Written by: Michael Den Boer on November 17th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1975
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Writer: Ikki Kajiwara
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Eiji Go, Yutaka Nakajima, Etsuko Shihomi, Tetsuro Tamba
DVD Released: December 28th, 2004
Approximate Running Time: 88 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital Mono Japanese
DVD Release: Adness/Ventura
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.99
“Every man has a weakness. He has to fight the coward in himself all of his life”. – Oyama
Oyama’s (Sonny Chiba) reputation has grown after winning Japan’s karate tournament which leads to countless attacks from other karate schools. Down on his luck once again he runs into an old air force buddy of his Kimura who offers Oyama a job in Japan’s underworld. Along the way he becomes friends with Kozuro and Sumiko. When they are murdered by a Ryudoji the leader of a notorious karate school Oyama exacts his revenge. Oyama meets Rinato upon his arrival in Hokkaido and when the boy father is injured while working Oyama agrees to fight a bear to pay for his medical bills.
Even though Chiba never achieved the international success that Bruce Lee did he still established himself apart from the rest of the Lee clones with his brutal fighting style. Chiba and Lee at one point were set to make a movie together that never happened unfortunately because of Lee’s untimely death. Quention Tarantino a huge Chiba fan has referenced the actors work in his films True Romance and the opening monolog for Chiba’s film the Bodyguard was quote word for word by Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction. Following the success of Karate Bullfighter Sonny Chiba would return for its sequel Karate Bearfighter.
Karate Bearfighter focuses more on action then its predecessor Karate Bullfighter which was more serious in tone. This time around during the fight scenes the bad guys have taken things up a notch as they use guns and samurai swords vs. Oyama’s karate. The fight scenes are more polished this time around and just when you thought Chiba couldn’t top himself after taken on a bull he takes on a bear. Chiba’s intense screen persona is what makes his films enjoyable as he is a man of few words and his skull crushing x-ray body blows make him a fierce opponent. Masashi Ishibashi who appears in the film as Ryudoji has worked with Chiba in several films and his most memorable role was in Street Fighter as Junjou. His distinct look and wiry frame add to the devious characters he is frequently cast as. Kazuhiko Yamaguchi returns as director and this time around he over use of zooming in is reminiscent of the excessive use of hand held camera. Overall his compositions and the pacing of them film are more polished then his work in Karate Bullfighter.
Early on when Chiba pretends that Kozuro a man who half his size is Oyama is one of the films more light hearted moments that becomes even more absurd when Chiba tells the waitress that he is Kozuro’s student. The films starts off with more humorous moments like this before settling into a darker tale about revenge. My favorite moment in the movie is when Oyama is leaving Hokkoida and Rinato a young boy who has become fond of him chases after the train screaming “Uncle”. Every time anyone gets close to Oyama he ends up leaving almost like he is unable to accept happiness. Karate Bearfighter is a compelling story that shows off Chiba’s abilities as an actor and his skills as a martial artist.
Karate Bearfighter is released in anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio. The colors are solid with black levels are rich and deep. Grain is kept to a minimum and flesh tones appear natural. The amount of detail present is exceptional through out. The overall print used is in great shape as there are no noticeable artifacts or problems with compression. Adness restores this title to its proper ratio with a nearly flawless release that gives North American audiences finally a chance to see this movie the way it was meant to be seen.
Two audio options are included for this DVD release Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Japanese Dolby Digital Mono. The dialog and action are always clear and easy to follow. There is no sign of distortion or hiss. The Dolby Digital 5.1 offers a more dynamic sound range with deeper bass. English subtitles have been included that are easy to read and follow.
Extras include a Sonny Chiba trailer collection with the following titles Killing Machine, Karate Bearfighter, Karate Bullfighter, Karate for Life, Shogun’s Samurai, Black Magic Wars, Legend of The Eight Samurai and G.I. Samurai. Most of these trailers are in their original aspect ratio. Rounding out the extras is the well written and informative liner notes written by Patrick Macias. Overall the extras are thin and an interview with Chiba or an informative commentary with a Chiba expert would have been nice. Karate Bearfighter is another solid A/V presentation from Adness that is a worthy addition to any self respecting Chiba fan’s collection, highly recommended.