Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

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HungFist
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 24 Apr 2018, 18:28

Sure Death Revenge (Japan, 1987) [DVD] - 2.5/5
A samurai detective (Makoto Fujita) known as the most unproductive man in the south magistrate precinct moonlights as a bounty hunter, unbeknownst to his verbally abusive colleagues and nagging wife and mother in law. This is uncharacteristically conventional mainstream entertainment by Kinji Fukasaku, based on a hugely popular television franchise that had already produced 29 consecutive TV shows and two film series. Based on this film alone, one could theorize the success was based on the mixture of strong focus on ordinary female characters, and a protagonist who is the archetype of Japanese businessman drudge yet a liberated fighter at night, appealing to both sexes. There was also a theme of (frequently odd) assassins, often given a humoristic treatment.

This film, the 4th in the 2nd film series, is hopelessly overlong with plentiful feminine drama, but occasionally exhilarating. The major saving grace is Sonny Chiba's heartfelt performance as a bounty hunter raising his two kids (including Sukeban Deka girl Haruko Sagara) to become his successors. Chiba was also responsible for the action choreography. While the fights are overly polished at times, they look so stylish played in excessive slow motion against a score that sounds like a mixture of Zorro and a spaghetti western that one does not really mind. Reportedly Fukasaku initially offered Chiba a chance to perform as Yagyu Jubei in this film, an idea Chiba turned down.

* Original title: Hissatsu 4: Urami harashimasu (必殺IV 恨みはらします)
* Director: Kinji Fukasaku
* Chiba's role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Shochiku DVD (Japan) (No subs), Artsmagic DVD (UK), Media Blasters DVD (US) (cropped / full screen)

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Makoto Fujita as Mondo Nakamura
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His wife and mother in law (aka "old battle axe")
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unaware of his second job as a bounty hunter
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Chiba
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with some fantastic action
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Haruko Sagara from Sukeban Deka II: Legend of the Girl in the Iron Mask (1985)
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And Keizo Kanie, also from Sukeban Deka II: Legend of the Girl in the Iron Mask
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That is Hiroyuki Sanada btw.
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 25 Apr 2018, 16:19

Shogun's Shadow (Japan, 1989) [DVD] - 4/5
A group of ronin and ninjas volunteer to escort the shogun's heir to Edo when the whole country's army forces have been mobilized to kill them. This is Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring meets The Dirty Dozen done in samurai style with the attitude of Commando (1985). One of the last grand Japan Action Club films before Sonny Chiba was forced to sell it off, it doesn't disappoint with an almost non-stop delivery of fighting and great stunts. Chiba was in charge of the choreography, with China's Jianqiang Hu (The Shaolin Temple, Martial Arts of Shaolin) brought in to assist and co-star as a monkey fighter. American stunt choreographer George Fisher (The Towering Inferno) was also called in to stage the fire stunts. Reportedly the insurance costs for the stunt team was 400 million yen - more than most Japanese films cost to make.

Ken Ogata plays the hero, Chiba is the villain and showcases some great sword fighting that makes the audience cheer for the wrong team. Other than lacking the grit and exploitation of Chiba's older films, and coming with an odd 15 minute drama climax (which nevertheless works) this is tremendous fun (complete with a wonderfully 80s soundtract with metal songs by The Alfee). The fact that the film was criticized upon its release for having too much action (as stated by Chiba in Chris D's interview) helps to understand the sad state Japanese action cinema is in these days.

* Original title: Shôgun Iemitsu no ranshin - Gekitotsu (将軍家光の乱心 激突)
* Director: Yasuo Furuhata
* Chiba's role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: US DVD

Hiroki Matsukata as a corrupt minister servin Tokugawa Iemitsu (the same nutcase who was trying to kill his bro in Shogun's Samurai)
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Ken Ogata
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Jianqiang Hu, who also assisted in action choreography
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Chiba
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Great stunt work
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The trailer kicks ass too
https://youtu.be/3CVUWarqLRM

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 27 Apr 2018, 04:39

Seventeen Ninja (Japan, 1990) [TV] - 2/5
An underwhelming but watchable remake of the 1963 ninja classic, produced by Toei and Fuji TV as a television film. A group of 17 loyal Iga ninjas (lead by Sonny Chiba) are tasked with invading a castle and stealing a scroll protected by Negoro ninjas (led by Isao Natsuyagi) who are plotting to take over the government. While it's nice to see Chiba in a starring role (which clearly resembles his role in the Shadow Warriors TV show), this is a far cry from what he could do at his best. Anemically directed with unstimulating visuals and elevator music, it even disappoints with most of the action. What was no doubt meant as an intense "ninjas against impossible odds" scenario, with Iga ninjas dropping dead like flies throughout the film, merely makes them look incompetent on screen. It is only the last 30 minutes that provide some real intensity and a cleaver final fight. Amusingly, the storyline and Chiba's casting as a ninja protecting the shogunate from Negoro ninjas is the exact opposite from 1989's Shogun's Shadow where he played a villain trying to kill the shogun protected by Negoro ninjas.

* Original title: Jushichinin no ninja (十七人の忍者)
* Director: Kiyoshi Miyakoshi
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: None / Review format: TV

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 27 Apr 2018, 06:26

Dragon Princess (Japan, 1976) [DVD] - 4/5
One of the best Etsuko Shihomi films, also with one of the finest openings with Sonny Chiba fighting bad guys in an abandoned small church beaten by spaghetti western winds. Before the fight is over Chiba's got a dagger in his eye. Cut to eye patched Chiba training his daughter, who grows up into Etsuko Shihomi during the OP credits, in snow in Los Angeles (!), to avenge her dad. A weaker film but crush under such a diamond opening, but this is Shihomi and co-star Yasuaki Kurata in top form.

The straight forward plot has a habit of abandoning every story thread it introduces (Chiba is killed off by the 20 minute mark, the story moves from USA to Japan at the same time, and a bad guy is organizing a martial arts tournament but every top contender, and himself, is killed off before the tournament!) but that matters not as the film moves like a bullet train, packs truckloads of first grade karate action into 81 min and completes the package with Shunsuke Kikichi's kick ass score. From gender political perspective it's one of the finest films of its era/genre with Shihomi kicking major ass and no woman getting raped or stripped down (except in the American theatrical version which inserts a scene from Tokyo Emmanuelle in the middle of the film!). If you were to ask "what are fine women made of", this film's answer would be "positive attitude and karate kicks".

* Original title: Hissatsu onna kenshi (必殺女拳士)
* Director: Yutaka Kohira
* Chiba's role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Japanese Cut: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subs); US Cut: BCI DVD (Eng Dub)

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The American version, which was distributed by Silverstein Films which also brought Karate Warriors to US cinemas, features the following notable differences:

1) At 79 minutes it's about 2 minutes shorter than the Japanese version. The major difference is that it's missing the New York opening crime with montage and Chiba being recommended as the new karate instructor for the police force. Instead the US cut goes straight to the opening fight.

2) Some of the opening crime montage later surfaces, inserted into a later scene when the assassins are assassinating the karate tournament contenders. Some of the assassination locations have changed as well ("Okinawa" is now "South America")

3) A brief party/sex scene from Nikkatsu's Roman Porno film Tokyo Emmanuelle (1975) has been inserted in the middle of the film. It comes during a night club scene where Kurata is drinking with Amatsu and suddenly the film cuts to a Nikkatsu actor dancing and shagging with Kumiko Taguchi!

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The score is the same as the Japanese version, and although the dubbed dialogue doesn't always match the storyline is essentially the same (unlike The Street Fighter's Last Revenge or The Bodyguard where the dub altered the original storyline)

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The small text says "Featuring the Incredible BLIND MASTER of the BLOODY BLADES!!!"

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 27 Apr 2018, 06:43

A few words about the technical quality of the two Dragon Princess DVDs.

The BCI, which presents the English dubbed American cut of the film, is quite poor unfortunately. It's from a beaten print with pale colors and other issues.

The Toei dvd, which features no subtitles sadly, has 10 times better colors / brightness and is generally much better except for being really soft. However, if you sharpen the image artifically via your PC/TV/Player settings, the image gets a fair bit more pleasing without major side effects (and I'm not saying this as a "Toei fan" but as what I feel is an honest opinion). The film is certainly in a need of a better transfer, but for the time being the Toei DVD with some sharpening is easily the best way to view the film. Not to mention it's the original Japanese cut of the film.

Below is a comparison. BCI top, Toei Bottom.

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Here is a second comparison: Toei (untouched) vs. Toei (with MPCHC's sharpening). The bottom one is how the disc looks on my screen.

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 29 Apr 2018, 15:40

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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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 30 Apr 2018, 06:23

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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