Written by: Michael Den Boer on November 17th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1975
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Writers: Norifumi Suzuki, Nobuaki Nakajima
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Yumi Takigawa, Yutaka Nakajima
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
Synopsis: Oyama (Sonny Chiba) shows up at karate tournament disheveled dressed in rags. He is offered a job by the tournaments promoter who wants to groom Oyama into a more respectable person. Drunk one night Oyama gets into a fight with some thugs and when he kills their leader he renounces karate. To make amends for the man he has just killed he moves out to the country with the man who killed family helping them farm. There are those who won’t let Oyama disappear into obscurity and they send an assassin after him. Once they force his hand by trying to kill Oyama returns to the city to settle things once and for all.
Following the success the Street Fighters Sonny Chiba would embark on a trilogy of films based around his mentor Matutatsu Oyama. The three films are Karate Bullerfighter followed by Karate Bearfighter and concluding with Karate for Life. Matutatsu Oyama worked as technical advisor on Karate Bullerfighter and he appears briefly with some of his students in the opening credits. The characters that Sonny Chiba tends to play are larger then life and it is only fitting that he portray two of Japan’s most influential martial artists. Sonny Chiba portrayed Matutatsu Oyama’s greatest rival Doshin So in The Killing Machine. Chiba may have never been as graceful as Bruce lee or dynamic as Gordon Liu, still through his brutal and over the top fight scenes he set him apart from his contemporaries. Oyama always ends up being in the wrong place at the wrong time as trouble always finds him. He manages to over come insurmountable odds time and again along the way he becomes a hero to the every man.
Through quick cuts and expertly choreographed fights scenes the action in the film is top notch. Chiba has a lot to do as an actor in this film he spends about the half the film a broken man who mourns the loss of one of his students. The rest of the film is what we have come to expect from a Chiba film wall to wall action.
There are several mid blowing fight scenes in Karate Bearfighter most notable is when Chiba takes on a run away bull and after he crushes its skull he rips one of its horns off. Other stand out moments is when Chiba breaks Coca-Cola bottles with his bare hands and when he fights Kenki an assassin with a samurai sword in the pouring rain. It is fitting the Chiba portray the part of his mentor Oyama since in many of his films he plays larger then life characters.
Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi’s relies in the film to heavily on hand held camera which used more subtly is supposed to bring the viewer into the action. The most effect part of his direction is the films flash back scenes which were shot in the stylish sepia tone giving them a more dated look. Karate Bullfighter cleverly mixes real events into a bio picture without ever losing the essence of what Oyama was really like.
Karate Bullfighter is released in anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio. The transfer boasts vivid color palette with bold reds and greens. The black levels are rich and deep as grain is kept to a minimum. Flesh tones look natural through out. The overall print used is in great shape as there are no noticeable artifacts or problems with compression. United American Video back in 2001 released this title in a horribly cropped version under the title Champion of Death that was sourced from a VHS. 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.
There are two audio options included for this DVD release Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Japanese Dolby Digital Mono. Both tracks are free of distortion or hiss and are extremely clean. The Dolby Digital 5.1 takes the sound up a notch giving the film a wider sound field. 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, Resurrection of Golden Wolf 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. Unfortunately the extras are limited to a collection of trailers that were included on their previous Chiba release The Killing Machine.
Getting extras for some of these obscure genre titles can be tough; still it would be nice to hear what Sonny Chiba has to say about these films. Karate Bullfighter is another solid A/V presentation from Adness that is a worthy addition to any self respecting Chiba fan’s collection, highly recommended.