Written by: Michael Den Boer on August 27th, 2004
Theatrical Release dates: Japan 1974, 1976, 1980, 1981, 1983
Directors: Shigehiro Ozawa, Kinji Fukasaku, Yataka Kodaira, Yutaka Kohira, Norifumi Suzuki, Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, Simon Nuchtern, Teruo Ishii,
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Masashi Ishibashi, Hiroyuki Sanada
DVD Released: June 25th, 2002
Approximate Running Time: 977 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 4.3 Pan and Scan 2.35:1 and 1.85:1
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo
DVD Release: Brentwood’s 10 Faces of Sonny Chiba
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.99
“I thought Sonny was the good guy. – ALABAMA
“He ain’t so much good guy as he’s just a bad motherfucker. Sonny don’t be bullshittin’. He fucks dudes up for life. Hold on, a fight scene’s coming up. – CLARENCE” From True Romance
Bruce Lee would launch martial arts films into the international spotlight, Toei Co. Ltd. Like many other Studio’s in Asia would spawn a slew of Bruce Lee imitators. Toei’s answer to Bruce Lee was Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba intense fighting style and brutality hadn’t been seen before. Street fighter would be the first film to receive an ‘X’ rating for violence, instead of graphic sexual material.
In 1993 with the release of Tony Scott’s True Romance (Written By Quentin Tarantino) would spark a renewed interest in Sonny Chiba and The Street Fighter films. In True Romance Clarence and Alabama meet at a Sonny Chiba triple feature. Tarantino has gone on to use Sonny Chiba in his film Kill Bill Volume1 and Volume 2. In Kill Bill Chiba’s character Hattori Hanzô is also the name of a character Chiba played on Japanese T.V. known as Hattori Hanzô: Kage no Gundan or it’s US title Shadow Warriors. And with the Success of Kill Bill Sonny Chiba is even more popular then ever.
Chiba plays Terry Tsurugi an assassin who has been hired to help fake the death of Junjou (Masashi Ishibashi). When Junjou’s brother and sister don’t have enough money to pay Terry that is when the trouble starts. Terry fights Junjou’s brother leads to Junjou’s siblings’ death. Terry sells Junjou’s sister into slavery for three million yen. Sarai (Yutaka Nakajima) learns of her father’s death she is now in charge of the family business and in danger from the mob who wants to take the business over. The mob tries to hire Terry but when he refuses the job they send in a group of henchmen to kill him. He quickly disposes of them as he leaves a trail of corpses. Terry is then forced to take the job to get the mob off of his back. Once in his grasp Sarai’s fate lies in the hands of the director of the karate school who Terry challenges to a fight. The first flashback of the movie occurs during this fight when the director of the karate school has almost defeated Terry. The flashback of his father gives him the strength to come back as they fight to a draw. Terry decides to join forces with the director of the karate school to protect Sarai from the mob. Junjou in order to save his sister from slavery must first kill Terry for the mob. Junjou anger boils over as he sees his sister enslaved and how Terry killed their brother. Mr. Bayan (Tatsuo Endo) sets up the capture of Sarai.
The first and the best of the three Street Fighter films and unlike its sequels this film features plenty of Chiba screen time. Takuma Tsurugi would become the signature role for which Chiba would forever be identified. The Street Fighter would also raise the bar for violence in the cinema that followed. There are many classic Chiba moments in the Street Fighter including the films finale which takes place on a tanker in a rain storm. This scene has been eluded too since the beginning of the film when Takuma in disguise shows up as a priest and visits Shikenbaru who is on death row. During this scene Shikenbaru challenges Takuma to a death match.
Return of The Streetfighter:
Terry Tsurugi (Sonny Chiba) is hired by the yakuza to kill an accountant who is in police custody. Tsurugi fights with the police too force them to put him into custody. In police custody Tsurugi kills the man for the yakuza by ripping out his throat. Tsurugi escapes the police by jumping out of a window. The yakuza are using a karate school as a front to extort money to build the Asian Arts Center. After the yakuza realize that Tsurugi knows too much they send out assassins to dispose of him.
Shigehiro Ozawa, who directed the first Street fighter film returns for the sequel. Unfortunately The Return of The Street Fighter doesn’t offer enough screen time for Chiba and it relies too much on flashbacks from the first movie. The violence is still present in this sequel and in one scene Chiba’s character hits a bad guy so hard that his eyes pop out of his head.
The Streetfighters Last Revenge:
Terry Tsurugi (Sonny Chiba) is involved in a scheme to obtain one of two tapes containing a secret recipe that would allow someone to make high quality heroin cheaply. When the deal goes wrong and the mob cheats Tsurugi out of his money and try to kill him. They force Tsurugi to steal the tape back to keep them profiting from his work. The violence in Street Fighters Last Revenge is toned down compared to the other Street Fighter films. It is more like a spy film then a martial arts film. Chiba relies less on his fists of fury and more on his master of disguise in this film. Note: The dubbing for the English language version was done by George Takai (Lt. Hikaru Sulu – Star Trek). The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge would mark the last time that Sonny Chib would play Terry Tsurugi. The Street Fighter’s last Revenge was directed by Teruo Ishii who would also direct Sonny Chiba in The Executioner.
Sister Street is a sequel in name only and it is the craziest of all the Street Fighter films. Tina Long’s (Sue Shiomi) brother is an undercover police agent in Hong Kong who is investigating the smuggling of heroine into Hong Kong. He went to Japan where he quickly infiltrated the drug ring before disappearing. He hasn’t been heard from since and their other contact a woman with a red rose tattoo has also gone missing. Frustrated with the police’s lack of progress Tina goes to Japan to look for her brother.
This movie is all about action. If you are looking for back story of character development you won’t find it here. Fast paced and well choreographed martial arts dominate this film. Sonny Chiba has very little screen time, but that doesn’t matter because Sue Shiomi is the star of this thrill ride. One of the heavy’s Hammerhead (Masashi Ishibashi) also appeared in The Street Fighter and The Return of The Street Fighter as Junjo. Sue Shiomi gets plenty of screen time and her incredible martial arts skills are used to the fullest.
After an attempt of his life on an airplane Chiba publicly vows to stamp out the drug trade in Japan by offering his services as a bodyguard for anyone with information that might lead to the arrest of the remaining drug traffickers. When a witness (Judy Lee), takes Chiba up on his offer he takes her to a safe house to protect her from the mafia. Suspicious Chiba agrees to be her bodyguard in hope she will lead him to the source of the drugs. After escaping a few near fatal run-ins with various criminal organizations, Chiba discovers the woman he is protecting has a stash of cocaine that she is trying to sell. She seems to be legitimate, but is she really what she appears to be? Everyone wants her cocaine and they will kill to get it as Chiba goes along with her deception in hopes of
snuffing out the criminals.
Chiba is more subdued in The Bodyguard then most of his films from the same time period, still women are treated as sex objects and plenty acts of brutal violence. The cinema photography is sloppy and not as good as the Street Fighter films. The fighting scenes are quick and are ruff around the edges. At its time of release The Bodyguard would have been considered cutting edge for its level of violence. Today The Bodyguard feels dated and has not aged as well as other Chiba films like The Street Fighter.
The movie begins with the yakuza trashing a porno store. Chieko (Sonny Chiba), a mysterious stranger arrives in town and is caught up in gang violence in the streets. When Chieko comes across young thug lying facedown in the gutter, he takes the man to hospital to get him medical attention. One of the nurse at the hospital Yumi informs Chieko that there is a on going turf war between the Iga and Nishi mobs. Through out the film Chieko will befriend both the Iga and Nishi mobs as he plays them against each other.
Karate Warriors is like a melting pot of other movies, part Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars and part Lone Wolf and Cub. There is plenty of sleaze and most of the woman characters either are raped or killed. Chiba’s character Chieko even has sex with one of them after they are raped. Underneath all this sleazy exploitation is a tender story about a loner learning to become a father figure to a young boy who father was murder? Sonny Chiba gives one of his better performances as he shows his tender side in father son scenes and shows that he kicks some serious ass in the bloodletting scenes.
Shogun’s Ninja takes place during the reign of Emperor Hideyoshi and there are historical references throughout. A conflict exists between the last survivors of the Momochi clan lead by Takamaru (Hiroyuki Sanada), and Shogun (Sonny Chiba), and his army of ninja’s. The Momochi clan members have steadily been eradicated by the Shogun and soon they will have to fight back or face extinction. Shogun wants Takamaru’s blades because they hold the map to the Momoichi gold cache. Takamaru joins forces with a pair of kung-fu women and a reluctant warrior Hanzo who help him dispose of ninja’s.
The Ninja’s in this film are dressed correctly in the color blue instead the often used color black and there are also ninja’s in camouflage. The fight scenes are impressive and a variety of weapons are used through out the film. Etsuko Shihomi and Hiroyuki Sanada two of Chiba’s protégé’s team up with him in Shogun’s Ninja. Mysterious strangers in Shogun’s Ninja seem to show up at the right time to help. Norifumi Suzuki direction gives us many artistic moments like a stare down through steam to flashbacks of a pool of blood.
In 1638 a Christian rebel Amakusa Shiro (Kenji Sawada), lead thousands of warriors in a revolt against the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan. Amakusa Shiro for a month was able to hold back the Emperor’s forces only to be eventually slaughtered in the end. Shiro unable to find peace in the afterlife comes back to life and with the use of black magic he assembles an unstoppable army of the undead Samurai’s to help him take vengeance. Shiro’s first resurrection is the Lady Hosokawa (Akiko Kana), who has been thrown aside by her husband in favor of his mistress. Shiro quickly builds his army of undead Samurai’s including the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (Ken Ogata) and master of the ninja arts Goemon Ishikawa (Hiroyuki Sanada).
Shiro or Hosokawa seduce each new victim by preying on weaknesses and fears of dying. After word gets to Yagyu Jubei (Sonny Chiba) about Amakusa Shiro’s sinister plan of vengeance against the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan. Yagyu Jubei enlists the help of the master sword maker Muramasa whose blades contain evils spirits and they are able to kill demons. Jubei’s father is one of the Shogun’s chamberlains and while training Jubei as a young boy during a training session he accidentally threw a dart in Jubei’s eye. Amakusa Shiro takes possession of Jubei’s father leading to a final showdown against his undead father.
A young child (Etsuko Shihomi) witnesses her father Agaki (Sonny Chiba), as a quartet of karate thugs called the Big Four lead by Nikado nearly beat him to death. Nikado will do anything to take Agaki’s title as “the top Karate instructor” and instead of playing by the rules Nikado and his thugs beat Agaki until he agrees to leave Tokyo. Blinded in one eye by Nikado’s thugs Agaki flees to New York City with his daughter (Etsuko Shihomi), where Agaki rigorous training lasts for years taking away his daughters childhood and Shiomi goes to Tokyo in honor of her fathers last wish to settle score with Nikado and the Big Four. Once in Tokyo Shiomi goes to live with her grandfather where she plans her father’s enemy’s demise.
Sonny Chiba is only briefly in Dragon Princess and the real star of the film is Etsuko Shihomi. Dragon Princess it your typical revenge tale where the plot isn’t as important as the action and this film nicely showcases Shihomi and her Martial arts skills. Shihomi’s co-star Yasuaki Kurata (of G-men 75 fame), is equally impressive with his fighting scenes. The film is shot fairly standard and not that inspired from its directors and the film has a retro kung fu 80’s soundtrack. Etsuko Shihomi through very little dialog is deadly and beautiful as she exacts her revenge. She more then proves that she can hold her own against man or woman.
Legend of the Eight Samurai:
Evil Tamazusa (played by Mari Natsuki) and her faithful undead army complete the task of slaughtering every family member of her rival clan, save one princess. As princess Shizu avoids Tamazusa’s minions, she now finds herself struggling from Shinbei, a dismissed soldier. Two quickly rescue the princess from Shinbei. Dosetsu, a descendant of her father’s retainer unravels a scroll describing Tamazusa’s century-long curse with her family’s clan. Only all eight samurai crystal bearers can stop Tamazusa and the curse. The two descendants reveal to Shizu that each have a crystal. Demons sporadically battle the princess and her samurai’s to no avail. Shinbei returns in Shizu’s life causing difficulties. The movie focuses on unmasking and delving into the past of the remaining undiscovered samurai. Once all eight join forces, the fates of each samurai are determined during the final showdown. One cinematic highlight of the movie involves blooming cherry blossoms during an unsettling wedding. Cinematic low points would include special effects of the foam cutout demons.
Legend of the Eight Samurai is a great example of Sonny Chiba’s charismatic acting style in the early 80’s. Director Kinji Fukasaku isn’t unfamiliar filming such Chiba classics such as Message from Space and Samurai Reincarnation. Even as a secondary character, his role as Dosetsu was just as memorable as the major players: Princess Shizu (played by Hiroko Yakushimaru) and Shinbei (played by Hiroyuki Sanada). The movie utilizes a plot that is shaky at times and is what I have come to expect in action flicks.
The Streetfighter, Return of The Streetfighter, The Streetfighters Last Revenge and Sister Streetfighter are presented in a non-anamorphic 2.35:1 framing that is faithful to the films original aspect ratio. These four are the best looking of the transfers in the set and they appear to have been taken from the New Line Laserdisc. Shogun’s Ninja has been slightly cropped from the films original aspect ratio and is presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen ratio the picture. Most of the action remains within the frame still the overall transfer for Shogun’s Ninja is in worse shape then the Streetfighter films. The other titles included in The 10 Faces of Sonny Chiba set are presented in a full frame ratio that has been cropped from the films original aspect ratio most of the action remains within the frame. The image appears soft at times and the colors are faded and these were most likely sourced from a VHS tape.
All ten films come with English dubbed audio tracks they audio is easy to hear and follow except on the film Karate warriors which is in the worst shape out of all the films in the set. The Streetfighter also comes with a Japanese mono track which is the better of the two since on this track you get to hear Chiba’s voice. The thing is that they didn’t include any English subtitles with the Japanese track.
Extras for this set include a brief biography for Sonny Chiba some one really needs to track down some extras for this film and give The Streetfigher films the Special Edition treatment they deserve. Brentwood’s 10 faces of Sonny Chiba, is a bargain 10 movies for just under $20 for anyone who is interested checking the films of Sonny Chiba. If like Martial arts and if you like your action brutal, bloody and violent then I suggest you check out The 10 Faces of Sonny Chiba.