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Takuma

Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

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On 10/23/2017 at 9:20 PM, Takuma said:

Original title: Robotto keiji: gekijoban (ロボット刑事: 劇場版)

Mention the above series and I can't resist digging up the opening theme for the TV series, from one of the record collections of Japanese opening theme songs I was accumulating at the time - 

 

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Blazing Dragnet (Japan, 1975-1976) [TV] - 3/5
The third series in Sonny Chiba's mid-70s streak of action packed detective shows, following The Bodyguard (1974) and The Gorilla Seven (1975), all produced for NTV where Chiba had his on TV slot in 1974-1976. This follows the usual Japanese cop series pattern with a team of detectives as the focus, also utilized in the previous two shows, with a slight new twist. The detectives now belong to a secret mobile unit, all having dull day jobs (Chiba and Hayato Tani are office clerks, Shihomi and Gajiro Sato traffic officers) as a cover and just waiting for a call by boss Nobuo Kaneko to jump in a travel van and head where ever crime is taking place.

This is the least action packed of the four shows, investing more on decently written detective storylines, though there are occasional shootouts and karate kicks by Chiba and Shihomi. An entertaining show, easily better than The Gorilla Seven, despite ultimately underutilizing the mobile police concept and not featuring anything unforgettable. Chiba's beautiful theme is one of the show's assets, always restoring the viewer's hope even after a weaker episode as the song plays over end credit montage of Chiba wandering on city streets.  

* Original title: Moeru sosamo (燃える捜査網)
* Director: Various
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (no subs) (June 2018) / Review format: TV

Kaneko briefing Chiba
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Team meeting
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Chiba and Tani in their day jobs
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Tani on the job
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Chiba kicking some ass
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Shihomi kicking some ass
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Occasional excellent cinematography
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Gajiro Sato (Dragon Princess) restraining his usual comedy act. He's a bit silly but doesn't do anything too irritating here.
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End credits montage
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last but not least!
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Emergency Line (Japan, 1976) [TV] - 3.5/5
The last of the mid-70 action/detective shows with Sonny Chiba, this one makes an immediate impression with its grit and darkness. It's the usual 'group of detectives' (Chiba, Shihomi, Tani, Masaaki Daimon, Tamio Kawachi, Seigo Inoue, Yuriko Hishimi) pattern, but without jokes. The opening episode has a bitter war vet (Eiji Okada) trying to assassinate a foreign little girl flown to Japan for medical operation, and another story has Chiba, taking a bullet in his leg in the first scene, trying to penetrate a top floor condo where the shooter is holding hostages. There are also smaller delights like usual yakuza crook Eiji Go quest starring as a narcotics cop, and Toei's regular evil gaijin Osman Yusuf as murderous diplomat in an episode that concludes with one of Chiba's most explosive karate sequences as Chiba decides to ignore diplomatic immunity and fight his way though 20 bodyguards. Another stunt highlight involves Chiba chasing criminals. After his car falls off the cliff (!), he climbs on top of a train, then jumps down when the train is crossing a bridge, landing on the moving car's roof, only to slip, grab the rear bumper, pull out his gun and shoot the tires. Bravo! As usual, Chiba and Japan Action Club were in charge of the action.

Not every episode is as exciting as those, though. Despite having more action than Blazing Dragnet, this is the most talkative of the four shows. There are also a couple of dullish drama/thriller stories, and Etsuko Shihomi is largely wasted in a role that offers her little to do. The rest of the cast is ok, with Tani, who has developed some charisma since Key Hunter (1968-1973) faring the best. The episodes take a bit of patience since they often reveal the gist only at the end, which is interesting but a bit odd since these aren't strictly mystery stories. The show's ending is exceptionally powerful and each episode closes with a beautiful theme song and closing credits montage. Gritty and atmospheric, this is a very worthy closing product for Chiba's detective show streak.

* Original title: Daihijosen (大非常線)
* Director: Various
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Series availability: None / Review format: TV

Chiba. I always loved the gritty 16mm look of these shows
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Detectives. Eiji Go on the left.
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The series really is quite gritty
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Chiba's had it
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Osman Yusuf. This episode features the best role I've seen him in. I've really become a bit of a fan. He was born in the Ottoman Empire in 1920 but moved to Japan at a young age (his younger brother Osman Toruko was born in Japan and become a Japanese professional wrester). He was working on TV and movies since the 1940s, although all the roles I've seen him in (60s and 70s) have been small roles. He died in 1982.
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Stunt action
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Find Chiba in the frame!
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Shihomi and Tani
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Chiba and Shihomi
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Violent Street (Japan, 1963) [35mm] - 3/5
Decent yakuza lieutenant Ken Takakura tries to maintain peace between gangs while rivals and reckless subordinates (Shinjiro Ebara in full Hiroki Matsukata mode trying to make money with boxing and dirty gambling) give him hard time. This was one of the relatively few modern day ninkyo films (most were set in pre-WWII era), which lends to some interesting bits such as the "final walk" in contemporary milieu. Not especially well written, lacking the kind of strong honour/duty dilemma that is the backbone of the best ninkyo films, but there are many good scenes like a detailed yakuza ceremony in the opening and action packed ending. It's also surprisingly sexy, without explicit nudity, with one of Ebara's businesses being turning a traditional stage theatre into a strip joint. Sonny Chiba has a decent supporting role as an impulsive young yakuza holding grudge against Takakura's gang. There's no character development for him but Chiba acts well and gets enough screen time to make it the film's third or fourth biggest role. The film is unrelated to the Hideo Gosha movie (1974) of the same title.

* Original title: Boryoku gai (暴力街)
* Director: Tsuneo Kobayashi
* Chiba's role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: None / Review format: 35mm

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Edited by Takuma

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Life of Blackmail (Japan, 1963) [TV] - 3/5
Two kids and best friends (Tatsuo Umemiya and Sonny Chiba) go different paths, one becoming a gangster specializing in blackmailing and the other a policeman. Umemiya and Chiba share the top billing; however, it is Umemiya who gets the juicier role with most screen time as the blackmailer. It’s an entertaining modern day gangster film with an energetic score and young cast; however it feels a bit superficial as the script doesn’t really pit the two main characters against each other most of the time, which could have added psychological depth. The storyline is an adaptation of Shinji Fujiwara’s novel. Kinji Fukasaku directed a better version called Blackmail is My Life for Shochiku in 1968 with a vastly different rendering of the storyline. Chiba’s character does not appear in that film at all, and the blackmailer, played by Hiroki Matsukata, faces mostly different scenarios although some plot elements and characters are the same.

* Original title: Waga kyôkatsu no jinsei (わが恐喝の人生)
* Director: Kiyoshi Saeki
* Chiba's role: Starring / Major supporting role
* Film availability: None / Review format: TV

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Gendai onibabako: Satsu ai (Japan, 1973) [TV] - 4/5

A 300 year old witch agrees to assassinate a dead-sick businessman and his ignorant sexy wife upon the former's own request - the kills are to take place in separate locations at the same time. The granny then exits the same way she entered his office, with rope via 20th floor window! And it gets even better when you realize the granny is played by Sonny Chiba. Chiba soon takes his own handsome form and retreats to plan the hits with his karate killer sister (17 year old Etsuko Shihomi in her first role).

A decently insane fantasy / karate / murder thriller based on a Kazuo Koike manga, brought to the small screen as a 46 minute TV movie, the final one shown in the "Suspense Series" slot (Toei / Mainichi Broadcasting System). The script by Koike himself is fabulous, with twists like the businessman receiving a call from hospital that they made a mistake and he's not dying from cancer after all, the kills set to take place in the afternoon at 02:02 (o-ni, o-ni, as for "demon in Japanese") and Chiba promising to buy tasty bread for Shihomi as soon as all targets have been murdered!

The closest comparison point would probably be Wolfguy (1975), and although not as wild or graphic, this still packs a punch and manages to throw in some nudity (courtesy of  Tomoko Mayama from the first Lone Wolf and Cub film). Oh and the scene where the cute as a button mini-skirt Shihomi takes down a roomful of men with karate... you'll need a face massage to get the resulting smile to go down.

The title, Gendai onibabako: Satsu ai, roughly translates as "Modern Witch Tale: Murderous Love".

* Original title: Gendai onibabako: Satsu ai (現代鬼婆考 殺愛)
* Director: Koichi Takemoto
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: None / Review format: TV

Kazuo Koike TV Play
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Chiba!
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Tomoko Mayama
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Shihomi!
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Edited by Takuma

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A couple of cool stills for Yakuza Deka: No Epitaphs for Us (やくざ刑事 俺たちに墓はない) (1971)

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The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (USA, 2006) [VoD] – 2/5
An American guy moves in with his American father, falls in love with an Australian girl, and makes friends with a Korean. What country was this film set in again? A nonsensical Hollywood foreign vacation only utilizes Japan as a superficial visual backdrop; the script could've been filmed in any country with minor modifications. Sonny Chiba shows up in three scenes as a yakuza boss, and beats everyone else with his... Japanese language skills! In a typically ignorant move, the film is cast almost exclusively with Americans and people of random Asian descent, including the Japanese villain Drifting King who really struggles with his Japanese dialogue! And who the hell were those Japanese bit characters who help this white twat hero challenge a yakuza-backed gangster? "White boy fantasy" as Spike Lee would say. Also, Lucas Black makes Paul Walker and Vin Diesel look like character actors in comparison. And in 2019, you can't help but notice the film opens AND closes with a race where a woman in the main prize! All that being said, it's still watchable teen garbage, somehow. The mix of stupidity and action with ok tech credits is to thank. Also, keep your eyes open for future martial arts star Mitsuki Koga as yakuza henchman.

* Japanese title: Wild Speed X3: TOKYO DRIFT (ワイルド・スピードX3 TOKYO DRIFT)
* Director: Justin Timberla, no, I mean Justin Lin
* Chiba's role: Minor role
* Film availability: Easy

Two yankees in Tokyo
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Two yankees in...
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A Korean-American, an Australian and an American of Korean-Japanese descent in...
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"Monkey didn't have his banana today"
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Holy shit, a Japanese! Mitsuki Koga before Hard Revenge Milly and Bushido Man
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Chiba
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Resurrection of the Golden Wolf(Japan, 1979) [35mm] – 4/5
A toxic, overly contrived and positively astonishing anti-hero spectacle with badass Yusaku Matsuda an office worker at day and a villain climbing the underworld ladders at night. Haruhiko Oyabu’s source novel delivered 2½ films worth of gangster plotting and action crammed into 131 minutes, filmed by Toru Murakawa with his trademark one-shot action bravuras and mindboggling sexism. Matsuda is 6'0" of toxic masculinity, groping women, dealing drugs, blasting inferior men (“got kids? They’ll be happier without you!”) and going bananas over the sense of power after he has turned villainous corporate bosses into his slaves. And who could forget the strange ending. Sonny Chiba ventures into the film as nerdy, glass-wearing extortionist about an hour in and stays on board for 30 minutes – he’s one of the big names in the incredibly packed cast alongside Mikio Narita, Asao Koike, Koichi Iwaki, Toru Abe, Shin Kishida, Kenji Imai, Yutaka Nakajima, Kyosuke Machida and others. Frankly, a bit of an epic mess, but a tremendously entertaining one with style to spare. And the ultra-funky score is superb. Matsuda’s best action film.

* Original title: Yomigaeru kinro (蘇る金狼)
* Director: Toru Murakawa
* Chiba's role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Kadokawa BD (4K remaster) (Japan) (no subs), Kadokawa BD & DVD (digital remaster) (Japan) (no subs), Kadokawa DVD (old master) (Japan) (no subs), Adness DVD (USA) (old master)
 
The screencaps below are from the old Kadokawa Blu-Ray. There is a more recent 4K remastered BD also, but I never bothered getting it because the old disc looks fine. The Adness DVD is from an older master and looks notably inferior.

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Chiba
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Chiba
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Hokuriku Proxy War (Japan, 1977) [35mm] – 4/5
This would be one of Fukasaku’s best movies if it wasn’t for the inconsistent tone. The problem is Ko Nishimura and Hana Hajime overdoing their cowardly boss roles to a comedic effect, an example of Fukasaku’s trademark authority hate materializing as comic goofiness instead of nihilism.  It’s a shame as the film is otherwise terrific with chaotic violence as shocking as ever, another mother fucker score by Toshiaki Tsushima, and most importantly the snowy Hokuriku locations as a truly freezing backdrop for the action. Hiroki Matsukata is great as a psychotic, opportunistic yakuza (based on real life Kawauchi-gumi leader Hiroshi Kawauchi) and Sonny Chiba appears briefly as an Osaka yakuza boss (based on gangster Jiro Yanagawa). Chiba has two or three scenes, though his mullet is the most memorable part of his appearance. Tsunehiko Watase was also cast, but replaced by Goro Ibuki after he suffered a car accident on the snowy roads during filming. The film was Fukasaku’s swansong for the jitsuroku genre (Sadao Nakajima put of a few more in ’78 and ’79). The same year also saw the final Toei entries in the karate and pinky violence genres. The end of an era.

* Original title: Hokuriku dairi senso (北陸代理戦争)
* Director: Kinji Fukasaku
* Chiba's role: Minor supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (no subs)

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Chiba
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