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Takuma

Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

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The Defensive Power of Aikido (Japan, 1975) [35mm] – 4/5
Sonny Chiba left the leading role to his brother Jiro in this excellent, though very loose martial arts biopic of Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba. For entertainment's sake, the film focuses on Ueshiba's somewhat reckless early years. Chiba himself shows up in a slightly villainous supporting role as a bodyguard for a no-good gang. He eventually cuts his ties with the gang, but only after accidentally injuring an innocent woman and feeling he must take responsibility about it.

This is one of the best Japanese martial arts films of the 70s, not only for excellent fights, but especially for Koji Takada's screenplay, which uses themes of honour, brotherhood and conflict similar to old school yakuza films. Jiro Chiba pales in comparison to his brother, but he makes a decent lead and there is genuine spark in the fights between them. Etsuko Shihomi and Masafumi Suzuki appear in the film as well. Add a cool soundtrack by The Street Fighter composer Toshiaki Tsushima and you've got a highly recommended film. Interestingly enough, it's also one of the least exploitative films in the genre, with no sex or nudity at all.

* Original Title: Gekitotsu! Aikido (激突!合気道)
* Director: Shigero Ozawa
* Chiba's role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subs). Review format: 35mm.

Masafumi Suzuki and Jiro Chiba
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Sonny Chiba
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Etsuko Shihomi
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Sonny vs. Jiro
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Two posters
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Rugby Yaro (Japan, 1976) [35mm] - 3/5
The success of Truck Yaro (1975-1979) initiated a whole load of movies that put "Yaro" in their title, including this semi-bonkers sports comedy/drama. Sonny Chiba's brother Jiro Chiba stars as a Rugby player whose team must find a way to beat the opponent. It's a standard storyline without any major surprises, but works surprisingly well. Training scenes are relatively nuts; much better than the actual matches actually, which tend to go on forever. There is no sex, nudity or graphic violence, making this a family friendly affair. Sonny Chiba appears for about 7 minutes during the last third as a truck driver who comes to Jiro's rescue. It's not a classic film, but a pretty decent time waster.

* Original Title: Rugby yaro (ラクビー野郎)
* Director: Akira Shimizu
* Chiba's role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: None. Review format: 35mm

Poster
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Stills

Jiro Chiba
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Jiro Chiba
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Jiro Chiba
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Sonny Chiba
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Sonny Chiba
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Machine Gun Dragon (Japan, 1976) [VoD] - 1.5/5
An underwhelming comedic yakuza film with Bunta Sugawara and his gangster mom robbing a bagful of mafia money. Of course they get in trouble when the mafia sends their finest hitmen, including Toei's black actor Willy Dosey, after them. There are two great things about the film: Sonny Chiba as a high kicking passport forger and Bunta Sugawara's theme song. Both last for about two minutes. Nothing else is great about the movie. The whole thing is utterly ridiculous but rarely in an amusing way. One of the weakest films Chiba appeared in in the 70s.

* Original Title: Yokohama ankokugai mashingan no ryu (横浜暗黒街 マシンガンの竜)
* Director: Akihisa Okamoto
* Chiba's role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Well... there is this piece of crap, but...

Stills, lobby cards, VHS, none featuring Chiba

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Jail Breakers (Japan, 1976) [35mm] – 3/5

Sonny Chiba is a master prison breaker in an entertaining, but slightly underwhelming action comedy loaded with impressive stunt work. The film was a return to the "modern stunt action" that had initially made Chiba famous in Key Hunter (1968-1973). The film has a tremendous opening scene in which Chiba escapes a prison by grabbing to ladders from a helicopter, changes his clothes in the air, jumps down to a moving truck and then jumps to another moving vehicle to make the escape. Jackie Chan would do something similar a few decades later in Police Story 3.

The rest of the film is a bit less inspired mix of action, comedy, and criminals taking turns at cheating each other. Writing is sometimes downright lazy, e.g. the scene where a carefully planned escape operation fails and Chiba simply steals a fire engine and drives away (during prison riot) without anyone noticing! Director Kosaku Yamashita was a master of old school ninkyo yakuza films, but he never seemed quite as comfortable with modern day movies. All that being said, it's still a fun film, and also essentially a family friendly affair with no sex, and only minimal (though slightly bloody) violence.

* Original Title: Dasso yugi (脱走遊戯)
* Director: Kosaku Yamashita
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subs) (review format: 35mm / screencaps: TV)

Opening escape. Over 3 minutes of it was shot in a single take just to show you it's really Chiba doing it all
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Karate Warriors (Japan, 1976) [35mm] - 3.5/5
Kazuhiko Yamaguchi was widely considered one of Toei's least talented directors, yet he made some of the most enjoyable action films of the 70s. He compensated his lack of originality and message with an abundance of solid, occasionally exhilarating and technically well-enough made mayhem. Karate Warriors (Kozure Satsujin Ken) is literally a mix of Lone Wolf and Cub (Kozure Okami) and The Street Fighter (Satsujin Ken) as well as Yojimbo. Sonny Chiba is a wandering karate warrior who arrives a town ruled by two competing gangs. He tries to profit from the situation, while Isao Natsuyagi's samurai bodyguard with a cub is complicating things. Passable story and plenty of great action. The film is best remembered for the fantastic slow motion effect where a scene is otherwise played in slow motion but the action reverts back to normal speed for a fraction of a second just when Chiba's hit or kick is about to reach its target.

The US version of the film differs from the original Japanese print. The chronology has been changed, meaning scenes play in different order, the soundtrack differs and of course everyone has been dubbed in English. There may be other changes as well. Only the US version is available on DVD, but Toei has screened the Japanese cut in HD on Toei Channel.

* Original Title: Kozure satsujin ken (子連れ殺人拳)
* Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: BCI DVD (USA) (dubbed)

Screencaps from the US DVD

Spaghetti western style OP for the US version. JP version plays this scene later
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Natsuyagi and his cub
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Bad guys Eiji Go and Hideo Murota
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Still image cannot do justice to the awesomeness of the slow mo used in this shot
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When empty hand is not enough
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Karate + sword!
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Edited by Takuma

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Okinawa Yakuza War (Japan, 1976) [35mm] – 4/5
This excellent jitsuroku yakuza film is based on the 4th Okinawa conflict which saw the local yakuza battle the mainland gangs after Okinawa was handed back to Japan in 1972. The conflict was still going on at the time the film was released, and fearing the film might add fuel to the fire, the Okinawan government banned it immediately. Sonny Chiba plays the most frightening character of his career as a psychotic mad dog yakuza with karate skills. The character is basically a combination of two earlier Chiba characters: Otomo from Hiroshima Death Match, and Tsurugi from The Street Fighter. The film's real lead is Hiroki Matsukata, but Chiba steals every scene he’s in with his incredible over-the-top performance. The film does lose a bit of its energy when Chiba is not on screen, but it's still a very solid and extremely violent genre film, just a notch behind Kinji Fukasaku's films.

When the film played at the Sonny Chiba film festival in Tokyo in 2014, the print was in such poor shape that it could literally have fallen apart any moment. Bucket loads of frames were missing, including a long segment showing a central character's death. Film preservers had, however, heroically managed to restore a 2 second bit of female star Maya Hiromi's breasts to the middle of the missing segment.

* Original Title: Okinawa yakuza senso (沖縄やくざ戦争)
* Director: Sadao Nakajima
* Chiba's role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (JP) (No subs)

Matsukata
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Chiba
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Chiba
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Chiba (w Mikio Narita)
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Chiba with an axe
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Karate for Life (Japan, 1977) [35mm] – 3/5
The final film in the Masutatsu Oyama trilogy was also Chiba’s last karate film in which he played starring role. It was the end of an era; the 70s karate film boom had ran its course (new kind of action films with Chiba protégé Hiroyuki Sanada would emerge in the 80s, however). Having battled bears and bulls in the earlier instalments, Chiba now encounters the most frightening beast of them all: an American pro-wrester. It's not one of Chiba’s better films, but it's still quite entertaining if you can accept some clichéd drama featuring orphan children and rather silly fights against wrestlers. The film's best scenes are the cool opening, in which Chiba beats 101 karate fighters, and fantastic closing duel against nemesis Masashi Ishibashi. Okinawa locations are also somewhat well used, and Hideo Murota turns in a good supporting performance as a fight promoter.

* Original Title: Karate baka ichidai (空手バカ一代)
* Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: Adness DVD (USA)

Ishibashi
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Karate demon Chiba
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Chiba vs. Ishibashi. One of Chiba's most intense on screen fights
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Doberman Cop (Japan, 1977) [DVD] - 3/5
Kinji Fukasaku's last crime film for the 70s. This is much different from his nihilist jitsuroku output; a loose adaptation of Fist of the North star author Bronson's manga. Sonny Chiba is a country bumpkin detective from Okinawa, sent to Tokyo to catch serial killer. The case turns out to be connected with music industry. Chiba enters Tokyo carrying a pig in his bag, begins his investigations by visiting a strip club where he basically gets raped by a dancer, and soon befriends a pot smoking motorcycle gang. He's also a trigger happy, karate trained badass who doesn't hesitate to take out bad guys in the film's effective action sequences. It all plays out like a live action comic book, which may take a while to get used to. Beneath the flamboyant surface, there is Fukasaku's usual gritty world view to be found, however. The storyline, which links the show biz and underworld, is more interesting than average.

The film was followed by a TV series called Bakuso! Doberman Deka in 1980. The series did not feature Chiba, but co-starred Etsuko Shihomi. In the series the main character was a motorcycle cop.

* Original Title: Doberman deka (ドーベルマン刑事)
* Director: Kinji Fukasaku
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (JP) (no subs) + this piece of crap, but...

Caps from the Toei DVD

Chiba and a pig
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Chiba with some new friends
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Flashback to Chiba's stunt action era
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And a bit of karate
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Yakuza War: The Japanese Godfather (Japan, 1977) [DVD] - 2.5/5

By 1977 the jitsuroku yakuza film genre was nearly dead. Kinji Fukasaku released his final yakuza films that year, while his colleague Sadao Nakajima still went on for a few more years, but the films weren't getting any better. Ultra violence and documentary style gangster films just weren't the big thing anymore, and the producers were telling filmmakers to try and appeal to female audiences. Violence was cut down, more drama was written into the storylines and running times were extended to make the films bigger. Novels were often used as source material. It was the beginning of the end.

The Japanese Godfather is a sort of transitional film. It runs way too long at 132 minutes, but at the same time it still retains some of the ruthless violence and graphic sex that characterized the mid-70s yakuza films, including director Nakajima's own Okinawa Yakuza War (1976). Highlights include manly man Bunta Sugawara pulling bullets out of his vest with his bare hands, and short tempered bodyguard Sonny Chiba yelling at a man and pulling him from the clothes AFTER unloading six bullets into his chest times.

Toei gathered basically every big name actor they could get for this film, and called it “30 years of Toei men” on the poster. Of course, there had been similar star gatherings before, but this time it felt more like an attempt to lure the audiences to the theatre one last time. The cast includes Sugawara, Chiba, Koji Tsuruta, Tsunehiko Watase, Mikio Narita, Hiroki Matsukata, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Umemiya, and many others. The sequel would add Toshiro Mifune to the cast. There was, of course, a certain charm to having all these guys in the same movie.
 
* Original title: Yakuza senso: Nihon no don (やくざ戦争 日本の首領)
* Director: Sadao Nakajima
* Chiba's role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Sonny China being a gentleman
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Bunta Sugawara removing bullets from his west
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Alan Delon, sorry, I mean Sonny Chiba, doing bodyguarding for Koji Tsuruta
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Yakuza mobile
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Car on fire
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Gangster meeting
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Yakuza rests on the floor
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Sonny Chiba grabbing a man by the chest AFTER shooting him six times!
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Honor of Japan (Japan, 1977) [DVD] - 2/5
This was a sort of companion piece to the Godfather of Japan trilogy (1977-1978), which director Sadao Nakajima put out around the same time, to the extent that it shared some of the same advertising taglines. All of the films were talkative, story-heavy films about organized criminality, featuring a dozen central characters in each film and mostly lacking the hectic energy of the mid-70s yakuza films. They are, despite their ambition, a sad example of where the genre was heading: towards pretentious "serious crime cinema" that emphasized pseudo-epic storylines over mayhem despite not having especially interesting storylines in the first place. Honor of Japan works best during its few violent shoot outs, and when it pits yakuza stars Bunta Sugawara and Sonny Chiba against each other, but like the Godfather of Japan films it suffers from a slow-moving and not all that engaging storyline.

* Original title: Nihon no jingi (日本の仁義)
* Director: Sadao Nakajima
* Chiba's role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Chiba
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Yakuza meetings
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More yakuza meetings
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Even more yakuza meetings
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Koji Tsuruta
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Chiba
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Chiba and Sugawara
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Message From Space (Japan, 1978) [VoD] - 2.5/5
The Japanese were quick to take note of Star Wars' success, releasing a handful of copycats to Japanese screens before the film had even opened in Japan. Message From Space was the biggest budgeted (approx. $5 million) of them. Hiroyuki Sanada, Etsuko Shihomi, and Vic Morrow star; Sonny Chiba has a small and forgettable supporting role. In fact, more interesting than the cast is the fact that the film was based on an old samurai novel. Unfortunately the sci-fi adaptation turned out quite a mess with hardly any interesting characters. Special effects are sometimes good, sometimes not. Tokusatsu fans may still like it, and indeed the film has its fans, but for non-genre fans there are better movies to see. Fukasaku did much better with his second try, Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983), which was a tremendously entertaining pop ballad period fantasy version of the same story.

* Original title: Uchu kara no messeji (宇宙からのメッセージ)
* Director: Kinji Fukasaku
* Chiba's role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (in Japanese, no subtitles), Shout! Factory DVD (US) (English dub), Discotek / Eastern Star DVD (US) (sub and dub) (the legal status of this release is questionable)

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Okinawa 10 Year War (Japan, 1978) [35mm]  – 3.5/5
Sonny Chiba is at his most charismatic in this yakuza film based on the same conflict as Okinawa Yakuza War (1976). This one, however, covers a 10 year period. It was produced after the primary jitsuroku era and one can see the effect: the violence has been toned down a little bit, drama is emphasized with larger (not better) female roles, and there is a comedian included in the cast in a serious role. None of these changes were for the better. Chiba, however, is terrific as a gangster who has a wife and child to take care of. His acting is solid and charisma, partly thanks to the bearded look, is through the roof. Hiroki Matsukata co-stars. Opening credits and advertising materials bill him as the lead, but I would say Chiba is the actual main character with more screen time. The action packed ending is also very satisfying.

* Original title: Okinawa 10 nen senso (沖縄10年戦争)
* Director: Akinori Matsuo
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Chiba and Matsukata
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Bought something...
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This thing is huge! It's sadly folded (I'm sure there is a special place in hell for people who fold movie poster) and very much looks 41 years old (as it is), but I'm happy to have it.

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G.I. Samurai (Japan, 1979) [35mm] - 3.5/5

Sonny Chiba revived his modern action formula from the late 60s / early 70s in this major action film produced by Haruki Kadokawa. It was a new era, however. Gone were the days of Toei's modestly budgeted production line films, replaced by Kadokawa's highly commercial production strategy which involved major monetary investments and simultaneous multi format merchandise releases (film, pamphlet, theme songs, novel etc.). The film was budgeted at over one billion yen, which was almost as much as Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha (1980) and twice as much as Samurai Reincarnation (1981).
 
The clever action fantasy mixes science fiction with historical characters. Chiba stars as self defence forces commander whose platoon somehow gets thrown back in time to the 17th century. Luckily for them, all their weapons, equipment, and vehicles (including a helicopter and tank) get transported with them. They find themselves in the middle of a clan war between Nagao Kagetora (Isao Natsuyagi) and Shingen Takeda.

The generous budget has allowed Chiba to design a truckload of great stunt and action sequences. The final encounter between modern soldiers and the samurai is pure war where a tank and a helicopter are destroyed and dead enemies are counted in hundreds. There are some great stunts like Chiba hanging from a helicopter at the speed of 100 kilometres per hour, and Hiroyuki Sanada later climbing into and jumping from the same helicopter. Some of the stunts were filmed using camera attached to a helmet worn by Chiba.

Being a late 70s big budget film, the movie tones down the exploitation imagery somewhat compared to mid 70s. However, there is still a fair amount of violence, sexuality/nudity, unintentionally silly male bonding, and surprisingly dark themes regarding masculine desire for power and domination. Many of these darker shades were actually removed from the film's butchered US theatrical release, which was cut by almost an hour. The original 139 min version is much preferable and doesn't really lag despite the running time, except in the closing scene where the filmmakers needed to get closing theme 'Endless Way' played in its entirety. In terms of execution the film may not have the punch of Chiba's best films, but as an action and stunt showcase it's an entertaining ride.

* Original title: Sengoku jieitai (戦国自衛隊)
* Director: Kosei Sato
* Chiba's role: Starring Role
* Film availability: Kadokawa SE DVD & BD (JP) (new master) (no subs), Kadokawa Standard DVD (JP) (old master)  (no subs), BCI/Ronin Entertainment DVD (US) (new master), Adness DVD (US) (old master), Optimum DVD (UK) (new master) (cut for horse falls)  

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Hiroyuki Sanada
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Hiroko Yakushimaru
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G.I. Samurai DVD comparison

Top: R2J Kadokawa (2000)
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (progressive)
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0
No Subtitles
7,2 GB

Extras
-Original trailer (3:32)
-Cast & Crew listing

Middle: R2J Kadokawa 2 Disc SE (2005)
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (progressive)
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
No Subtitles
7,8 GB

Extras
- Shinichi Chiba interview (20 min)
- Isao Natsuyagi interview (24 min)
- Hiromitsu Suzuki & Monsieur Kamayatsu interview (21 min)
- Jun Eto & Isao Kuraishi interview (22 min)
- Tank featurette (4 min)
- Original Trailer (3:28) and TV Spot (0:18)
- English language trailer (3:26)
- Title screen scene (1:08) and ending credits (1:07) scene from the US version
- Biographies (or rather cast identification)
- Sengoku Jieitai remake featurette (4 min)
- Sengoku Jieitai remake trailer (1:32)
+ Special ending credits version of the film

Bottom: R1 US BCI / Ronin Entertainment 2 Disc SE
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (interlaced)
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Optional English Subtitles
7,3 GB

Extras
- Shinichi Chiba interview (20 min)
- Isao Natsuyagi interview (24 min)
- Hiromitsu Suzuki & Monsieur Kamayatsu interview (21 min)
- Jun Eto & Isao Kuraishi interview (22 min)
- Tank featurette (4 min)
- Original Trailer (3:25), TV Spot (0:16) and Teaser (0:38)
- Bonus trailers for Ninja Wars (1:50) (dub) and Legend of the 8 Samurai (2:10) (dub)

Top: R2J Kadokawa (2000)
Middle: R2J Kadokawa 2 Disc SE (2005)
Bottom: R1 US BCI / Ronin Entertainment 2 Disc SE

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The R2J SE is the best DVD edition. More about it later. The R1 SE is a good option if you need English subtitles. It’s interlaced, comes with some additional artifacts, and misses a couple of extras, but it's still a good package. The film looks and sounds good, and you get all the most important extras. Also note that the R1 SE includes a cool Teaser Trailer that is not found on any of the R2J editions. A small complaint would be the overly long chapters in the film; most of which run approx 20 minutes. The same applies to the interviews. The disc would have been easier to use with more chapter stops.

A third dvd with the new master is the R2 UK Optimum. It's NTSC to PAL, features notably more compression artifacts, it's cut by BBFC, and only comes with basic extras (trailer etc). I had it once, but couldn't take screencaps because the damn thing wouldn't play on my computer.

I don't own the Kadokawa BD, so I can't comment on the quality.

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Now, a few more words about the G.I. Samurai R2J SE.

Great transfer (although a couple of scenes seems a bit too colourful), great audio options (original track and two remixes), and terrific extras. Disc 1 features a TV spot, original trailer (remastered & original aspect ratio, as opposed to the old R2J trailer which is the same but but worn out and constantly switching between full screen and widescreen aspect ratio) and cast identification. Disc 1 also features a special edition (with only 2.0 sound available) of the film. The only difference seems to be added ending credits, which play stills images next to the credits. You get to see Sonny Chiba directing Hiroko Yakushimaru, Hiroyuki Sanada performing the helicopter stunt etc. It's a shame that these images aren't available in better quality.

The interviews on disc 2 are great. The cast members share a lot of memories about making the film. Chiba demonstrates his katana skills, Kamayatsu reveals he never read the script, and Natsuagi explains how didn't realize he might fall until he was 200 metres above the ground hanging from a helicopter with no wires attached. There's a small feature about the tank that was made especially for this film, footage from the edited US version, trailer for the US version (it's ironic the US trailer is exclusive to the Japanese SE dvd, and the Japanese teaser is exclusive to the US SE) and trailer & featurette for the remake. The only thing really missing is a commentary track.

Here's some screencaptures from the R2J extras

Shinichi Chiba interview
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That’s a camera helmet, in case you were wondering.
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Isao Natsuagi interview
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Hiromitsu Suzuki (left) & Monsieur Kamayatsu (right) interview
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Isao Kuraishi (left) & Jun Eto (right) interview
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The tank still exists. It was sold to a private ”car collector”.
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Special ending credits on disc 1: Chiba directing Hiroko Yakushimaru
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Dead Angle (Japan, 1979) [DVD] - 3/5
154 minute, novel based crime drama about a sociopath businessman (Isao Natsuyagi) and his associates who cheat small businesses out of their money with shady contracts in the early 50s. It's a pretty well acted and somewhat original film that nevertheless suffers from the late 70s / early 80s "mammoth disease" that came to plague Japanese cinema. Running time has been extended beyond the necessary point, and the emphasis has been shifted from action to character drama. Thankfully, here it works pretty well. Sonny Chiba has a small but decent supporting role as a small time mobster who becomes partners with the main character, doing some of his dirty work.

* Original title: Hakuchu no shikaku (白昼の死角)
* Director: Toru Murakawa
* Chiba's role: Small Supporting Role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (JP) (no subs)

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Chiba
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Shogun's Ninja (Japan, 1980) [35mm] - 3.5/5
A relatively bizarre ninja film mixes period drama, idol appeal, and fantastic action, all set to a truly horrible porno jazz soundtrack. Hiroyuki Sanada is a young avenger returning from exile from China (a perfect excuse for Hong Kong style action choreography, often enhanced with the same awesome slow motion technique introduced in Karate Warriors). Evil Sonny Chiba and his two loyal ninja servants are after his life. The film is insanely uneven, with some beautifully atmospheric scenes followed by utterly ridiculous spider ninjas in very modern looking costumes. Tetsuro Tamba has the film's best supporting role as white beard ninja master, but villain Sonny Chiba also gets his share of great scenes. The opening assassination alone makes the film worth seeing. Etsuko Shihomi appears as well. Suzuki, Sanada, Shihomi and Chiba, however, did much better in the following year's action comedy classic Roaring Fire.

I keep changing my rating for the film every time I see it. It's got such evident strengths, and such evident weaknesses, that whichever dominates my memory, the other is bound to impress/disappoint me the next time I see it. But it is a fun film, no matter how you see it.

* Original title: Ninja bugeicho momochi sandayu (忍者武芸帖 百地三太夫)
* Director: Norifumi Suzuki
* Chiba's role: Small Supporting Role
* Film availability: Adness (DVD)  (USA)

Superb opening with two ninja assistants on Chiba's shoulders. The opponent is Masashi Ishibashi, btw.
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Sanada
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Tetsuro Tamba
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Sanada's love interest Yuki Ninagawa. If you want to see her without clothes, you need to watch Kichitaro Negishi's (superb) Crazed Fruit (1981)
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Chiba
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Here's a brief dvd comparison for Shogun's Ninja

Top: R1 Ronin / Adness
Bottom: R2J Toei

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The R1 isn't perfect, but I do prefer it in terms of video. I don't have the disc here right now. I remember at least some of the R1 releases had a pretty rough audio (such as the Oyama films, I think) but I don't remember how this was. Toei's audio is fine, as usual, so that could possibly turn the tables.

BCI also put this out on double feature BD with The Killing Machine. A German BD also exists.

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I forgot to mention about the Shogun's Ninja teaser trailer, which is pretty cool. It consists mainly of behind the scenes footage and training prior to the filming. It's on the Toei dvd; not on the R1 dvd unfortunately.

"Hiroyuki Sanada"
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Japan Action Club stuntman tasting Sanada's foot
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"Super Action"
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"Action Director: Sonny Chiba"
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"Directed by Norifumi Suzuki"
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Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 (Japan, 1980) [16mm] - 2/5

This generously budgeted TV film and effects extravaganza remains one of the rarest films in Sonny Chiba's filmography. The film premiered on Nippon TV in 1980, and completely disappeared until it was screened in a special event in Tokyo in 2013. That screening was reportedly so popular that only a fraction of the customers were able to obtain a ticket. in 2014 Cinema Vera screened the film at the Chiba festival, with plenty of screenings from a relatively worn out 16 mm print.

As suggested by the title (Tokyo Great Earthquake Magnitude 8.1), it’s a disaster movie based on the premise of a giant earthquake hitting in Tokyo. This fear stemmed from real life: Tokyo had been destroyed by earthquakes several times, most recently in 1923 when more than 140 000 people died and over 400 000 buildings were destroyed. Disaster movies were not an especially common genre in Japanese cinema, however, kaiju films were. It wasn't such a big step from giant monsters stamping Tokyo to a natural disasters creating similar cinematic destruction.

Indeed, a couple of shots in Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 seem so familiar that they just might be old Godzilla sets put into new use. That wouldn’t be surprising since many of the filmmakers, including producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and special effects director Koichi Kawakita, and co-production company Toho, had their background in Godzilla films. The obviously fake looking but enjoyable miniature work is actually the best thing about the film. There are a couple of especially memorable scenes, like an aircraft flying over Tokyo that has turned into a giant inferno, and the dawn in the destroyed metropolis.

As character drama Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 falls flat. All the usual clichés from helpless grandmother to dumb children and pets escaping on the wrong moment are included, not to mention characters discussing how terrible it would be if an earthquake hit Tokyo - just a few hours before it really happens. That is quite disappointing considering the film was directed by Kiyoshi Nishimura, who had helmed interesting thrillers and existential action films like The Creature Called Man (1970) and Hairpin Circus (1972) in the 1970s.

Sonny Chiba plays the starring role; however, he doesn’t have much else to do than run back and forth in the middle of special effects, and worry about supporting characters constantly getting in trouble. It’s not even an especially physical role since most of the effects are make-believe (e.g. miniatures and visual effects). His most memorable scene involves blowing up a door while taking cover inside a safe. Yutaka Nakajima, who appeared in some earlier Chiba films like The Executioner (1974), plays the female lead, but her role is very forgettable as well. There are a few other supporting actors as well, but amusingly a great lack of extras. It seems the entire budget was spent on special effects since there are only a handful of people in Tokyo and they miraculously run into each other throughout the film.

Because of its rarity Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 will remain to be a sought after movie. It’s a decent special effects show that probably deserves to be seen by genre fans, especially for its nostalgia value, but it’s hardly a great movie. For fans of Chiba it’s passable viewing, but not among his more memorable roles.

As a side note; the film’s budget was 150 million yen, which was five times higher than the episode budget for the famous cop-action series Seibu Keisatsu (which is still fondly remembered for its insane action scenes full of car wrecking and explosions) that was screening on TV around the same time. By the 1980s many of the former actions stars, like Yujiro Ishihara, Tetsuya Watari, and Chiba himself were mostly working on TV. Chiba had already starred in various different shows since the 1960s, like Key Hunter (1967-1973) and The Bodyguard (1974). In the 1980s he begun to work primarily for television. It was a great era of epic small screen action entertainment that often rivalled, and sometimes surpassed, the theatrical films. Nothing like that exists on Japanese TV anymore.

* Original title: Tokyo Daijishin Magnitude 8.1 (東京大地震マグニチュード8.1)
* Director: Kiyoshi Nishimura
* Chiba's role: Starring Role
* Film availability: None (review format: 16mm)

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The Bushido Blade (USA, 1981) - 1.5/5
This historical epic about Commodore Perry's men attempting to retrieve a stolen sword in Japan is one of the worst films Sonny Chiba ever appeared in. The film basically portrays most of the Japanese characters as sneaky backwards barbarians whose concept of honour is a laughing matter. Oddly enough, the film was actually helmed by Toho veteran Tsugunobu Kotani rather than an American filmmaker. Talk about orientalism. In all fairness it must be said the American characters also mostly come out as ignorant morons, but it is impossible to say whether this was intentional or not.

If there is something positive about the film, it's the big name cast featuring Toshiro Mifune, Bin Amatsu, Tetsuro Tamba, and Sonny Chiba. None of them make much of an impression, but at least Chiba is given a couple of passable action moments. Some might also be interested to hear Laura Gemser is in the film. Richard Boone makes his final film appearance in the film, and he looks like he hated every second of it. The film does get a little more to tolerable as it advances, mainly due to a romance between a young navy officer and a Japanese woman, but that's not saying much. It is really no wonder the film never hit the Japanese theatres, and even avoided video release until 1990.

* Original title: The Bushido Blade
* Director: Tsugunobu Kotani
* Chiba's role: Small Supporting Role
* Film availability: Wellspring DVD (US) (90 min TV version, fullscreen)
* Note: reviewed version: 90 min edit.

This poster is so much better than the film
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Toei will release the Sonny Chiba TV show The Bodyguard (1974) on DVD May 10, 2017.

6 Disc set, with all 26 episodes.

I've been recording this show from Toei Channel (currently broadcasting) but haven' t watched it yet other than having taken a brief look. Looks cool. Etsuko Shihomi and Jiro Chiba co-star. Reiko Ike and Masashi Ishibashi are in at least one episode.

A couple of brief TV screencaps
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Chiba
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Jiro Chiba
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Etsuko Shihomi
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Reiko Ike
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Also, I bought a new poster: A Narcotics Agent's Ballad (1972)
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One of my favourite Chiba movies.

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On 12/12/2016 at 10:35 AM, Takuma said:

Yakuza Wolf: I Perform Murder (Japan, 1972) [TV] - 3.5/5
Sonny Chiba is a silent, unshaven avenger in Ryuichi Takamori's violent yakuza western. Chiba plays a man who is after the yakuza who killed his father and sold his sister to prostitution. He's now taking out bad guys one at a time and agitating gangs against each other while making his way towards the syndicate boss (Koji Nanbara).

@Takuma does this film or its sequel contain any karate fighting, or are they mainly gunplay films? Looks like there's a bit of katana swinging...

 

On 12/12/2016 at 10:36 AM, Takuma said:

A Narcotics Agent's Ballad (Japan, 1972) [TV] - 4/5

This terrific, atmospheric neo noir is one of Chiba's finest films. The gritty crime movie kicks off from a gangster run sex club where one of the customers is murdered. It turns out the victim is a policeman. Older detective Yamamoto (Asao Sano) and his partner Tamura (Hiroshi Miyauchi) begin investigating, only to find out Yamamoto's own daughter is involved in a prostitution ring. Yamamoto kills himself and his daughter, leaving Tamura alone with the case.

Tamura later crosses paths with Kikuchi (Chiba), a narcotics detective so deep undercover that it's no longer clear on which side of the law he is operating. Kikuchi's wife awaits at home while he's working his way deeper into the underworld by hanging out with pimps and drug dealers, and having one night stands heroin addicts. His real identity kept secret even from the police.

Director Shin Takakuwa does excellent job helming the film. He goes for character driven crime drama supported by a terrific screenplay. There's a lot of attention given not only to the main characters, but also their loved ones, and how their work affects everyone around them. Pitting Chiba and Miyauchi against each other works especially well. The bets keep getting bigger as the film goes on until the tension reaches a hair-rising level towards the end. Action scenes are few, but very well executed. An atmospheric score by Toshiaki Tsushima (Battles without Honor and Humanity; The Street Fighter) completes the package.

The film was based in an idea by senior businessman Tsusai Sugawara, who had been campaigning against drugs, prostitution and sex diseases in Japan. Sugawara himself plays Chiba's superior in the film. Fear not the filmmakers going soft due to his involvement: A Narcotic's Agent's Ballad is gritty and borderline sleazy 70s crime cinema with no happy ending, very much comparable to Kinji Fukasaku's films in content and quality.

* Original title: Mayaku baishun G-Men (麻薬売春Gメン)
* English aka: Narcotics/Prostitution G-Men.
* Director: Shin Takakuwa
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: None (review format: TV)

This sounds terrific! I wish it were available in an English-friendly release (or any release!).

 

On 12/12/2016 at 10:38 AM, Takuma said:

Bodyguard Kiba (Japan, 1973) [35mm] – 2.5/5

Sonny Chiba is as a Japanese karate fighter taking on the mafia in this mediocre grindhouse action film, which is notable for foreshadowing the karate film boom that would begin a year later. The sequel, Bodyguard Kiba 2 would be even more important in this respect.

The first Bodyguard Kiba film exists in two different versions. The American version is called "The Bodyguard" and it was released in 1976. This version not only removes some scenes, but also adds new ones. The additions include the famous Ezekiel speech that Quentin Tarantino quoted in Pulp Fiction, a modified opening credits sequence accompanied by Viva! Chiba! chanting, and a scene featuring US martial artists Aaron Banks and Bill Louie discussing who’s a tougher guy: Sonny Chiba or Bruce Lee? Yes, Chiba plays himself in this version, and he appears to be busier fighting crime than making movies!

When I first saw THE BODYGUARD via the US VHS I was completely stunned when it appeared Chiba was playing himself in the film. "Huh?!" The poorly framed action was often impossible to follow in the severely cropped print, and the plot was all over the place. Still, it had an undeniable charm, I loved the opening "biblical" narration and now famous chant. But the oddest part for me was the scene with Aaron Banks and Bill Louie. It was so tacked on, yet amazing in it's out-of-nowhere oddness. The dialogue and Louie's delivery/mannerisms in this sequence always makes me crack up laughing. :xd: After years of watching it this way, I was very happy to see it in its original version, and in widescreen. The action scenes made more sense, but were still filmed sloppily, and the story was not improved much either. Nevertheless, it holds a special place in my heart as one of the first Chiba films I found after the STREET FIGHTER movies. And yes, I still own that original VHS of it too! :nerd:

 

On 12/12/2016 at 10:39 AM, Takuma said:

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.

Well, that's one way to catch a knife
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I love this bit that you pictured above with the knife. Take note wannabe bodyguards: this is NOT a good way to stop a knife and I advise against trying it. :tongue:

Thanks for the fascinating background info on this (and many other films in your thread), I learned a lot I hadn't known.

Flawed though THE BODYGUARD 2 may be, I enjoyed it more than the first one, despite its lack of subtitles. It contains one of my favorite Chiba film moments, when he makes Big Joe serve him a beer. :wink:

 

On 12/12/2016 at 10:40 AM, Takuma said:

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

Outstanding review/background write up. @Takuma I implore you to post your longer Finnish review here. :nerd: I would absolutely love the opportunity to read it (and I'm sure many others would too. :bigsmile:

I've been enjoying reading this thread so much while I'm laid up. Thanks very much for creating it, and for re-posting everything that was lost when the server crashed.

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