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Thread: Movie Going Madness in Japan

  1. #71
    Administrator Ian Jane's Avatar
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    Man, I'm soooo jealous! I'd love to meet Chiba (he'd probably see my tattoo and think I was insane but still!). I've been a huge fan ever since seeing Street Fighter when I was like 12 or something, definitely younger than I should have been. I wish we'd get more English friendly releases of some of his lesser known (at least over here) titles. BCI/Adness was doing great work there but that well went dry once they folded. I'm thankful for what they did put out though. If they put on a retrospective like that here in NYC I'd probably just move into the theater for the duration.
    Rock! Shock! Pop!

  2. #72
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Chiba tattoo?

    Yeah, we need more Chiba on dvd, especially Wolfguy! The Street Fighter was my favourite Chiba until I saw Wolfguy... three times on the same day. Chiba as a karate skilled reporter who also happens to be a werewolf! I was afraid the theater staff might think I'm crazy when I came back for the third viewing... Also, one person descended into mental insanity as a result of the screening, but I'll write more about that later when I get to the reviews...

  3. #73
    Administrator Ian Jane's Avatar
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    I have a bootlet of Wolfguy Enraged but the quality is lousy. Would love a properly released disc in my collection. And yeah, I've got a big ol Karate Bearfighter tattoo on my left bicep, haha.
    Rock! Shock! Pop!

  4. #74
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Sonny Chiba Festival Day 1: June 14th (Saturday) (Part 2: The Films)

    From here on it’s going to be film mini-reviews all the way. The films screened during the first day were The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno and G.I. Samurai. Neither one of them was quite the typical Chiba film.

    The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno (Chokugeki jigoku-ken: Dai-gyakuten) (Teruo Ishii, 1974)

    Karate Inferno (1974) is best described as an act of terrorism. Director Teruo Ishii was never keen on making karate movies, but the studio had him direct one with The Executioner (1974). The mismatch resulted in an exceptionally sleazy action fest that was probably more enjoyable than Ishii ever intended it to be. To his shock, it was a commercial success and Toei had him direct a sequel, which Ishii turned into a madcap comedy (there was a similar case with biker gang movies only one year later, when Toei had Ishii direct a sequel for Detonation: Violent Violent Riders, and Ishii turned it into a love story with musical scenes).

    Karate Inferno is essentially a comedic caper in which the same gang we know from the original film are supposed to save a kidnapping victim, but when the deal goes bad they decide to rob their employer instead. Most of the film consists of Chiba (asshole ninja), Makoto Sato (asshole ex-cop) and Eiji Go (asshole pervert) taking the piss and molesting Yutaka Nakajima while also planning a big diamond heist. In the film’s highlight we see Chiba saving his pall, whose jacket was caught on fire, by pissing on him! The jokes are crude but funny, the soundtrack is fantastic, and there’s some great action at the end of the film. The Japanese audience had a blast, even clapping hands during the film in a couple of highlights, which is extremely rare in Japan. Many of the jokes are film references, though, and may not be understood by most foreign viewers (e.g. Kanjuro Arashi appearing as the same character he plays in Ishii’s Abashiri Prison series – Chiba also appeared in the 4th and 6th film).



    G.I. Samurai (Sengoku jieitai) (Kosei Saito, 1979)

    G.I. Samurai is a very different type of film compared to Karate Inferno. This big budget action fantasy stars Chiba as an army commander whose platoon somehow gets thrown back in time to the 1600s. Luckily for them, all their weapons, equipment, and vehicles (including helicopter and a tank) come with them. The heavy artillery comes in need when they get involved in a clan war between two historical figures: Nagao Kagetora (Isao Natsuyagi) and Shingen Takeda. It’s time to show the samurai what a modern man is made of!

    While G.I. Samurai doesn’t have the kick of Chiba’s best movies, it’s nevertheless full of major action scenes, huge body count, historical characters in entirely fictional situations, and more serious themes about masculine desire for power and domination. There’s a lot that springs from the 1970’s exploitation film mentality, but at the same time the film also showcases a new era in Japanese filmmaking. The film was produced by Kadokawa, who was a new player in the filmmaking biz. Up till late 1970s Chiba had been working for Toei, who mass produced cheap genre films at rapid pace. Kadokawa, however, were making modern Hollywood-like productions. Their films were often accompanied by theme songs, novels and other supporting products. The amount of money invested in G.I. Samurai – ¥ 1,350,000,000 – would probably have financed a dozen Street Fighter flicks. Also look for numerous cameos, like Hiroyuki Sanada climbing to a helicopter, and the soon-to-be super-idol Hiroko Yakushimaru as a child warrior.



    Sonny Chiba Festival Day 2: June 15th (Sunday)

    The Escape (Niniroku jiken: dasshutsu) (Tsuneo Kobayashi, 1962)

    The first film for Sunday night was the rarely seen The Escape. This was one of the many Japanese films based on the infamous February 26th Incident that took place in 1936. The incident involved army rebel forces attempting a coup d'état in Tokyo. The rebels opposed to Japan’s modern policies and believed that the Emperor had been misled by politicians. To restore Japan’s past glory they gathered hundreds of men and attempted multiple simultaneous political assassinations. One of their attacks was the raid on the prime minister’s house. Nearly 300 rebels took part in it; however, the prime minister managed to hide and eventually escape.

    The film focuses on the military police’s (partly fictionalized, no doubt) attempts to rescue the minister before the rebels find out he is still alive. He manages to hide in a closet because the enemy mistakes a dead body that greatly resembles him as him. The military police now tries to get him out without the rebels realizing what’s going on. It’s a mostly dialogue driven affair with exciting action in the beginning and end of the film. Sonny Chiba plays only a small supporting role as a soldier who discovers the prime minister’s hiding place, but agrees to help the military police. The real star of the film is Ken Takakura. An entertaining military / caper mix, but not a classic film.



    Bodyguard Kiba (Ryuichi Takamori, 1973)

    The 1973 action thriller Bodyguard Kiba is one of Chiba’s weaker efforts. The film stars Chiba as a Japanese karate fighter taking on the mafia, all in the name of promoting karate. It’s a pretty messy storyline that nevertheless allows for some memorable ultra-violence and enjoyable spaghetti western influences. Action scenes are, however, sloppily filmed. One of the film’s biggest merits may actually be featuring the 16 year old Etsuko Shihomi as a stunt double for Yayoi Watanabe (who plays Chiba’s sister). In the superior sequel, Bodyguard Kiba 2 (1973) Shihomi inherited the role, which marked her first acting role in a movie. Another thing worth mentioning is that the film is based on the manga Bodyguard Kiba, which was influenced by Chiba’s real life master Masutatsu Oyama. Although names have been changed, when Chiba’s character speaks of his master in the film, he is actually referring to Oyama and his real life adventures. Oyama also makes a cameo during the opening credits.

    Bodyguard Kiba is better known in its international form under the title The Bodyguard (1976). The American version changes the storyline somewhat, with almost all karate philosophy and Oyama references removed. In that version Chiba is simply fighting crime when not filming movies (yes, he actually plays himself in the US version!). In the Japanese version Chiba’s character actually comes out as a bigger asshole, not least because of the new ending scene where he seems to have forgotten about all the casualties and tells the press how this whole massacre was great advertisement for karate. The US version is missing the ending scene. There are, however, some highly amusing added scenes in the US version. These include the famous Ezekiel speech that Quentin Tarantino quoted in Pulp Fiction, US martial artists Aaron Banks and Bill Louie discussing who’s a tougher guy: Sonny Chiba or Bruce Lee, and a modified opening credits sequence accompanied by Viva! Chiba! Viva! Chiba! chanting.

    Last edited by Takuma; 09-17-2014 at 03:26 AM.

  5. #75
    Going through this thread made me realize how sadly neglected Shinji Somai is here in the West. Alas, I deeply regret not picking up the Kadokawa IVL release of SSAMG a few years back even if it was the old transfer/theatrical cut and not the complete version as you have in the Hiroko box set. I ended up buying a whole lot of 'em including all the Yusaku Matsuda ones that I could find but skipped out on SSAMG hoping to pick it up later.
    "only the simplest can accommodate the most complex"

  6. #76
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Unfortunately some Somai films are still not available on dvd even in Japan, thanks to Toho who are utterly unaware that they have ever produced anything else than Kurosawa and Godzilla films in the past. It's unbelievable they haven't put out Lost Chapter of Snow: Passion (1985) even though it's directed by Somai, stars one of the great 80's idols (Yuki Saito from the first Sukeban Deka series), features a legendary 14 minute tracking shot, and just happens to be a damn good film. I just bought the original pamphlet a few days ago...







    I also bought some more Hiroko stuff (below)









    How many shots of Somai with a cigarette can you find?







    I live a few hundred metres from that river, btw.

  7. #77
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Sonny Chiba Festival Day 3: June 16th (Sunday)

    Army Intelligence 33 (Rikugun choho 33) (Tsuneo Kobayashi, 1968)

    This criminally neglected mixture of spy-noir and commando action by director Tsuneo Kobayashi (The Escape, 1962) is a lost gem. The film’s storyline is loosely based on the Nakano Spy School which operated in Tokyo during the Second World War. It was officially focused on correspondence, but in reality trained top spies for the government. Chiba portrays a promising young soldier who is kidnapped and forced to become a spy. After receiving tough training (martial arts, weapons, explosives, foreign languages) by none other than Tetsuro Tanba, he is sent for his first mission, which is to gather secret information from a foreign ambassador. This is when the film takes a turn to a wonderful noir with gorgeous cinematography, great old fashioned score and terrific atmosphere. Chiba himself looks fabulous as a spy in long dark coat and black hat which immediately bring American noir stars like Humphrey Bogart to mind. This is probably something many foreign fans never expected to find in Chiba’s filmography.

    Army Intelligence 33 isn’t entirely a spy noir, though. The final act sees Chiba sent for a Lee Marvin style commando mission to South East Asia together with his partner in crime Kenji Imai. The action packed final third can’t quite compare with the wonderful noir section, but it’s a tremendously entertaining climax nevertheless. The only weakness is occasional lazy screenwriting throughout the film, which has us believe that these kidnapped young men would barely protest their destiny, and the enemy soldiers whose behaviour isn’t always all that logical. This is however a small gripe in a hugely entertaining film. Chiba later returned to the same training camp in another Nakano Spy School influenced film: Military Spy School (Junya Sato, 1974). That film, however, couldn’t compare with the far more elegant and entertaining Army Intelligence 33, which remains one of Chiba’s best movies.
























    Jail Breakers (The Escape Game) (Dasso yugi) (Kosaku Yamashita 1976)

    Jail Breakers, or The Escape Game (literal translation) is another rarely seen movie that has probably never been released outside Japan. It hasn’t been preserved so well in its native country either; no DVD release available and even the festival print was in such a shape that it could have fallen apart any time. The caper-style movie stars Chiba as the worst behaving prisoner of all time: he has 31 prison escapes under his belt. He makes his 32nd run in the film’s opening scene by performing a spectacular escape by climbing to the roof, grabbing to ladders from a helicopter, hanging from the ladders in in the air while the helicopter makes its way through the countryside, and changes his clothes in the mid-air before dropping to a moving truck and making the escape by then jumping to another moving vehicle – one of the many stunts on Chiba’s career that his greatest fan, Jackie Chan, later improved upon (Police Story 3, 1992).

    The film is packed with nice stunts throughout, but the screenplay could be better. After escaping the prison Chiba teams up with a bunch of thugs, who design prison escapes for money. Unfortunately trust and loyalty are unknown concepts to these men who take turns deceiving each other. The endless “who’s-cheating-who” game has been done better in other films, and sometimes the writing is downright sloppy: when a carefully planned escape operation fails, Chiba simply steals a fire engine and drives away without anyone noticing! It also feels that director Kosaku Yamashita, who made his name with yakuza films, was a bit out of his element here. However, even with these weaknesses it’s an entertaining action comedy which compares favourably against some of the later, similar Yasaku Matsuda films like Execution Game (1978) and No Grave for Us (1979). It’s also essentially a family friendly affair with no sex whatsoever, and only minimal violence. The focus is on stunts and comedy.

    Opening escape. Over 3 minutes of it was shot in single take just to show you it's really Chiba doing it all


















    This was the last day of my first Tokyo stint. I would return for more Chiba on the following weekend after taking care of some real life business. More reviews to come!

  8. #78
    well, Shinji Somai did die of lung cancer, so all those pics of him with the cancer sticks in his mouth doesn't really surprise me. What a shame to have Somai pass on at such a relatively young age.

    By the way Takuma...just curious but are you fluent in Japanese? I noticed even when you lived in Finland, you would buy R2 discs from Japan without subs. Is that Haruko Wanibuchi in the poster to Jail Breakers? she has quite a distinctive look and is easy to spot hehe.
    "only the simplest can accommodate the most complex"

  9. #79
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 47lab View Post
    By the way Takuma...just curious but are you fluent in Japanese? I noticed even when you lived in Finland, you would buy R2 discs from Japan without subs.
    Not fluent. It really depends on what kind of movie / dialogue we're talking about. Many modern films are relatively easy, and actually the 1961 Police Department Story films (co-starring Chiba) were pretty easy too, but a lot of the 1970's jitsuroku yakuza talk can still be a nightmare to try to follow...

    Quote Originally Posted by 47lab View Post
    Is that Haruko Wanibuchi in the poster to Jail Breakers? she has quite a distinctive look and is easy to spot hehe.
    Yep, that's her.

  10. #80
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Sonny Chiba Festival Day 4: June 21st (Saturday)

    Saturday. Back in Tokyo after a few days of normal life. The festival kept running meanwhile, but I didn't miss any movies because those were second or third screening days for films I had already seen during my last stint. My original plan was to land in Tokyo and first catch a couple of films in Jinbocho Theater before heading to Cinema Vera for only one Chiba film, but I ended up changing my plan and watching both of the evening’s Chibas.

    Bullet Train (Shinkansen daibakuha) (Junya Sato, 1975)

    My decision was a good one. Though I had seen Bullet Train – Junya Sato’s predecessor to Speed (1994) – before, I didn’t recall it being this good. The excellent thriller stars Ken Takakura as a criminal whose gang plants a bomb on a bullet train and demands money from the government. If the speed falls below 80km / hour, the train will explode. The police do their best to track down the criminals without giving in to their demands, while the desperate train pilot (Sonny Chiba in a rare 1970’s non-action role) is trying to keep his cool. Tension begins to rise among passengers as the train skips its designated stops.

    Sato was a solid director who was usually more interested in storylines than exploitation (there are some exceptions, though). Here he does fine job helming a character and story driven thriller, even if there are a couple of silly turns and too many flashbacks used as storytelling device. The film’s biggest merit is its well crafted villains, whose acts are understandable though not acceptable. Takakura does excellent job making his character human, and becomes the film’s central character despite being the villain. Action scenes are few, but expertly executed. The ultra-funky 1970s score feels out of place at first, but eventually becomes a seminal part of the film and makes one wish all good movies had one like this. Supporting roles feature a whole variety of stars from Takashi Shimura to Etsuko Shihomi and Yumi Takigaw, sometimes only getting a few seconds of screen time.



    Hepcat in the Funky Hat (Funky Hat no kaidanji) (Kinji Fukasaku, 1961)

    The evening’s second movie was one of Chiba’s very first starring roles: Hepcat in the Funky Hat. This energetic little movie was the third collaboration between Chiba and director Kinji Fukasaku. The two had already made two Drifting Detective movies together, the first one being Fukasaku’s directorial debut and Chiba’s first starring role. Fukasaku and Chiba then went on to work together a total of 20 times. When Chiba made his own directorial debut with Yellow Fangs (1990) Fukasaku served as his advisor.

    Chiba plays a happy-go-lucky son of a detective, who constantly manages to get himself in the middle of someone else’s trouble, but comes out saving the day. Chiba is full of youthful energy, does some athletics, tries to charm the ladies (without much luck), and kicks a little bit of ass. Some of his goofier acts resemble Hong Kong stars like Alexander Fu Sheng in their more comedic roles in the 1970’s – whether that’s a good thing or not is debatable.

    Hepcat in the Funky Hat also showcases the madcap energy Fukasaku later become famous for. The cinematography is wild and innovative, edits come fast and dialogue is delivered at lightning pace. There’s a striking difference between this and some other detective films of the same era, like the Police Department Story films in which Chiba co-starred the same year, or even Fukasaku’s own Drifting Detective films. Hepcat in the Funky Hat runs less than an hour and was originally played as a b-feature for a bigger budgeted a-film, but would probably have been at least 20 minutes longer in the hand of any other director.

    In addition, the film deals with the theme Fukasaku explored throughout his career: youth vs. older generations. Having lived through the horrors of war and having felt betrayed by the nation and the older generations, this theme got increasingly violent cinematic incarnations in Fukasaku’s later classics like Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972), Battles without Honour and Humanity (1973) and Battle Royale (2000), where army, yakuza and the government respectively took to roles of rotten authorities. Hepcat in the Funky Hat, however, is a celebration of youthful energy, passion, and early 1960’s youth culture. Its young heroes leave the old men eating dust at every turn!
















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