Written by: Michael Den Boer on March 31st, 2007
Theatrical Release Dates: Japan, 1980
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Junichi Haruta, Naomi Hase, Shohei Hino, Renji Ishibashi, Kirin Kiki, Asao Koike, Kyoko Mitsubayashi, Mikio Narita, Teruhiko Saigo, Kantaro Suga, Kenji Takaoka, Sô Yamamura
DVD released: April 17th, 2007
Approximate running time: 1,250 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
DVD Release: Ronin Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $79.98
A new shogun rises to power forcing Hattori Hanzô (Sonny Chiba) and his clan of ninja known as Shadow Warriors into exile. A rival clan of ninjas known as the Kouga clans now sit at the side of those in power and they want the Kouga to exterminate the Shadow Warriors. Will the Shadow Warriors be able to bring about peace in these troubled times or will they all fall prey at the hands of the Kouga ninjas?
Sonny Chiba is the star of Shadow Warriors and he plays the role of Hattori Hanzô. Through out his career Chiba has played many memorable characters like Takuma “Terry” Tsurugi and Yagyu Jubei. He would reprise in name only the role of Hattori Hanzô in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill volume one. Over the course of twenty seven glorious episodes Sonny Chiba as Hattori Hanzô plays what is arguably his most defining role of his career.
The premise of Shadow Warriors is simple every week Chiba and his clan of ninja’s would protect the innocent from evil-doers. The series is not just your run of the mill action feast with ninja’s. During the day Hattori Hanzô and his cohorts run a bathhouse and by night they put on their ninjas gear and kick some serious bad guy ass.
The fight scenes are all mind blowing and brutal with decapitations and throwing stars in the forehead as just a few of the more gory acts being committed. The bath house also serves as eye candy as many topless women can be seen in any given episode. The dialog spoken is blunt and no hold-bared. The Shadow Warriors always remain loyal and never stoop down to the level of their nemeses. They value human life and would never jeopardize innocent by standers.
Each story is riveting and full of inventive action. Rarely if ever has any television series pushed the limits of excess like Shadow Warriors. Even now on American television there is no television show that comes close to getting away with as much as this series did nearly thirty years ago in Japan. The films theme and motifs that are used through out the film compliment the moods of the various characters and the action on the screen.
Many of the performers who star in or worked on Shadow Warriors are members of the famed Japan Action Club. Chiba’s three main sidekicks Junichi Haruta (Kiheiji), Shohei Hino (Daihachi) and Renji Ishibashi (Kishiro) all more then handle themselves when it comes to action scenes and they all give spectacular performances. There are also several female cast members who are prominently featured with Kirin Kiki as Orin a character who is obviously infatuated with Hattori Hanzô being the most memorable female role in the series. Etsuko Shihomi and Hiroyuki Sanada both make guest appearances on Shadow Warriors.
What is there to like about Shadow Warriors everything and what could have been done better nothing. This is without a doubt the best season of Japanese television that I have ever seen. If you are a fan action, comedy and ninjas then you will thoroughly enjoy Shadow Warriors.
Shadow Warriors was shot for television and it is presented here in its original full frame aspect ratio. There is noticeable grain and specs of dirt through out. Colors look faithfully reproduced and detail looks sharp in the foreground and background. There are no problems with compression or artifacts and edge enhancement is so minimal you won’t even notice it unless you try to look for it. Overall while these transfers are not flawless they still look really good for a television that is nearly thirty years old. It is unlikely Shadow Warriors will ever look better unless a massive restoration is done and this is highly unlikely since this show is rather obscure so be thankful the episodes look as good as they do.
This release comes with one audio mix a Dolby Digital mono mix in the series original language of Japanese. The source material at times is limited, still outside of some minor instances where the audio feels muffled the overall quality of these mixes is more then adequate. The music and effects always sound robust. Dialog is for the most part clear and easy to make out from the rest of the mix.
Removable English subtitles have been included that are easy to read, follow and understand. The subtitles are also free of any typos.
Extras for this release are a eight page booklet with liner notes about Shadow Warriors written by Patrick Macias and a sixteen minute interview with Sonny Chiba discusses ninja’s, the Japan Action Club, Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino, Hattori Hanzô, Etsuko Shihomi, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kinji Fukasaku and Shadow Warriors. Fans of Sonny Chiba will be thoroughly thrilled by his candid and vivid responses on these various subjects.
In just a matter of few years the films of Sonny Chiba have gone from being neglected via budget labels bootlegs to getting solid first rate DVD release from Adness/Ronin Entertainment. Finally a release in which we fans can hear what Sonny has to say looking back after all these years. Many television series are often stripped down releases that come with nothing more then just the episodes and it is very cool when a rarely seen Japanese series like Shadow Warriors gets the red carpet treatment it does with this release, highly recommended.
For more information about Shadow Warriors visit Ronin Entertainment here.