Written by: Michael Den Boer on December 31st, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1977
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Writer: Masahiro Kakefuda
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Masashi Ishibashi, Kojiro Hongo, Hideo Murota, Masaru Shiga
DVD Released:January 18th, 2005
Approximate Running Time: 90 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Japanese
DVD Release: Adness/Ventura
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.99
Synopsis: The year is 1952 and Matutatsu Oyama (Sonny Chiba) when he isn’t working as a bouncer he spends his time going to dojo’s challenging their karate skills. Oyama challenges Yonajima (Masashi Ishibashi) the sensei in charge of the dojo who sits back while his one hundred students take on Oyama. Even though they fight dirty they are no match for Oyama as he quickly disposes of them before he finishes off their master Yonajima. Oyama while sitting with some friends at a bar meets a wrestling/boxing promoter who promises Oyama a fortune if would come with him to Okinawa.He quickly finds out shortly after arriving that the wrestling matches are fixed. It doesn’t take long before Oyama loses his temper unleashing his karate skills which leads to bad blood between him and the mob. Down on his luck Oyama meets a young woman who attempts to kill herself. He convinces her to not take her life and they become friends. Oyama would be forced to go back to wrestling for the mob when the young woman becomes ill needing a penicillin shot. Will Oyama double cross the mob once again or will he obediently do what ever they say?
The Japan action club was formed by Sonny Chiba in the late 1960’s. Chiba would go on to cast them frequently in his films through out the 1970’s. Japan action club regular Masashi Ishibashi was often cast as a heavy in many Chiba films and he is most famous for his role as Junjo from the Street Fighter films. Karate for Life is the final installment is a trilogy of films based on the life of Sonny China’s mentor Matutatsu Oyama’s, the previous two films in the series being Karate Bullfighter and Karate Bearfighter.
The best fight scene opens the film as Oyama takes on a Sensei and his one hundred students. During this fight sequence Chiba shows skills and agility that make this scene one of his greatest moments of his career. He uses his environment and his opponent’s eagerness to dominate them with precision blows like when he and one of the students fly through the air connecting as they kick each other. The acrobatics involved in this scene is amazing like when they put oil on the floor to make him loose his balance he stumbles a few times before he turns the table on his aggressors. The wrestling sequences I found to stale and not that well done. There is some unintentional humor that comes from watching Chiba matching up against these bloated monsters. When martial arts is mixed up with the wrestling a few interesting moments happen, still nothing that ever tops the opening fight scene in the dojo.
Oyama is generous man who is always willing to help others and this at times leads to his downfall like helping the young woman who wanted to kill herself and later in the movie the mob use her to get to him. His relationship with this woman is more like a father figure then a romantic one. The two most graphic scenes involve Kazuo’s sister as he witnesses his sister being raped by an American solider. The other scene when the mob hangs her by hands as they beat and electrocute her thinking she will tell them were Oyama is. This scene is especially sadistic in nature as they laugh and have a good time while she spits up blood. The movie ends like it began with more outstanding fighting as Oyama joins up with Shuzo Fujita who also has an ax to grind with the mob.
The finale also sees the return of Yonajima the sensei from the first scene now wearing a patch over one eye he has some unsettled business to finish with Oyama. Near the end of the films there is also a fight scene that takes place in a room full of mirrors that strangely resembles Bruce Lee’s most famous scene from Enter the Dragon. Sonny Chiba is outstanding in Karate for Life as usual giving one of his more grounded and sympathetic performances of his career. Karate for Life is a satisfying conclusion to this series of films.
Karate for Life is released in anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio. The colors are rich with solid black levels as grain is kept to a minimum. There are no sign of artifacts or problems with compression. Skin tones look natural through out and the amount of detail in each frame is exceptional through out. Once again Adness comes through with another amazing transfer that restores Karate for Life to its proper ratio for the first time ever in North America.
The only audio option included for this DVD release is the original Japanese Dolby Digital Mono audio. The track is in great shape considering the source is more then twenty five years old. The dialog comes through crystal clear and it is always easy to understand and follow. The fronts and center channel during action sequences offer a dynamic sound range that immerses the viewer into the action. English subtitles have been included that are easy to read and follow.
Extras include a Sonny Chiba trailer collection with the following titles Karate for Life, Karate Bearfighter, Karate Bullfighter, Killing Machine, Shogun’s Samurai, Black Magic Wars, Legend of The Eight Samurai and G.I. Samurai. These trailers offer Chiba fans a chance to see him in wide variety of genre’s in which he has worked. Rounding out the extras is liner notes written by Patrick Macias and one can’t help but feel his enthusiasm for the films of Sonny Chiba while reading his insightful liner notes.
Adness delivers once again with another solid A/V presentation that gives Chiba fan’s a chance to see and experience Karate for Life in its best home video version released to date, highly recommended.