Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 19 Jan 2016, 07:41

Code of Ruffians (Japan, 1965) [VoD] – 2/5
Strictly by-the-numbers yakuza drama about a yakuza clan gone straight, now working on a construction project in the mountains, and of course bullied by an evil gang. Koji Tsuruta stars; Sonny Chiba has a smallish and unremarkable role as a young, rich construction project boss, who learns something about the realities of life outside urban centres. Takashi Shimura and Junko Fuji appear in supporting roles. There were quite a few of these kind of movies back in the mid 60s, including some others featuring Chiba (e.g. Dragon's Life, 1964; and North Sea Chivalry, 1967). They made an interesting point of how much of the modern Japan was supposedly built by yakuza clans. They usually emphasized how the former clans had given up on criminal life, and consequently contained only limited amounts of hard boiled "gangster cinema". In this one, too, one has to wait until the final 15 minutes before Tsuruta goes into the yakuza mode. Unfortunately the film isn't all that involving. Director Yusuke Watanabe would make his biggest hit two decades later with the beloved action/drama/comedy Keiji Monogatari (1982).

This film probably has another English title as well, which I'd love to share with everyone if God was kind enough to tell me which page in Chris D's yakuza film book I should be looking at. If anyone has found it, please let me know.

* Original title: Buraikan jingi (無頼漢仁義)
* Director: Yusuke Watanabe
* Chiba's role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Tsuruta
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Chiba
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Shimizu
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Junko Fuji
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Tsuruta finally in yakuza mode
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 20 Jan 2016, 16:16

Sing to Those Clouds (Japan, 1965) [DVD] - 3/5
The success of Here Because of You (1964) produced a whole bunch of loosely related follow-ups, all musically oriented youth films starring the lovely Chiyoko Honma. She's a singing high school girl again, in the middle of a truly complicated love/hate/friendship mess where her former best friend's rebellious brother (Jiro Okazaki) has a crush on her, while she has a crush on her teacher, while the ex-friend is trying to sabotage her happiness, and then there's a few other guys with a crush on her as well. The film's first half is a bit too loose with somewhat random scenarios, but it works pretty well when it follows the young rebel Okazaki. Oddly enough, the real co-star, pop singer Teruhiko Saigo, gets the shorter straw just like Kazuo Funaki did in Here Because of You.

Sonny Chiba is a teacher again, although he's a literature teacher this time. That doesn't stop him from catching underage smokers and making them jump the rope as punishment until they drop from exhaustion, though. The role is smaller than last time, but nevertheless very enjoyable. The film is not quite on par with the better written and catchier Here Because of You, but director Koji Ota helms the film with just enough style and inserts many musical scenes, including a out-of-nowhere appearance by pop idol group Johnny's. Once again, the film is charmingly old fashioned and very 60s. Filmed in the beautiful seaside landscapes of Bōsō Peninsula.

* Original title: Ano kumo ni utaou (あの雲に歌おう)
* Director: Koji Ota
* Chiba's role: Small supporting role (but not that small)
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Chiyoko Honma and Teruhiko Saigo
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Young rebel Jiro Okazaki
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Chiba sensei
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Don't screw with Chiba
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Or he'll make you jump the rope
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Johnny's (there's more in the tree)
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Okazaki threw the other guy in the water
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Seaside drama
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Teruhiko Saigo singing on his way home
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 21 Jan 2016, 03:37

Speaking of musically oriented youth films, Chiba played the starring role in Dash to the Sun (1966). Unfortunately I've never been able to see this film.
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And completely unrelated, here are the original posters for two Chiba film I have reviewed before and quite like: Yakuza's Song (1963) and Kaigun (1963).

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Finally, here's the original poster and two stills for Dragon's Life (1964), which I also reviewed a few posts back.

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 21 Jan 2016, 09:35

Abashiri Prison 4: Northern Seacoast Story (Japan, 1965) [35mm] – 2.5/5
The 4th film in the long running Abashiri Prison series that cemented Ken Takakura's status as the biggest yakuza film star of the 60s. The 1965 original movie established the formula: Takakura is a punkish but ultimately honourable tough guy whose path always leads back to the Abashiri Prison in the snowy Hokkaido that characterized the first film. Director Teruo Ishii helmed them in contemporary style that borrowed elements from ninkyo yakuza films but still retained a modern feel. The films proved so popular Ishii had to deliver up to new 4 films a year, whether or not it was winter, and whether or not they were able to film in Hokkaido.

Northern Seacoast Story takes the story back to the snowy Hokkaido after a couple of warmer entries (of which the 3rd movie was admittedly one of the best in the series). Unfortunately it's not among the series highlights. The film opens with silly comedy routines with two gay prisoners before turning into a yakuza film variation of Stagecoach (1939) when Takakura is set free and he takes a job to drive a certain truck through Hokkaido. The cargo is cargo a runaway teenager (Reiko Ohara), a mother accompanied by sick child, and two ruthless criminals (Tooru Abe and Takashi Fujiki). It’s hardly an original movie, but the solid genre cast, jazz soundtrack and winter landscapes provide enough entertainment to warrant a viewing for fans. Sonny Chiba plays a small supporting role as an inmate with health problems. His character initiates the plot, but is only featured in the early scenes.

* Original title: Abashiri bangaichi: Hokkai hen (網走番外地 北海篇)
* Director: Teruo Ishii
* Chiba's role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles), Toei Blu-Ray (Japan) (No subtitles)

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 22 Jan 2016, 12:17

Golden Bat (Japan, 1966) [DVD] – 2/5
Japan's first ever super hero, who debuted in the early 1930s kamishibai (narrated "paper theatre", returns in a live action film starting Sonny Chiba. Unfortunately Chiba is not playing the skull-faced (rubber masked) hero Golden Bat, but a bearded scientist who discovers Atlantis, where Golden Bat is resting. His help is needed against manically laughing evil aliens (including one who looks like a werewolf) who intend to destroy the earth. It’s nice to see Chiba given a charismatic authority role at this relatively early stage of his career, but frankly he doesn’t have that much to do in the film even though he's the leading actor. The film has its entertaining campy moments, but it could be more fun. At 73 minutes it feels a bit longer than it really is.

* Original title: Ogon batto (黄金バット)
* Director: Hajime Sato
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Chiba!
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Chiba!
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Golden Bat!
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Evil aliens!
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Werewolf alien!
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 23 Jan 2016, 05:48

Here's a pretty cool poster for Golden Bat

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 24 Jan 2016, 04:49

Abashiri Prison 6: Duel in the South (Japan, 1966) [DVD] – 2/5
Sonny Chiba's second appearance in the series comes in one of the weakest Abashiri Prison films. This instalment takes place as far away from Abashiri as possible in Okinawa. The actual Abashiri prison is only featured in stock footage. The storyline mostly focuses on Ken Takakura and goofy pal Kunie Tanaka coming across a pick pocketing kid (whose hooker mom is played by Ishii regular, pinky violence supporting star Yoko Mihara). Veteran star Kanjuro Arashi is the best thing about the film. Chiba has a slightly bigger role than in the 4th Abashiri film, but he doesn’t have much to do. He plays a distinctly different character than last time, unlike some other actors. One characteristic of the series was actually that the same actors would return in sequels, playing essentially the same roles even if their characters had been killed before, which could be a bit confusing at times.

* Original title: Abashiri bangaichi: Nangoku no taiketsu (網走番外地 南国の対決)
* Director: Teruo Ishii
* Chiba's role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles), Toei Blu-Ray (Japan) (No subtitles)

Takakura and Tanaka
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Mihara and the kid
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Chiba and Toru Yuri
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Chiba and Takakura
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Chiba
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It's an Abashiri Prison film, so you know Kanjuro Arashi is going to show up and kick everyone's ass sooner or later
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The original trailer is cooler than the film itself
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 25 Jan 2016, 14:40

The Terror Beneath the Sea (Japan/USA, 1966) [DVD] – 3/5
The young & handsome Sonny Chiba stars as the lone Japanese lead in this Japan-US co-produced sci-fi cheese-fest. Chiba and his attractive blonde companion encounter mad scientists and horrifying underwater men who usually jump (yes, jump) from behind the corner with their hands in a “boo” pose. Hardly great filmmaking, but it comes with plenty of amusing SFX work and unintentional laughs. Chiba is the only cast member who evidences any kind of acting talent. It's solid campy fun, and a more enjoyable movie than Golden Bat, which was also directed by Hajime Sato and released the same year. This was probably the first time for many foreign audiences to see Chiba, as it was released in a number of countries, such as Germany, Austria, Italy, and USA (as a TV film).

* Original title: Kaitei daisenso (海底大戦争)
* Director: Hajime Sato
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles, all dialogue in Japanese), Dark Sky Films DVD (USA) (English dub)

I seem not to have taken screencaptures for this, so I here are the original Japanese, Italian and German posters instead.

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 28 Jan 2016, 07:33

Kamikaze Man: Duel at Noon (Japan/Taiwan, 1966) [35mm] – 3/5

Sonny Chiba and Kinji Fukasaku head to Taiwan in this international action thriller influenced by spy films and Hitchcock movies. Chiba is a playboy pilot who is mistaken for someone who he isn't after witnessing a murder in ski centre. The other witness is a Taiwanese lady who is vacationing in Japan. Chiba agrees to fly her back home, but as soon as they land they run into gangsters who are searching for a lost WWII treasure and believe Chiba is the key to finding it.

Kamikaze Man is, first and foremost, an action showcase for Chiba, who designed all the action sequences which contain car chases, boat chases, fist fights, gunplay, and hanging on to a plane that is about to take off. One of the stunts - Chiba trying to hold on to a speeding car - sent him flying through the air and landed him in a Taiwanese hospital. There's a lot of fun to be had, although some of the chases suffer from minor under-cranking. In many ways, Kamikaze Man was a predecessor to Chiba's action work in the television series Key Hunter (1967-1972), which finally made him an Asian action super star and earned him fans like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

The action scenes and foreign locations do pretty good job covering up for the screenplay, which is frankly a bit of a mess. For a film that intentionally plays with its audience, the final revelations are disappointingly simple. A clever storyline is not a necessity for a good action film, but it would be advisable to keep it simple from the beginning to avoid disappointment when there is no reward waiting at the end. It's also obvious this was a "fun project" for Fukasaku, who helms solid action fun doesn't invest too much care or ambition into the film, especially when compared to some of his later work.

As an interesting note, Kamikaze Man was the first time three major Toei stars (Fukasaku, Chiba, and guest star Ken Takakura) worked outside their own studio. Most Japanese filmmakers at the time were studio employees, who would work on any films their studio assigned them to. There was an unwritten rule among the major studios, that they would not try to steal each other's stars, except maybe for a guest appearance. Although (technically speaking) this system came to an end in the early 70s, much of the industry, especially Toei, kept operating much in the same way until around 1977.

Kamikaze Man packed Toei's top talent, but wasn't produced by Toei. It was mainly financed by Ninjin Club, a small independent studio founded by three women in the 1950s to provide actors and filmmakers possibilities to do original films outside of their normal employers. Ninjin Club was able to exist because big studios wouldn't really take notice of such a small independent studio, and the finished products would still be sold to (the filmmakers' native) studios for distribution . The rest of the money came from Taiwan, where most of the filming took place. The majority of the supporting cast were Taiwanese actors, including the female lead. Toei would only distribute after acquiring the completed movie.

Though hardly a great movie, Kamikaze Man is a fun film that travelled quite a bit after its release. Japan and Taiwan aside, it also appears to have been released at least in Germany, Spain and Mexico - sometimes with highly misleading advertising campaigns (in the Spanish language poster Chiba has become a white man... and has a machine gun!). The filmmakers also all headed to international arenas: Fukasaku was involved in Japanese-American co-productions such as The Green Slime (1968) and Tora Tora Tora (1970), Takakura starred in Sidney Pollack's The Yakuza (1974), and Chiba, who had already appeared in an international co-production before (Terror Beneath the Sea, 1966), would soon hook up with Bruce Lee girl Nora Miao in Tokyo-Seoul-Bangkok Drug Triangle (1973).

* Original title: Kamikaze yaro: Mahiru no ketto (カミカゼ野郎 真昼の決斗)
* Director: Kinji Fukasaku
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles), VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Chiba
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And the girl
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Welcome to Taiwan, Mr. Toilet
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Takakura
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Chiba just before earning himself a hospital vacation
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Yep, he's gonna grab to that plane
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DVD NOTE
Toei's DVD release is seriously flawed, I'm afraid. The image keeps turning green throughout the film. Basically, from every three seconds the first two look fine, and for the last one the image is green. It gets a bit less serious towards the end, but remains very distracting. The 35mm print screened at the Chiba festival had no such problem, nor does the old, VHS quality VoD version. When I re-watched the movie at home, I actually turned the DVD off after 10 minutes, and watched the VoD version instead.

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 28 Jan 2016, 15:31

Here's some artwork for Kamikaze Man from around the world

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And the original Japanese trailer:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LBzPJygiKE

I forgot to mention in my review: Chiba sings the theme song.

Also forgot the mention Chiba's nickname in the movie is "Mr. Toilet".

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 01 Feb 2016, 16:09

Game of Chance (aka Samurai’s Lullaby) (Japan, 1966) [35mm] – 3.5/5

Ninkyo yakuza films were probably Toei’s most important genre in the mid / late 60s. The chivalrous yakuza films pitched honourable outlaws who followed the codes of honour against corrupt gangs who exploited the innocent. The hugely popular genre made actors like Ken Takakura, Koji Tsuruta and Junko Fuji some of the biggest stars of their time. It was therefore no wonder that Toei also tested Sonny Chiba as a ninkyo hero. His run in the genre was brief but produced some interesting results.

Chiba as a single father and swindler who has to escape with his 6 year son (Hiroyuki Sanada in his first role) after being caught cheating in the gambling table. The father and son travel to Tokyo, where Chiba is hoping to leave the kid to his mother's care, but things don't go as planned and he ends up joining bad guy Tooru Abe's gang.

Game of Chance is quite an unusual film for it is clearly built on ninkyo film pillars, yet Chiba commits some dishonourable acts that a typical ninkyo hero would never do. However, many of the best ninkyo films contained a major supporting character who was an honourable man but would be working for the enemy because of a blood relation or some obligation. Chiba's character in Game of Chance is, in fact, much like a typical ninkyo supporting character who has been made the main character.

The unusual approach makes Game of Chance an odd bird, and we could argue it's not a pure ninkyo film to begin with, but it also adds to its interest. The things Chiba does in Game of Chance may be dishonourable, but they can also be defended to some extent, adding more shades of grey to the ninkyo formula.

Game of Chance also stands out for its heavy focus on feminine drama, which was unusual in the masculine genre. As the film proceeds, Chiba occasionally takes the back seat and makes way for Sanada and his mother candidates, including his biological mother and and a lovely young lady (Reiko Ohara) who becomes his foster mother. It all works surprisingly well, with good performances from everyone involved. It's especially entertaining to see Chiba in a role that finds balance between his usual enthusiastic energy and quiet moments. The film doesn't get back to violent action until the last 10 minutes.

Director Ryuichi Takamori does decent job helming the film, though he never approaches the greatness of true ninkyo classics (e.g. the Red Peony Gambler series, the Brutal Tales of Chivalry series). He was a mediocre director who rarely improved movies with his involvement, but a couple of times on his career he did decent job, and this was one of them.

The 5 year old Hiroyuki Sanada performs here under his real name, Hiroyuki Shimosawa. He appeared in a number of other yakuza films in the following years, such as New Abashiri Prison: Vagrant Comes to a Port Town (1969) and Brutal Tales of Chivalry: I Sincerely Want to Kill You (1970), before joining Chiba's acting school Japan Action Club in 1973. In the late 70s and early 80s Chiba and Sanada would often play supporting roles in each others' films, until in Adventurer Kamikaze (1982) the two finally starred in equal leading roles.

Game of Chance was followed by two sequels, both starring Chiba, and both shot in colour. These films remain the only time Chiba has played starring role in a ninkyo film, although he had appeared in supporting roles a few times earlier on his career (e.g. Gambler`s Love, 1964).

Taro Hitofushi performs the theme song, which served as inspiration for the film's story.

* Original title: Rokyoku komori-uta (浪曲子守歌)
* Director: Ryuichi Takamori
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: None! (review format: 35mm; screencaps from a TV print)

Chiba and Sanada
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Taro Hitofushi singing in the background
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Ohara
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Sanada
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Sanada
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Chiba's had it
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 02 Feb 2016, 13:12

North Sea Chivalry (Japan, 1967) [VoD] – 2/5
Sonny Chiba gives a solid dramatic performance in an otherwise uninspired semi-ninkyo drama. The storyline follows a struggling fisherman clan (lead by old man Kanjuro Arashi) that tries not to get in trouble with the local yakuza (with Tomisaburo Wakayama as the leader). The film struggles to find any kind of focus to the extent that there is no obvious main character. Chiba, however, is by far the best thing about the film as the clan leader’s son, who rebels against his father. He doesn’t participate in any action scenes, but his performance is solid and his character is easily the best written in the film.

* Original title: Hokkai yukyoden (北海遊侠伝)
* Director: Ryuchi Takamori
* Chiba's role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Chiba and Reiko Ohara
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Kanjuro Arashi
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Chiba
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Chiba
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Wakayama
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 03 Feb 2016, 11:00

Tale of Kawachi Chivalry (Japan, 1967) [VoD] – 2/5
Sonny Chiba stars in this misleadingly marketed semi-ninkyo piece set in the early Showa era. Chiba plays a young man returning to his hometown. He begins working as chef, but he seems more interested in fooling around and picking fights. Enter yakuza film regular Bin Amatsu, and we have a conflict between the honest townspeople and corrupt criminals.

Tale of Kawachi Chivalry basically takes the typical ninkyo-yakuza film story, but strips it from the gloss and glorification. In a way, director Ryuichi Takamori was going the same direction as Kinji Fukasaku and Junya Sato with their late 60s works. Unfortunately, in the hands of the less talented Takamori it rarely translated into anything very interesting. Even more problematic was that his films were often missing the more complex themes of honour and obligation that could be found in the best ninkyo films.

Tale of Kawachi Chivalry is not a terrible film – Chiba is alright, the crew is experienced, and there’s a pretty exciting rickshaw race – but it’s among Chiba's least memorable starring roles. The film’s magnificent poster, which shows Chiba armed with katana, is also very misleading: there is almost no action in the film, and Chiba never picks up that sword.

Tale of Kawachi Chivalry and North Sea Chivalry could be seen as related works, although they had different screenwriters. They both utilize a ninkyo-like premise, but in a way make it more contemporary and realistic, and are not really ninkyo films. Both films feature ordinary men as main characters instead of yakuza, who only appear as villains. Unfortunately neither film excels as a character drama despite being story driven and stripped of action. Both were directed by Takamori – who was the walking definition of mediocre – and starred Chiba, who was easily the best thing about both films. Chiba and Takamori collaborated a total of 10 times, including the Legendary Lullaby (Game of Chance) series, which also resembles these two films but were more true to ninkyo cinema by making the protagonist a lone yakuza with a kid.

* Original title: Kawachi yuukyoden ((河内遊侠伝))
* Director: Ryuchi Takamori
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Angry Chiba
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Furious Chiba
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Enraged Chiba
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Amatsu and Murota
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Surprised Chiba
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Frustrated Chiba
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Anxious Chiba
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Breathless Chiba
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Crazy Chiba
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Don't let the magnificent poster mislead you
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 04 Feb 2016, 04:08

Organized Crime (Japan, 1967) [VoD] - 2/5
This is basically a predecessor to the 70s jitsuroku yakuza films. The film draws a pessimistic image of gang violence that breaks out on the streets between rivalry yakuza clans. There's ambition to it, and the slightly documentary-like approach resembles the later jitsuroku films, but the film isn't especially captivating or memorable. Rather than following any specific character, the film focuses on the entire crime society and jumps back and forth between characters who come and go. Unfortunately none of them are that interesting. A detective played by Tetsuro Tamba is probably the closest to a central character. The second billed Sonny Chiba, who plays one of the lower ranking yakuza, only becomes a major character during the second half.

* Original title: Soshiki boryoku (組織暴力)
* Director: Junya Sato
* Chiba's role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

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VHS art
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 05 Feb 2016, 15:20

Diaries of the Kamikaze (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 3/5
This is one of the better kamikaze dramas Toei put out in late 60s. These films are not well know abroad, as the subject matter made sure only the most pacifist masterpieces of Japanese war cinema found international distribution. Strictly commercial melodramas such as this remained domestic money makers. Hiroki Matsukata and Sonny Chiba star as two best friends who are drafted to the army and eventually become kamikaze pilots. While Matsukata is the number 1 star, Chiba has a pretty good supporting role. The all star cast is filled with big names, including Ken Takakura, Koji Tsuruta, Isao Natsuyagi, Bin Amatsu, and Junko Fuji. It's a solid film with decent characters, good pace and a touching subject, though there are even better films in the genre, such as The Last Kamikaze (1970).

* Original title: Âa dôki no sakura (あゝ同期の桜)
* Director: Sadao Nakajima
* Chiba's role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

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Takakura, Tsuruta, Amatsu
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Chiba!
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Dirty Chiba
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Fuji and Matsukata
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More Chiba
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Chiba the night before he's to head for his final flight
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Air raid
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 08 Feb 2016, 08:11

The Young Eagles of the Kamikaze (Japan, 1968) [DVD] - 2/5
Like so many other kamikaze dramas from the 60s, this film opens with a long training sequence that sees the young solders getting yelled at and bullied by their superiors. As it goes on , they develop a bit of tension between each other, and are occasionally visited by a family member. There lies the problem with The Young Eagles of the Kamikaze; it's all been seen before, and often done better than here. There is some nationalistic pathos but little energy to Shinji Murayama's direction, and the film lacks interesting characters. At 110 minutes it's also a good bit longer than it needs to be. The principal cast is made of relatively fresh faces, such as pop idol Teruhiko Saigo (Sing to Those Clouds, 1965), with big names like Koji Tsuruta and Tetsuro Tamba in supporting roles. Cute Reiko Ohara is the best thing about the film. Sonny Chiba is the 4th billed actor, but he only appears in one short scene. Fans of Chiba and war dramas alike would better turn their attention to superior films, such as Kaigun (1964) and Diaries of the Kamikaze (1967).

* Original title: Âa yokaren (あゝ予科練)
* Director: Shinji Murayama
* Chiba's role: Cameo role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Murota
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Chiba in his only scene
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 14 Feb 2016, 15:50

Human Torpedoes (Japan, 1968) [DVD] - 2/5
Hiroyuki Matsukata plays the man who developed the Japanese human torpedo, a suicide weapon used in WWII. It's an interesting topic and makes good cinema for the first 30 minutes, after which the film turns into to a typical human relationship war drama with melodramatic and nationalistic undertones. It gets a bit better again towards the end when the human torpedoes are put into use. Sonny Chiba appears briefly during the last 15 minutes as a submarine captain, looking cool and charismatic with beard. It's too bad he only a has a couple of minutes of screen time, despite getting his name listed 3rd in the opening credits. The film would be much better if most of the middle third was cut out, and the focus was on developing and using the human torpedoes.

* Original title: Ningen gyorai: Âa kaiten tokubetsu kogetikai (人間魚雷 あゝ回天特別攻撃隊)
* Director: Shigero Ozawa
* Chiba's role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

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Junko Fuji
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Chiba on the left
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Chiba in the middle
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 15 Feb 2016, 03:20

Army Intelligence 33 (Japan, 1968) [35mm] – 4/5

Sonny Chiba waves good bye to serious war dramas in this criminally neglected mixture of spy-noir and kick-ass commando action. The film is loosely based on the Nakano Spy School which operated in Tokyo during the Second World War. It officially focused on correspondence, but in reality trained top spies for the government. Chiba portrays a promising young soldier who is framed for murder, and forced to become a spy after being found guilty in military court.

After receiving a tough training in martial arts, weapons, explosives, and foreign languages (by Tetsuro Tanba), he is sent for his first mission, which is to gather secret information from a foreign diplomat. This is when the film takes a turn to a wonderful spy noir with gorgeous cinematography, great old fashioned score and terrific atmosphere. Chiba himself looks fabulous in long dark coat and black hat which immediately bring American noir stars like Humphrey Bogart to mind. This is one of those many things 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 young men forced to become spies 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 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. A real gem waiting to be discovered.

* Original title: Rikugun choho 33 (陸軍諜報33)
* Director: Tsuneo Kobayashi
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 15 Feb 2016, 03:21

+ here's some stills for Army Intelligence 33 (1968).

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I'm praying Toei or some other company will put this out on DVD one of these days.

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 18 Feb 2016, 17:03

Delinquent Boss: Ocho the She-Wolf (Japan, 1969) [DVD] - 1/5

The second film in the Delinquent Boss series is a tiresome action comedy without a hint of inspiration. It was - for some reason - a phenomenally successful series for star Tatsuo Umemiya, who plays a silly biker gang boss surrounded by - at least in this entry - unfunny comic reliefs. The series went on for 16 instalments, in addition to which the character appeared in at least two unrelated movies, including a cameo in Girl Boss Blues: Queen Bee's Challenge (1972). The series also gave its the title and some minor inspiration for the far superior Delinquent Girl Boss series.

Film connections are actually one of the few interesting things about Ocho the She-Wolf: the titular character is the same one Reiko Ike plays in Sex & Fury and Female Yakuza Tale, although those films were set in a different period and featured quite a different kind of Ocho. She's played by Junko Miyazono here, but the role is pretty small. Sonny Chiba also appears in a small supporting role, and while it's always a pleasure to see Chiba on screen, he has very little to do here. The same can be said about Bunta Sugawara. Even the massive end slaughter is an utter bore despite all the gunplay, explosions and bikes.

* Original title: Furyô banchô: Inoshika Ochô (不良番長 猪の鹿お蝶)
* Director: Yukio Noda
* Chiba's role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 05 Mar 2016, 07:00

Memoir of Japanese Assassins (Japan, 1969) [35mm] - 4/5

This is an odd beast in Sonny Chiba's filmography, a powerful political thriller that chronicles real life assassinations from Japan's recent history. The film opens with a seemingly endless cavalcade of violent assassinations, with superstars like Ken Takakura, Tomisaburo Wakayama and Bunta Sugawara popping up just for a few minutes in their own segments to cut off someone’s head, stab someone to death, or blow someone into pieces.

About 20 minutes into the film the storyline has finally reached the early 1930s, with Sonny Chiba standing in front of the court, accused of terrorism. This is when the bloodshed finally comes to an end. For the next 100 minutes there would not be a single killing as the film takes its time to show how an ordinary young man (Chiba) grew into a political assassin.

Chiba's character, Sho Onuma, is an ill but loyal employee at a factory whose honest owner is driven to a bankruptcy by corrupt officials. Chiba is left without a job, and soon later his love interest dies from an illness. Following a failed suicide attempt, Chiba films a new home with a charismatic priest (Chiezo Kataoka). The man is Nissho Inoue, whom the world would later come to know as the leader of the ultra nationalist League of Blood organization.

At 142 minutes, Memoir of Japanese Assassins packs quite a bit of interesting philosophical discussions on terrorism and offers a provocative, non-judgemental view on its extremist characters. It would be easy to see it as an ultra-rightist political statement, but that wasn't director Sadao Nakajima's intention according to his own words. In facts, he has expressed his disappointment over such interpretations. I tend to believe him as the film comes out much less a rightist statement than general antipathy for corruption and exploitation of the weak. It also helps that more than 40 years have passed since the film was made.

That being said, it should be noted that nearly all historical figures killed in the film - that is daimyo Naosuke Ii, statesman Toshimichi Okubo, politician Shigenobu Okuma, communications minister Toru Hoshi, prime minister Tsuyoshi Inukai, and businessmen Zenjiro Yasuda, Junnosuke Inoue, and Dan Takuma - had something to do with the Japanese government's attempts to modernize Japan and open the country to foreign influences. The February 26 Incident, which is also covered in the film, also aimed at bringing down a Western-minded government. Those such political connections are never explicitly stated in the film, most audiences at the time would surely have been aware of them.

What added to the films volatility was that its protagonist, Sho Onuma, was still alive as consulted the filmmakers (he had been sentenced for life, but pardoned in 1940). The Japanese Liberal Democrat Party tried to halt the film production and managed to censor parts of the final act, which contains passages from February 26 Incident leader Asaichi Isobe's diary. Toei took advantage of the controversy, releasing a teaser trailer that showed Onuma on the set advising Chiba.

For Chiba Memoir of Japanese Assassins was no doubt what he had been looking for: a powerful crime drama with a very strong scrip and good characters. He had been in several mediocre crime dramas (North Sea Chivalry, 1967; The Tale of Kawachi Chivalry, 1967) where he tended to be best thing about an otherwise lazy production. In Memoir of Japanese Assassins Chiba gives one of his best performances, for which he won an acting award at the Kyoto Citizen Film Festival (Kyoto shimin eiga sai), where Hideo Gosha’s Hitokiri was awarded the same year.

Director Nakajima was a highly uneven filmmaker who worked in almost any popular genre from pink films to samurai movies. Many of his movies are routine efforts, but some are genuinely inspired and well directed. Memoir of Japanese Assassins remains one of his best and most thoughtful films. Adding to the film's strength is composer Isao Tomita's epic score, which plays on repeat. The mix of politics, character drama and almost splatterific violence may be too much for some viewers, but for others this is an unpolished gem.

* Original title: Nihon ansatsu hiroku (日本暗殺秘録)
* Director: Sadao Nakajima
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 10 Mar 2016, 16:48

Yakuza Deka (Japan, 1970) [DVD] - 2.5/5
The first film in the Yakuza Deka series. Chiba is an undercover cop who infiltrates the yakuza. Action and comedy ensues. These movies were essentially a series of cheap but fun programmer pictures that brought Chiba's contemporary action formula from television (Key Hunter, 1967-1972) to the big screen, only with more comedy. The first movie is the sloppiest of them, with plenty of action that seems to have been filmed in great hurry by director Yukio Noda (he's best known for the outrageous pinky violence classic Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs, which gives a false impression of him as a better director than he really was). Chiba is fun to watch and he has some great buddy scenes with friend/foe Ryuhei Uchida, who is also one of the film's strengths. However, the stunt work isn't nearly as accomplished as it was in some of the sequels, and more care should've been put into the production. Oh, and Chiba shows his ass. Twice.

* Original title: Yakuza Deka (やくざ刑事)
* Director: Yukio Noda
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: Optimum DVD (UK)

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Uchida
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Key Hunter co-star Yoko Nogawa
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Note: the original trailer features plenty of footage from Kamikaze Man (1966)

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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 12 Mar 2016, 07:49

Yakuza Deka: The Assassin [DVD] - 3/5
The second film in the Yakuza Deka series. Sonny Chiba shows his ass again. This is an improvement over the sloppy original, even though the storyline is a direct copy of the previous movie and we once again have to suffer through a painful Toru Yuri comedy scene. Chiba is an undercover cop again, operating between two yakuza gangs trying to bring them both down. What is new is new is that the mayhem is much better executed this time. Action is wilder, stunts are bigger, comedy is funnier and Chiba sports one hell of a wardrobe in the film. It's obvious more care was put into the production than last time. It's still nothing more than a harmless time waster, but as such it delivers the goods. Ryuhei Uchida co-stars again as Chiba's friend/nemesis. He basically plays the exact same character as last time, only his name is different, but no one would complain because he's excellent as usual.

* Original title: Yakuza deka: Marifana mitsubai soshiki (やくざ刑事 マリファナ密売組織)
* Director: Yukio Noda
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: Optimum DVD (UK)

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Chiba and Uchida
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Fake Charles Bronson on the right
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Man with style
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Marihuana psychedelia
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Chiba doing some impressive stunt work dodging bullets in the air...
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...and trying to get on that boat
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Re: Sonny Chiba Mega Review Thread

Unread post by HungFist » 15 Mar 2016, 05:38

Yakuza Deka: Poison Gas Affair (Japan, 1971) [TV] - 3/5
The 3rd Yakuza Deka film is yet another enjoyable time waster, as good as the previous film. This time much of the action is set in a snowy ski resort, allowing Chiba to orchestrate all kinds of action scenarios with skis, snowmobiles and other winter machinery. There's also a relatively decent amount of martial arts included considering the early production year. Chiba first needs to prove his skills in a brief fight against a tonfu-fighter, stick-fighter, dagger-man and karate fighter, and later fight for his life against two ninjas. Unfortunately some of the action seems a little hastily put together and the official tagline of "grand action where Chiba risks his life every 5 minutes" oversells the film a bit. It's still a good bit of fun and the storyline is probably the best so far, with some genuine dramatic tension and yet another fine supporting performance Ryuhei Uchida. Pinky violence star Yukie Kagawa appears as female ninja. Oh, and Chiba doesn't show his ass this time.

* Original title: Yakuza deka: Kyofu no doku gasu (やくざ刑事 恐怖の毒ガス)
* Director: Ryuichi Takamori
* 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 » 17 Mar 2016, 06:28

Yakuza Deka: No Epitaphs for Us (Japan, 1971) [VoD] - 3.5/5
The 4th and final film in the Yakuza Deka series. It's another programmer picture, but this one does its job admirably, packing action, fights and great stunt sequences every 15 minutes and filling the gaps with Chiba riding a horse topless, robbing a jewellery store while dressed as Buddhist monk, and walking around in white suit while waving a Tommy Gun. Some of the stunts include Chiba hanging from a cable car 50m above the sea/ground, and jumping out from a car while it's flying through the air. There are many amusing comedy bits as well, especially with co-star Ryohei Uchida, and Chiba sings again. It was exactly this kind of movies that made Jackie Chan a fan of Chiba's work; indeed, the mix of action, stunts and humour often resembles the films Jackie would do in the 1980s. Easily the best film in the Yakuza Deka series.

* Original title: Yakuza Deka: Oretachi ni haka ha wai (やくざ刑事 俺たちに墓はない)
* Director: Ryuichi Takamori
* Chiba's role: Starring role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

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Chiba and uninvited guests!
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Look carefully. That small white dot in the bottom is Chiba!
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Chiba!
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