Written by: Michael Den Boer on December 19th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1970, 1981
Directors: Yukio Noda, Yataka Kodaira, Yutaka Kohira
Writers: Fumio Konami, Yukio Noda
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Ryohei Uchida, Jirô Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi
DVD released: September 21st, 2004
Approximate running time: 180 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 Pan and Scan
Sound: Dolby Digital stereo
DVD Release: Ground Zero
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $14.95
Sonny Chiba is most famous for his role as Terry Tsurugi from the Street Fighter films. Sue Shihomi was a protégée of Sonny Chiba and she was one of a few women invited to join the elite Japan Action Club. Nearly thirty years after achieving international stardom from the Street Fighter films Sonny Chiba would be reintroduced to American audiences in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill volume 1.
Hyata (Sonny Chiba) is an undercover cop who dresses flamboyantly in a broad-brimmed hat and leather pants. He has been assigned to break up local Marijuana racket. He gets his chance to infiltrate the organization when one night he saves the bosses life from would be assassins.
Through out the movie Chiba is dressed in some far out fashions in vogue during the late 1960’s. This film isn’t strictly just an action film like most of Chiba’s films and in fact it spends most of the running time camping up James Bond and other spies’ series popular at the time. The action is top notch as Chiba shows in the Assassin that he is action star on the rise with his acrobatic moves and agility. These fights scenes also differ from Chiba’s later films as they are not as brutal or intense. Sonny Chiba has many talents and in the Assassin he exhibits a softer side of himself as he signs a love song. The Assassin is a melting pot of interesting ideas that never fully achieve there desired affect and it doesn’t help that a chunk of the movie is in Japanese with no English option.
A young child (Etsuko Shihomi) witnesses her father Agaki (Sonny Chiba), as a quartet of karate thugs called the Big Four lead by Nikado nearly beat him to death. Nikado will do anything to take Agaki’s title as “the top Karate instructor” and instead of playing by the rules Nikado and his thugs beat Agaki until he agrees to leave Tokyo. Blinded in one eye by Nikado’s thugs Agaki flees to New York City with his daughter (Etsuko Shihomi), where Agaki rigorous training lasts for years taking away his daughters childhood and Shiomi goes to Tokyo in honor of her fathers last wish to settle score with Nikado and the Big Four. Once in Tokyo Shiomi goes to live with her grandfather where she plans her father’s enemy’s demise.
Sonny Chiba is only briefly in Dragon Princess and the real star of the film is Etsuko Shihomi. Dragon Princess it your typical revenge tale where the plot isn’t as important as the action and this film nicely showcases Shihomi and her Martial arts skills. Shihomi’s co-star Yasuaki Kurata (of G-men 75 fame), is equally impressive with his fighting scenes. The film is shot fairly standard and not that inspired from its directors and the film has a retro kung fu 80’s soundtrack. Etsuko Shihomi through very little dialog is deadly and beautiful as she exacts her revenge. She more then proves that she can hold her own against man or woman.
The Assassin is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio the crops the image from its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There is some minor print damage and the colors are good still nothing to write how about. This transfer was most likely sourced for a VHS tape and even though the image is far from perfect it is still one of the better Sonny Chiba Budget DVD releases that I have seen so far. Dragon Princess is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio the crops the image from its original aspect ratio. The image appears soft most of the time with colors that are faded. This title was most likely sourced from a VHS tape and the quality is all over the map.
The Assassin comes with an unusual audio mix. The film is only partially dubbed into English and about ¼ of the film has been left in its original Japanese audio source. No subtitles have been included for these portions of Japanese dialog. Dragon Princess comes with only one audio option an English dubbed audio track. There are some minor instances of hiss and distortion, still nothing that ever becomes to distracting. The dialog and action is easy to follow through out.
The lack of extras for this Sonny Chiba double feature DVD comes as no surprise since budget DVD releases like this one are more about getting the most, bang for your buck. Ground Zero as usual release another sub par release that totally overlooks quality in favor of cheaper VHS sources that leave a lot to be desired. This Sonny Chiba double feature DVD is a rental at best and because of the inclusion the bizarre film the Assassin hardcore Chiba fans might want to check out this oddity.
Note: There is a minor playback problem while playing the movie The Assassin. After the first chapter about the fifteen minute mark the DVD goes back to the main menu instead of proceeding to the next chapter on the DVD. The second chapter can be accessed from the scene selection menu and the rest of the film plays without a hitch.