Written by: Ron Cotton on April 16th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1975
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Writer: Norifumi Suzuki
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Yumi Takigawa, Jiro Chiba
DVD Released: September 5th, 2001
Approximate Running Time: 82 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 & 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
DVD Release: United American Video
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $7.99
Synopsis: The 1st post war Japanese karate championship takes place in 1949 at the Kyoto Marina Public Hall. Sonny portrays Oyama, Sonny Chiba’s own sensei in this biography. Oyama enters the contest late, his personal effects being only a burlap sack and tattered clothing. Making a madhouse, he breaks the most tiles without hesitation. Oyama’s unconventional fighting style of Kyokushinkai makes up in speed for what he lacks in style. Oyama wins as one of the judges takes notice of this uncouth maverick. The judge doesn’t take Oyama under his wing however, offended of Oyama referring modern karate as a type of karate dancing.
Interestingly enough, Oyama that day humbly takes on his own student. The story continues as people challenge Oyama’s character and question how skillful Oyama truly is. Oyama never attempts to alienate the common public but to no avail. Once Oyama’s hand is forced, people feel intimidated by his unstoppable force. Oyama isn’t a man without guilt, however. Raping his love interest and other tragic events force him to reexamine himself to become a better man.
This story is engaging and makes me question the validity of this historical account. Champion of Death is pure action and physical expression rather than heavy dialog of other Chiba titles.
Originally filmed in Toeiscope, the film is stretched but not full frame. Champion of Death maintains some of its original aspect. Some dirt and artifacts on film. No bonus or language tracks except for English. No subtitles. Audio is better than most Chiba transfers.
This DVD is a barebones affair. Play Movie in large letters taking up half the screen. Thankfully, chapter stops are placed in this DVD release.
This movie only suffers by its weak DVD transfer and authoring. Any Chiba fan would put this movie in the top ten listing and anyone into martial arts film could do themselves justice by spending more to search out a better source. Chiba was undoubtedly in his acting prime in the 70’s. It’s very unfortunate that most Americans overlooked this unknown as stars like Bruce Lee received overwhelming acclaim. Champion of Death without a doubt should be in everyone’s Sonny Chiba collection.