Written by: Michael Den Boer on April 15th, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: Japan. 1975 (Killing Machine), Japan, November 15th, 1980 (Shogun’s Ninja)
Director: Norifumi Suzuki (Both Films)
Writers: Takeshi Matsumoto (Killing Machine), Fumio Konami, Ichirô Ôtsu (Shogun’s Ninja)
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Yutaka Nakajima, Asao Koike, Kei Sato, Etsuko Shihomi (Killing Machine), Hiroyuki Sanada, Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Yuki Ninagawa, Tetsuro Tamba (Shogun’s Ninja)
BluRay Released: January 8th, 2008
Approximate Running Times: 87 minutes (killing Machine), 117 minutes (Shogun’s Ninja)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital Mono Japanese, Dolby Digital Mono English
BluRay Release: BCI Eclipse/Ronin Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 0
Retail Price: $22.98
“Strength without justice is violence. Justice without strength is inability.”
Doshin Soh (Sonny Chiba) served in Japans secret service during world war two and during the war he studied various forms of fighting including the ancient fighting techniques of the Shaolin monks. After the war he returns to Japan were he has taken in several orphans and he is a modern day Robin Hood. Two American MP’s run over a young boy. This enrages Soh and he beat the hell out of the two men leaving them cripples. Years later Soh forms his own Shaolin martial arts school which leads to some bad blood between Soh and the local gangsters.
Killing Machine would make the first of four collaborations between Norifumi Suzuki and Sonny Chiba. The film is loosely based on real life Doshin So the founder of the Shorinji Kenpo a form of martial arts that specialized in the primary use of fighting with ones fists. Norifumi Suzuki was never one to shy away from making down and dirty exploitation films like Convent of the Sacred Beast and the Killing Machine has a good balance action and drama. Suzuki injects his usual flamboyance through his intricate compositions and stylized lighting. The Killing Machine was shot quickly over a two week period and the amount of detail in the sets is amazing consider the lack of budget.
Chiba fresh off the successful Street Fighter and Executioner series would embark on one his most challenging roles of his career as Doshin Soh. It typical Chiba fashion his character in this film takes no prisoners. In the scene were Soh and one his students track down three rapists that have just raped a young girl. A punishment befitting there crime towards the young girl they hold them down before castrating them. During this scene a dog walks up innocently and eats the man’s genitals. This scene is all about disgusting the viewer and it succeeds in spades. Etsuko Shihomi takes a secondary role after starring in the Sister Street Fighter and in Killing Machine shines in one of her earlier roles.
The action sequences in Killing machine are more grounded then it had been in previous Chiba films. The fight scenes are also another of the films strong points. They are some of Chiba’s most expertly executed and savage fight scenes eclipsing his work in the Street Fighter films. Even though early in the movie we are shown during a flashback that even as a young child Soh was one mean son of a bitch. This helps lay the ground work for what is to come later. Soh also has a more compassionate side like when he gets involved with a girl he meet during his stay in a Chinese prison camp after the war and as the film progresses their friendship evolves into a love for each other. One character trait of Soh’s that had me scratching me head was how he time and again let the bad guys off with warnings even though they would come back and attack him and his students. Killing Machine is one of Chiba’s best performances and films.
Hideyoshi Toyotomi a power hungry warlord makes a pact with Shogen Shiranui (Sonny Chiba) too destroy the Momochi clan and find out were their cache of gold is hidden. After Shogen Shiranui and his men slaughter of the Momochi clan they are unable to retrieve the knife which contain engravings that are a map that tells were the gold is hidden. While his family was murder Takamaru (Hiroyuki Sanada) was secretly taken away by a loyal servant to his family and they took with them the knife that everyone is looking for. Ten years later now a man Takamaru returns to Japan to reform Momochi clan and exact revenge on those who killed his family.
In the early 1980’s ninja’s we’re all the rage as films like American Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja made an undeniable impression on me during my youth. Years later I came across Shogun’s Ninja via a washed out budget DVD release that came with one of those unbelievably bad English dub jobs that totally destroy the feel of the film and add an unintentional laugh or two. Needless to say my initial impression of Shogun’s Ninja wasn’t that good. Now we come too this DVD release from Adness which not only restores five minutes missing from pervious English versions. It also replaces that atrocious English dub and gives us the superior Japanese dub that makes the plot a lot easy to digest and understand.
Shogun’s Ninja was directed by exploitation maestro Norifumi Suzuki who directed the nunsploitation classic Convent of the Sacred Beast and the Sonny Chiba film The Killing Machine. Norifumi Suzuki’s direction is never subdued as he always keeps the action moving and fills the frame with interesting compositions. One moment in particular that really stood out for me is when Takamaru’s mother commits suicide. The camera’s movements as she slits her writs and he flute fall into a pool of blood was tragically beautiful. The plot contains many elements that have been used many times before, still serves in the end as nothing more then the skeleton for which houses about a half dozen or so action set pieces that all are filled with inventiveness and try to top the last one. These action sequences were directed by Sonny Chiba who also has a major role in the film as Shogen Shiranui.
By the early 1980’s Sonny Chiba who once wowed audiences as the charismatic Takuma “Terry” Tsurugi a role for which he will be forever linked too has now shifted into the phase of his career when he is content to make ensemble films. Sonny Chiba’s performance as Shogen Shiranui is solid even though he speaks very little and spends most of his time showing off his fighting skills. The true lead in this film is Hiroyuki Sanada as Takamaru gives the best performance that I have seen from him to date. He shows off his various sides which make his character more sympathetic and some of the moves he executes during fights scenes is simply mind blowing. Another Japan action club regular who has a smaller role is Sue Shihomi as Airen. There have been many female action stars that have come out of Asia, still no have ever consistently held their own with their male counterparts like Sue Shihomi. Overall Shogun’s Ninja is a fun film that moves at a break neck pace despite its near two hour time length.
Both Killing Machine and Shogun’s Ninja have been previously released on DVD by Ronin Entertainment. This Hi Def re-release of these two titles is an improvement over their previous releases. The transfers for both titles looks ever so more detailed especially in the background on wider shots. Overall while most will find the upgrade in transfers minimal there is definitely an improvement here over all previous releases. Both films are presented in a 1080 Progressive.
Both films come with two audio options Japanese and English. All audio for both films is presented in a Dolby Digital mono and removable English subtitles have been included. No extra content has been included with this release. Sonny Chiba makes his Hi Def debut via Ronin Entertainments very reasonably priced double feature release, highly recommended.