, and also work on the action choreography with Chiba.

    Bodyguard Kiba 2 opens with each of the three stars giving their best in great night time fight in rain. Even Chiba fans who never saw the film have probably caught a glimpse of the fight as footage of it was featured in the theatrical trailer for Karate Bullfighter.

    The rest of the film unfortunately does not live up to the great opening. Chiba is Kiba again, but this time he has fallen from grace and sent to prison for all the violent acts he has committed. Once he's out, he begins working as a bodyguard in a club that is crawling with gangsters. Never mind that he was a gangster hating hero that singlehandedly crushed a syndicate and even saved a passenger plane from criminals in the previous film! A man's got to earn money to cover his sister's hospital bills!

    What happens next in the film is... not all that much. Chiba and bad guy Eiji Go go on about who's got a bigger, ehm, fist, and spend some time hanging out at the club. Things finally speed up when Chiba's prison pal Tsunehiko Watase is released. Turns out he was betrayed by the gang Chiba is now working for. It's a nice ninkyo yakuza film style twist, although unfortunately largely wasted with minimal character development (see the superb The Defensive Power of Aikido for a much better handing of a similar theme). Watase is good (as he always is), and although not really a martial artist, he does have a bit of karate experience from his student days. He would go on to star in Wicked Kempo, his only real martial arts film, in 1974.

    Bodyguard Kiba 2 comes to its conclusion in an entertaining, though not classic, violent climax. If the rest of the film had been as good as the opening and closing fights, this would be a small gem. As it stands, Bodyguard Kiba 2 is more relevant for uniting Chiba, Shihomi and Ishibashi for the first time on screen. Their next collaboration, The Street Fighter, would be an all time classic.

    * Original title: Bodigaado Kiba: Hissatsu sankaku tobi (ボディガード牙 必殺三角飛び)
    * Director: Ryuichi Takamori
    * Chiba's role: Starring role
    * Film availability: VoD (Japan)

    Side note: although the caps below are from the VHS quality VoD version, Toei has new HD scans of both Bodyguard Kiba films.

    Chiba vs. Ishibashi


    Chiba


    Shihomi


    Ishibashi


    Shihomi and Masutatsu Oyama


    Chiba looking frustrated


    Well, that's one way to catch a knife


    Good guys... no, just kidding. Bad guys obviously!


    Chiba and Shihomi


    Watase


    Mean Chiba


    Chiba kicking ass (or heads, to be more precise)


    Poster 1


    Poster 2
    Last edited by Takuma; 05-16-2016 at 01:33 PM.

  2. #72
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Alright, it's time for The Street Fighter. There's so much that could be written about this film, in fact, my Finnish review is twice as long, but I'll try to keep this short and just point out just a few things you may not know about the film.

    The Street Fighter (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 4.5/5

    This was the film that started the golden age of Japanese karate entertainment. Two important factors should be considered when we discuss the film: timing and talent. Although Chiba had been making action movies since the early 1960s, including a couple of full-fledged martial arts films, Japanese karate films had never really taken off. For years Chiba had to deal with producers and directors who had little to no interest in the fighting aspect. Matters were made even worse by tight filming schedules. Things finally begun to change when Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon was released in Japanese theatres in December 1973 and proved a major hit (it was the first Lee film to arrive Japan; others followed in 1974-1975). All of a sudden there was a genuine demand for martial arts films.

    The story behind The Street Fighter goes a bit further back than that, though. The production was launched earlier in 1973 after Toei screenwriter Koji Takada had seen a number of kung fu films in Hong Kong (probably during the production of Tokyo-Seoul-Bangkok Drug Triangle) and managed to convince Toei executives that they should produce something similar with Japanese karate. Takada had Toei producers attend an advance screening of Enter the Dragon, which did the trick. Chiba was selected as the star: not surprising considering not only his status as the leading Japanese action star / stunt choreographer, but also his expertise in martial arts.

    At first Toei intended the film to be an international co-production, but the Hong Kong studio it was offered to, Golden Harvest, did not take the bait. Perhaps Toei's understanding of a movie with an international appeal -that is, Chiba killing gangsters from various foreign countries - was not to their liking. This does, however, explain why parts of the film take place in Hong Kong and many of the characters are Chinese (although portrayed by Japanese actors). The budget was cut from the original, but the film went to production and Chiba spent his Christmas holidays filming the movie. The Street Fighter hit the theatres in February 1974, six week after Enter the Dragon.

    The Street Fighter was also a movie that could not have been born much earlier - or at least not turn out the way it did - as the necessary action talent had just been discovered a few months earlier. Chiba’s earlier action films had often suffered from the lack of co-stars with martial arts experience who could make good opponents for Chiba. Most of Toei’s action film stars were yakuza film actors who looked good with a gun or sword, but made poor karate fighters. This finally changed when Chiba discovered Masashi Ishibashi, who was cast as a villain in Chiba’s previous movie Bodyguard Kiba 2 (1973). Ishibashi was a real life karate master and Chiba’s senior, who had been acting in movies for a good while already but hadn’t done much on-screen action before. With Ishibashi on board Chiba had finally found an actor who could keep up with the choreographies even when films had to be completed at lighting pace.

    The action scenes in The Street Fighter were co-designed by Chiba and Ishibashi (as well as other real life martial artists), who played the film’s famous villain and returned for countless other Chiba films like Karate Bullfighter. There were other real life martial artists involved as well, like the future leader of All Japan Karate Federation Masafumi Suzuki (the older master), pro wrestler Tsutomu Harada (the villain who loses is eyes), and kick boxer Ken Kazama & karate man Yushiro Sumi (as two bodyguards). Chiba’s brother Jiro, who later went on to star in The Defensive Power of Aikido (1975), and Chiba’s protégé Etsuko Shihomi, who would become the biggest Japanese female martial arts star of all time, are also featured in minor roles. Furthermore, Chiba's real life master Masutatsu Oyama's influence can clearly be seen in the film: although he does not appear on screen, his thoughts are obviously echoed in the opening scene where Ishibashi criticizes the state of modern karate.

    The Street Fighter also became an unforgettable showcase of Chiba’s anti-hero charm and ultra-violence. Chiba was given relatively free hands at creating the main character, a badass mercenary called Takuma Tsurugi. Chiba drew influence from the psychotic yakuza villain he had played in Kinji Fukasaku’s yakuza film Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Hiroshima Death Match (1973), but made the character a little less evil this time. He also added his own brand of Oyama influenced fighting, which was faster and more brutal than the extended and balletic fighting scenes seen in many Kong Kong films. What resulted was 90 minutes of cinematic badassness that remains one of the most enjoyable action films of the 1970s. It was also very successful upon its release in both Japan, where Chiba toured theatres giving action demonstrations, and the US, where the film was even featured in the Playboy magazine, probably due to having been the first movie ever rated X for violence alone by MPAA.

    For better or worse, The Street Fighter has characterized Chiba’s reputation ever since and made him a cult hero all around the world. However, his best work as an on-screen martial artist was still to come. The Street Fighter was still a contemporary action film where, for the most part, gunplay had merely been replaced with martial arts. This was no doubt largely due to Toei, as well as their filmmakers from screenwriter Takada to director Shigero Ozawa, being veterans of yakuza films rather than martial arts movies. It wasn’t until the next year when Chiba’s martial movies found their purest form in films like Killing Machine, Karate Bearfighter and The Defensive Power of Aikido, all of which were biopics of real life martial artists.

    Side note: there is some confusion regarding Chiba’s side-kick character calling him “darling” throughout the film in the Japanese language version. The word is actually not “darling”, it’s “talen” which is Chinese for “master”. This makes perfect sense since the character is supposed to be Chinese or Singaporean, whose life was saved by Chiba. The Japanese mispronunciation of the term has, however, fooled many viewers and added unintended homosexual sub-context. It's quite amusing indeed, especially when the character even cooks Chiba’s meals and does his laundry; however, it's all a misunderstanding.

    * Original Title: Gekitotsu: Satsujin ken (激突! 殺人拳)
    * Director: Shigero Ozawa
    * Chiba's role: Starring role
    * Film availability: Optimum DVD (UK), HK Video (FR) (FR subs only), Toei DVD (no subs)

    There are three notable DVD releases available. The Optimum DVD is quite dark but otherwise fine. The HK Video has the sharpest image but the colours and contrast seem odd like so often with their releases. Toei has the softest image but the best colours. Optimum is obviously the best choice for anyone who needs subs; otherwise all releases are equally flawed and it comes down to which flaw you consider the smallest evil. Toei is my preferred release, with sharpness artificially boosted to the max via TV / DVD player. However, a BD release must be on its way, no? That being said, at the moment, I believe Toei does not have an HD scan of the film (the recent TV screening on Toei channel was in SD, unlike movies such as Wolfguy, Yakuza Wolf etc. which were in HD).

    The screencaps below are from the Toei DVD.

    Chiba!


    Ishibashi


    Angry Chiba


    Shihomi and Jiro Chiba


    Chiba tells them they should hire him to protect here... or he will kill her himself


    Masafumi Suzuki


    Ultra violence










    Devil's laughter






    Last edited by Takuma; 05-28-2016 at 12:02 AM.

  3. #73
    Administrator Ian Jane's Avatar
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    Nice stuff, Takuma. Needing the English options, I've got the Optimum set and am pretty happy with it. I've also got the an older budget set because it's got the English dub on it. I don't typically watch stuff dubbed if I can help but I get nostalgic for the dubbed versions for certain films and Street Fighter is one of them.

    It's amazing to me that this isn't out on Blu-ray anywhere in the world yet.
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  4. #74
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    I'm hoping for Arrow to release a box set. In fact, they should release a whole set of Chiba box sets! My suggestions:
    - Street Fighter trilogy box
    - Oyama trilogy box
    - Martial Arts box (Killing Machine, The Defensive Power of Aikido, 13 Steps of Maki)
    - Action box (Wolfguy, Yakuza Wolf, A Narcotics Agent's Ballad, Army Intelligence 33)

  5. #75
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Return of the Street Fighter (Japan, 1974) [DVD] - 3.5/5

    The first of the two Street Fighter sequels is a fun grindhouse film that doesn't reach the greatness of the original, but comes with superior fight choreography. The film also shows in a nutshell why the series enjoys such popularity, and where Japanese karate action was heading in 1974.

    The karate films Chiba made in 1973-1974 were all contemporary action films with plenty of martial arts thrown in. However, the genre was heading towards a more serious approach to martial arts, exemplified by the numerous martial arts biopics released in 1975 (e.g. Killing Machine, The Defensive Power of Aikido). Return of the Street Fighter was still an urban action flick, but the amount of martial arts - and martial artists - on display already suggested of the trend.

    Despite the rushed production (the sequel hit the theatres less than 3 months after the original) Toei had time to audition 100 martial arts from various countries, 11 of which were chosen to appear in the film, in addition to Masashi Ishibashi, Masafumi Suzuki & his students, and the JAC stuntmen returning from the first film.

    The "fighter overpopulation" actually causes the film to lose its story focus early on as we are treated one martial arts demonstration after another. Fans of karate films should not be complaining, but casual viewers may find it a bit too much. However, there seems to have been even more footage than could be fit in the film, as the original teaser trailer features quite a bit of action, training, and promotional footage not found in the film.

    For most people the real reason to watch The Street Fighter movies is of course Chiba and the character he portrays. Takuma "Terry" Tsurugi is back and in good form, even if he's a little less nasty this time. Highlights include Tsurugi taking down a police station's entire night shift crew in order to assassinate a target held by the police, and Tsurugi walking away from a crime scene with a big smile on his face while a villain is burning in the flames behind him. The film is a perfect example of a cinema era when heroes were allowed to be villains and villains could pass for heroes.

    Action fans will also be pleased that the fight choreography is excellent throughout. There are lots of fights, the action is well choreographed, and the most commonly used sound effect is that of a breaking bone. There also a good bit of the series' trademark ultra violence, such as Tsurugi punching a man in so hard at the back of his head that his eyes pop out.

    Story wise the film is a carbon copy of the original - to the extent that the writer of the original film, Koji Takada, has been given a "created by" credit even though he was apparently not involved with the sequel. The film merely switches Chinese triads for New York mafia, avenging death row prisoner for an avenging ex-detective, and a Singaporean sidekick for an Okinawan sidekick (the naturally cute Yoko Ichiji stripped down of her cuteness (sadly not of her clothes), and given a rather irritating character to play).

    While the weaknesses somewhat hurt the film, the imperfection also makes the film a more genuine grindhouse type film, with its own trashy appeal. With expectations kept in check, Return of the Street Fighter is quite a bit of violent fun. Oh, and a bit of fun trivia: the bearded hippie mafia boss who appears in the film was played by the young Canadian filmmakers Claude Gagnon, who would later pick up the Japanese Film Directors' Association's prize for best director for his Art Theater Guild film Keiko (1979).

    * Original Title: Satsujin ken 2 (殺人拳 2)
    * Director: Shigero Ozawa
    * Chiba's role: Starring role
    * Film availability: Optimum DVD (UK), HK Video (FR) (FR subs only), Toei DVD (no subs)





















    Original Teaser with footage not in the film












    Poster

  6. #76
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Here is a brief dvd comparison for Return of the Street Fighter

    Top: R2 HK Video
    Bottom: R2J Toei

















    You can find Optimum caps at Beaver:
    http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/DVDCom...eetfighter.htm

    Toei is a bit soft, but it looks quite nice. HK Video has their usual strange colors.

  7. #77
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    We desperately need some Sonny Chiba in HD.

  8. #78
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    The Street Fighter's Last Revenge is coming a bit later... I haven't written it yet

    Military Spy School (Lubang tô no kiseki: Rikugun Nakano gakkô) (Japan, 1974) [VoD] -2.5/5
    Another take on the Nakano Spy School which trained spies during WWII. The students were taught aikido, ninjutsu, weapons, explosives, foreign languages etc. Sonny Chiba already starred in the superb 1968 action/noir Army Intelligence 33, which was based on the same topic. This 1970s version is less successful, despite a big name cast (Chiba, Bunta Sugawara, Isao Natsuyagi etc.). Director Junya Sato adds more realism, but cuts down the action and loses the elegance of the ’68 version. This version is also more focused on the theme than any specific character, hence it doesn't really have a main character. It's not a bad movie, but one feel it should've been better considering the cast and interesting topic.

    * Original title: ルパング島の奇跡 陸軍中野学校 (Lubang tô no kiseki: Rikugun Nakano gakkô)
    * Director: Junya Sato
    * Chiba's role: Major Supporting Role
    * Film availability: VoD (Japan)

    I don't have screen captures of this, but here is the original poster:

  9. #79
    Administrator Ian Jane's Avatar
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    Twilight Time just announced Bullet Train for a US Blu-ray release!
    Rock! Shock! Pop!

  10. #80
    Quote Originally Posted by Ian Jane View Post
    Twilight Time just announced Bullet Train for a US Blu-ray release!
    I have the HK bootleg "Japanese uncut" version which is sourced from the German blu ray & it's fine. I doubt I'll upgrade unless there are compelling extras or something.

    "only the simplest can accommodate the most complex"

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