The Bodyguard (1973 / 1976)

bodyguard_1976_poster_01Country: Japan
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Aaron Banks, Judy Lee, Bill Louie
Director: Tatsuichi Takamori (1973)
Director: Simon Nuchtern (1976)
Cinematographer: Joel Shapiro
Music: Maurice Sarli
Producer: Susumu Yoshikawa (1973)
Producer: Terry Levene (1976)
AKA: Chiba The Bodyguard, Viva Chiba
Original Title: Karate Kiba

Sometimes in this day and age it is easy to forget how videotapes, DVD and Blu-ray have changed the way we watch movies, especially coupled with the search and buying options available through the internet. As a young boy growing up in rural Australia, I had no inkling of the films of Sonny Chiba. The were certainly not given a drive-in release in my home town, and were never going to turn up on commercial television at that time.

The interesting thing here, is that if Chiba had been available to me, it most likely would not be in the format I am used to today. Now this is not intended as a product endorsement — more to illustrate the way I am used to seeing Chiba film — down under there is a company called Madman, that has an off-shoot called Eastern Eye which specialises in Asian cinema. There films are gorgeously presented in widescreen and they often plum for the original language audio, with English subtitles for their releases. There are exceptions, such as the Godzilla films where they give you the option of subs or dub. But generally they serve up pretty authentic releases, served up the way the films were originally meant to be seen. Some of their Chiba releases have included Bullet Train, Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge and two of the Yakuza Deka films. All these films look great; are hip and funky in a ’70s kind of way, and suggested a certain style in a Chiba movie — that being tough crime films with a serve of high impact martial arts.

Bodyguard8Of course there is more to the story of Chiba, and these films only whetted my appetite for more of Chiba’s unique kind of thrills. Next I tracked down a film called Satomi Hakken Den (Legend of the Eight Samurai) directed by the chameleon Kinji Fukasaku. As much as I enjoyed Satomi Hakken Den – especially the giant Muppet centipede – what intrigued me more on the disk were the trailers for other Chiba features. One of these features was G.I. Samurai and the trailer suggests it is the story of a band of modern combat soldiers, led by Chiba, who slip through a crack in time and land in the middle of a turf war between two warring clans in feudal times. My jaw dropped, and I audibly exclaimed “Hell, yeah!” This is a film I need in my life.

Next, independently, Keith at Teleport City reviewed Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope. Once again, that little voice in my head shouted “Hell, yeah — this is a film that I need in my life.” And at that point, I sadly realised I knew nothing about Chiba, and I had to dig deeper. Those pristine, widescreen prints were going to be a thing of the past. All I knew was my viewing was going to consist of murky second generation dupes, and it was going to get bloody. First stop…The Bodyguard (well almost!)

Bodyguard7Before I started watching The Bodyguard there was a not-so-subtle hint that my world of Chiba was going to change. Firstly I went to ‘special features’ on the disk and there was a teaser for Street Fighter’s Last Revenge. As I alluded to earlier, Street Fighter’s Last Revenge was a film that I had already seen on an Eastern Eye disk. I thought that it was a great little action film with an impossibly funky score. But I chose to watch the teaser, and the first thing that struck me was that it was a dub (rather than subbed, as I know the film). The smooth, modulated dialogue was no longer there. Instead Chiba was angry and shouting “Don’t anybody move or I’ll rip this motherf*cker’s head off!” I knew Terry, The Streetfighter as a tough, man-of-action, but here, he was presented as one crazy, wild-eyed, bad-ass motherf*cker. This was a man who makes Maurizio Merli, Steven Segal and Michael Dudikoff or anyone who specialised in ‘revenge flicks’ look like boy scouts.

Next I moved on to The Bodyguard and it appears to be a film released in Japan in 1973, and then reissued in America in 1976 with some extra footage and atrocious dubbing. But first things first. I know it’s no longer cool to like Quentin Tarrantino any more. I know his films are a bunch of stolen moments from other films. But I like his films – I thought Inglourious Basterds was brilliant – and I must admit it still gives me a thrill when I discover the source of another of his in-jokes. The Bodyguard provides a clue to a moment in Pulp Fiction, when Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) explains to Tim Roth, that his is the wallet that says ‘Bad Mother F*cker’. But now I see that maybe Jules wasn’t the aforementioned ‘Bad Mother F*cker’, but Sonny Chiba is. How so? The speech that Jules says to scare his intended victims, Ezekiel 17:25, is presented in the opening credits of The Bodyguard, however where Jules quotes it correctly, The Bodyguard has the cheek to modify the words.

The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the iniquity of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper, and the father of lost children. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am Chiba the Bodyguard when I shall lay my vengeance upon them!

So Jules’ speech in Pulp Fiction is a homage to the Baddest Mother F*cker of them all — Sonny Chiba! Can ya dig it!

BodyguardTCThe film opens in New York, with a scene that could be ripped off from The Godfather. An underworld Don, Salvatore Rocco and his family are gunned down on the steps outside a large church. The newspaper reports suggest the police are now searching for the Rocco’s Japanese mistress who is said to have disappeared.

Then we cut to a far to obvious, new scene that has been shoehorned into the film. It features two martial artists,Aaron Banks and Bill Louie, two real life martial arts champions, who are debating the strengths and weaknesses of Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba’s fighting styles, including a demonstration of Bruce’s double nung-chuck technique. They round out the conversation by informing the audience that Chiba is on his way back to Tokyo.

The movie skips forward to the flight and a bunch of badasses hijack the flight. They hijack it for one reason, and that’s because Sonny Chiba is on the flight. Sonny, not only is the world’s number one martial artist, but he is also a fierce opponent of drugs and drug trafficking. These goons who have taken control of the flight, want to kill Chiba because of his interference with their drug trade. But even though there are five hijackers with guns, Chiba still kills each one of them with a series of power punches that have the bad guys spitting blood and teeth – that is before they die.

Upon arrival in Japan, Chiba appears on television vowing to stop the flow of drugs into the country, and furthermore offers himself up as a bodyguard to anybody who has information that can put the drug cartels out of action. One girl, Ricoh comes forward and asks for Chiba’s assistance. Before he will help her, he needs to see some proof. She says she has some evidence in the glove box of her car. Chiba sends his sister, Maggie down stairs to collect it, but the bad guys are waiting for her. As Chiba’s sister, Maggie has some fight skills of her own, but up against four men, she is outmatched. They knock her unconscious and strip her naked and lay her out. The shadow from the cross at the top of a church steeple covers her body. It’s actually quite a good visual moment – possibly better than this film deserves. After a while, when Maggie hasn’t returned, Chiba heads down to investigate. He finds her with the words ‘Cosa Nostra’ carved into her arm. Chiba now knows for sure he is up against the mafia.

Bodyguard4Convinced that Ricoh is in danger, Chiba agrees to protect her. They go back to her apartment, and Chiba does a sweep to check that everything is okay. The apartment appears clean and free from danger. Later that night, however, a gang of assassins cut their way out of the furniture (couches and armchairs) where they have been hiding. I guess when you think about it, it is pretty goofy, but this scene represents one of the highlights of the whole movie, so I recommend basking in the ‘goofiness’. Chiba, of course, then fights with the bad guys in his usual rib shattering and arm snapping way.

Of course, as most people would have guessed, Ricoh is the ‘missing’ mistress of Salvatore Rocco (the underworld figure shot down at the start of the film). Therefore she is not really interested in stemming the flow of narcotics into Japan. She simply wants Chiba to protect her form the various gangs — the Mafia and the Yakuza — who are after her and the drug shipment she has arranged to be brought into the country.

Essentially this makes Chiba a stupid dupe and he follows her around Tokyo while she makes arrangements to unload the drugs. When he finally wakes up to what is going on, for some strange reason he still agrees to help her. It is all very silly, sloppy and contrived. Some of this may be due to the American re-editing and dubbing of the film, but I think even the original Japanese version of the film would be low hanging fruit.

Bodyguard3The amazing thing about Chiba, is no matter where he hits an opponent, you can be sure that the guy spits blood. He could punch a Yakuza gang member in the knee cap, and sure enough, the Yakuza would keel over and a bubble of thick, bright red blood would dribble over his lips. It is a unique talent that Chiba has, and a talent that generally makes his films so entertaining. Not so, The Bodyguard. Sure there’s plenty of blood spitting, even a few teeth flying, but on the whole this film is pretty muddled and uninspiring.

Visually, the camera shots are tightly focused and there is an over abundance of hand held cinematography.Some of the fight scenes are so dimly lit and jerkily edited, it is hard to tell if they are well choreographed or not. Which is what you really watch a Chiba picture for – the stylised fight scenes. But when they are stylised and filmed in such a fashioned, it renders the film physically impotent.
Co-starring with Chiba is Etsuko Shihomi, who also starred with Chiba in a whole swag of films including; The Legend of the Eight Samurai, Shogun Ninja, Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, Bullet Train, The Streetfighter, The Streetfighter’s Last Revenge, Sister Streetfighter and many others.

The Bodyguard is not great Chiba, and I think I’ll keep searching for a copy of G.I. Samurai to slake my thirst for Chiba’s unique style of mayhem, and I’d suggest that other Chibafiles look elsewhere too.

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The Bodyguard (1973 / 1976)

The Killing Machine (1975)

TKM8

Country: Japan
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Yutaka Nakajima, Makoto Sato, Naoya Makoto, Sanae Kitabayashi, Akiko Mori, Hosei Komatsu, Tetsuro Tanba
Director: Norifumi Suzuki
Writer: Isao Matsumoto
Cinematographer: Yoshio Nakajima
Music: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Original Title: Shôrinji kenpô

Minor warning. This review contains adult themes.

As a teenager at school, out in the yard, talk would often drift to the ‘forbidden knowledge’ – essentially R-rated violence and pornography. Not that any of us were really exposed to it. One of the most revered topics under discussion was Caligula. Now I don’t know how many of my peers had actually seen Caligula; I am guessing that one or two may have, however it would not surprise me if none of them had. The story always retold was always the same one, so I get the impression that the story was almost a hand-me-down for those who wanted to project an image of being more extreme (and experienced) than their friends. I must admit I never saw Caligula until quite recently. I think I have told the story before — that when I watched it, I was suffering from a rather virulent dose of the flu and running a high fever. I had also promised to take my son to see the Revenge of the Sith on that weekend too. So I was hopped up on every medicine known to man fading in an out of coherency. To this day I am not too sure where Caligula ends and Sith begins. It lives in my mind as some violent porno mashup.

But back to the halcyon days of youth and the legend of Caligula. By legend, I of course mean the story that was told time and time again; and that story related to the sequence where Caligula cuts off the guys cock and then feeds it to the dogs. As you can imagine to a hormonal teenage boy — with optimistic dreams of many, many years of fine swordsmanship in front of him — the thought of having your cock cut off was just too abhorrent to contemplate. And furthermore, how dare the film-makers put such a sequence in a movie!

Of course, as bright-eyed and bushy tailed youngsters, we didn’t know who Sonny Chiba was, and therefore were certainly unaware of the existence of The Killing Machine, which was made in 1975 — or if you prefer 5 B.C. (Before Caligula). In The Killing Machine, Sonny Chiba plays Japanese Kenpo Karate master Doshin Soh, who, when he tangles with a local gangster who thinks with his little head, takes to cutting the man’s cock off and throwing it to the dogs.

TKM2

However, despite my long-winded intro and talk of penile severance; and despite the film’s title The Killing Machine; and despite that this is a Chiba film made at the height of his violent, rib-shattering fame, this film is actually quite a moving and emotionally charged drama — but with, y’know, Chiba hitting and kicking people.

The film is the slightly fictionalized story of real life kenpo master Doshin Soh, and spans the years from 1945, at the end of the second World War, until what I’d guess is 1950, but it is never really specified. The thing with Soh is that he was trained in Shaolin Kung-Fu in China and is presented as having far superior martial arts skills than his fellow Japanese who have only studied karate or judo.

The film starts in 1945. The war is still raging, and Soh is a Japanese spy who has infiltrated a Chinese garrison. A mission briefing reveals to Soh that the Chinese are planning a big attack on a Japanese force arriving from Manchuria. However, before Soh can make off with the information, he is discovered and a fight breaks out. Soh’s solution is a simple one, and that is to kill everybody in the room. Forget the AK47 — ‘when you absolutely, positively have to kill every motherf*cker in the room’ — the perfect weapon is Sonny Chiba. After the carnage, Soh reports back to his superiors only to be told that Japan has unconditionally surrendered. The war is over. At that point Soh declares that ‘Japan may have lost the war, but he’ll never be defeated. Never!’

It’s a tough time for the Japanese after the war. They are victimised by the Chinese, the Koreans, the Russians and American occupational forces. It is almost like they are beggars in their own country. But Soh isn’t one to give in — and he does everything in his power to see that other Japanese citizens are able to survive, with a modicum of dignity. That’s actually one of the core themes of the film — national pride and standing by each other. Of course, there are Yakuza gangs who don’t live by Soh’s code and are more concerned with making a profit out of the hardship that most people face. They do this by peddling black-market food and medicine.

TKM3

In Osaka, Soh becomes a surrogate father for many of the orphaned and homeless children in the area, passing on his wisdom as they struggle to survive. At the same time, he spends a large portion of his time getting into street brawls with the black marketeers who are exploiting the situation. After crippling two American G.I.s who almost killed a young Japanese boy, Soh is sent to prison, and it is looking likely that he will be executed. But the prison warden, a patriotic Japanese (a cameo by Tetsuro Tamba) turns a blind eye and allows Soh to escape, so long as Soh promises to leave the city.

The film skips forward to 1947, and Soh is in Tadotsu, on the island of Shikoku, and he has started a martial arts school, teaching those who are willing to learn the ways of Shaolin. His timing is fortuitous, because a gang of Yakuza are determined to not only control illegal activity, but generally do whatever they please — which happens to mean take and rape any girl that they want.

When the a group of Yakuza members gang-rape a young girl named Noriko and the police refuse to do anything about it, Soh steps in. And out come the scissors — and after my long-winded intro, you should know what comes next. The film rounds out its story with a final message which is that ‘Fighting without justice is just violence.’ Obviously that’s a great little message, but I guess if you were looking at the body of Sonny Chiba’s work at this time, I think it is fair to say that maybe, just maybe, he was miscast in this film.

If The Killing Machine was solely another violent exploitation flick in the same style as many other films that Chiba was making during this period, then it would leer and revel in the torridness it was depicting. Instead it treats its subject matter with sensitivity and honour. Sure the film has a few unpleasant moments, but they are not in the film to excite the audience. They are there as obstacles that the characters (and one assumes Doshin Soh in real life) had to overcome. Each obstacle makes them stronger people. All in all, this is a surprisingly enjoyable movie.

The Killing Machine (1975)

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno (1974)

Country: Japan
Director: Teruo Ishii
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Eiji Gô, Yutaka Nakajima, Etsuko Shihomi, Kanjûrô Arashi, Ryô Ikebe, Tetsurô Tanba, Makoto Satô
Music: Hajime Kaburagi
Original Title: Chokugeki jigoku-ken: Dai-gyakuten

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno is a broad comedic caper film, with a pinch of extreme violence added at the end (which may be somewhat jarring to Western audiences). As for the ‘Karate Inferno’ promised in the title, it is more of a ‘Karate Camp Fire’. There is very little fistic mayhem in this film compared to many other Chiba films. However, if you ignore the title, and enjoy caper movies, then you’ll find this film is very entertaining.

As the film opens, Lady Sabine, a rich heiress, is preparing to exhibit her jewel collection in Tokyo. The price piece is a necklace called The Star of the Pharaoh, which is valued at one million yen. However, before the exhibition, the necklace is stolen, and Sabine’s young daughter is kidnapped. The criminals want one million yen for the necklace, and the girl.

The insurance company – through a shady intermediary named The Commissioner (Ryo Ikebe) – recruit three super crooks to steal the money back from the criminals once the exchange has been made. The super crooks are Ryuichi Koga (Sonny Chiba), Takeshi Hayabusa (Makoto Sato), and Ichiro Sakura (Eiji Go).

The exchange goes wrong. Sabine’s daughter is rescued, however, the money and necklace remain in the hands of the criminals. As a result, the super crooks don’t get paid. Further more, Sabine deals directly with the criminals, paying an extra million yen to have the necklace returned.

Koga is not happy about being stiffed his fee, and decides to steal the necklace from Sabine. He scales the side of high-rise building, cuts through the window and steals the necklace, but only to find it is a fake. The real necklace is in a vault on the nineteenth floor, of a high-security building. The super crook team re-assembles to break into the vault – with the usual, caper film tropes in place.

As I mentioned at the top, the film, which is so light in tone for most of its running time has an extremely violent ending – with eyeballs popping from their sockets, and a liver being torn from a body.

The sexual content is playful, but puerile (in an Animal House kind of way). There are upskirt shots and leering in high-rise windows scenes. It would also appear only half of Japanese women wear panties. It should be noted that Japanese movies and television have a different concept of what is offensive and/or adult. I remember when I was a teenager, visiting Japan in the mid 1980s, and flicking on late afternoon children’s television – and discovering a delightful little animated show, where a cheeky little bird would swoop down on young ladies, and rip the girls top off with its beak – thereby exposing the lady’s breasts.

I found The Executioner II: Karate Inferno to be a great deal of fun – if somewhat uneven. Now having said all that, I must point out that I have not watched the previous film, The Executioner – which is said to be almost the reverse of this feature. It is full of violence and nudity – and light on for comedy capers. So, if you were to come to this film from The Executioner, and were expecting more of the same, I could see how this film may disappoint. After all, Chiba does have a reputation for in-your-face actioners, and Karate Inferno never really delivers on that score.

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno (1974)

Sonny Chiba's Dragon Princess (1976)

Country: Japan
Director: Yutaka Kohira
Starring: Etsuko Shihomi, Sonny Chiba, Yasuaki Kurata, Masashi Ishibashi, Jirô Chiba, Bin Amatsu
Original Music: Shunsuke Kikuchi
AKA: Which is Stronger, Karate or Tiger?
Original Title: Hissatsu onna kenshi

In some parts of the world, this film was known as Sonny Chiba’s Dragon Princess, which would imply that this is a Sonny Chiba film. Yes, he’s in it. Don’t you worry about that – for a full twenty minutes. Then he hands the reigns over to his frequent co-star Etsuko Shihomi. But it must be said, Shihomi is no slouch herself, and for the most part, Dragon Princess is a fairly entertaining – however I will add this caveat. Seek out a decent quality print. The print I watched was pretty ragged pan & scan version – taken from a worn VHS dupe. The fight scenes often appeared clunky – not because they were badly choreographed – but because one of the fighters was cropped off the screen. The film was also dubbed quite atrociously. So while I enjoyed it, I doubt many viewers have the tolerance for crap that I do.

At the risk of making the film sound like a work-place drama, as the film opens, a job position has opened up to become Tokyo’s leading karate instructor. The front runner to get the job is Kazuma Higaki (Sonny Chiba). The second favourite is a fellow named Nikaido, and in an old run down church, on a cold and dark stormy night, he challenges Kazuma to a fight. Kazuma arrives with his daughter Yumi in tow. However, Kazuma does not believe there is a reason to fight. Surely they can work it out, without having to resort to violence.

Nikaido doesn’t see it that way and bullies Kazuma into the fight. It’s a bad move, as Kazuma is a superior martial artist, and is winning the battle. But Nikaido is not the type of guy to accept defeat magnanimously. He has three other fighters hidden in the church – and they appear from the shadows armed with knives, poles, swords, etc.

Despite the weight of numbers being against him, Kazuma still acquits himself well, that is until one of Nikaido’s goons grabs Yumi. Kazuma grabs a rope, and swings to her aid, kicking off the aggressor. The as he moves to drag her to safety, one of the fiends throws a knife at her. Kazuma leaps into the knife’s path. It hits him in the left eye.

Now Kazuma is impeded, the other goons swoop in for the kill. They stab him with a sword. Kazuma is defeated. However, Nikaido agrees to spare Kazuma’s life, if he leaves Tokyo for good. Kazuma agrees.

The film cuts to New York. Actually the subtitle says New York, but later in the dubbed dialogue, it suggests it is San Francisco. Either way, Kazuma and Yumi have settled somewhere in America. Kazuma, with an eye-patch, is bitter about the betrayal in the church, and sets about claiming his revenge. Yumi is to be his instrument of vengeance, and he subjects her to a brutal training regime.

After she grows to adulthood, Kazuma dies, and Yumi (now grown into Etsuko Shihomi) returns to Tokyo. First thing she does, is head to Nikaido ‘s dojo and lay down a challenge. As she is a woman, she is ridiculed and scorned, but, oh, that’ll do. You know where this is headed, right?

Throw in a pack of killer dogs, loads of fight scenes, dizzying camera work, a bad guy who is really good guy, the promise of a martial arts tournament (that never really takes place), and all the requisite elements are in place for this type of film.

As I mentioned at the top, despite the title, this isn’t really a Sonny Chiba film. It is a Etsuko Shihomi film, and it is thanks to her, that it works. She is charismatic, convincing in her fight scenes, and carries the film on her slight, but undeniably powerful shoulders.

Sonny Chiba's Dragon Princess (1976)

And the Hits Keep Comin': at Teleport City

For those who are after a bit of entertainment beyond the spy world, I have posted a few reviews over the past few months at Teleport City.

The Killing Machine

If The Killing Machine was solely another violent exploitation flick in the same style as many other films that Chiba was making during this period, then it would leer and revel in the torridness it was depicting. Instead it treats its subject matter with sensitivity and honour. Sure the film has a few unpleasant moments, but they are not in the film to excite the audience. They are there as obstacles that the characters (and one assumes Doshin Soh in real life) had to overcome. Each obstacle makes them stronger people. All in all, this is a surprisingly enjoyable movie. To see Sonny Chiba dish out his unique brand of justice click here.

The Bodyguard

Next I moved on to The Bodyguard and it appears to be a film released in Japan in 1973, and then reissued in America in 1976 with some extra footage and atrocious dubbing. But first things first. I know it’s no longer cool to like Quentin Tarrantino any more. I know his films are a bunch of stolen moments from other films. But I like his films – I thought Inglourious Basterds was brilliant – and I must admit it still gives me a thrill when I discover the source of another of his in-jokes. The Bodyguard provides a clue to a moment in Pulp Fiction, when Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) explains to Tim Roth, that his is the wallet that says ‘Bad Mother F#cker’. But now I see that maybe Jules wasn’t the aforementioned ‘Bad Mother’, but Sonny Chiba is. How so? The speech that Jules says to scare his intended victims, Ezekiel 17:25, is presented in the opening credits of The Bodyguard, however where Jules quotes it correctly, The Bodyguard has the cheek to modify the words.

The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the iniquity of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper, and the father of lost children. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am Chiba the Bodyguard when I shall lay my vengeance upon them!

So Jules’ speech in Pulp Fiction is a homage to the Baddest Mother of them all — Sonny Chiba! Can ya dig it! To be dropped knee deep in the mayhem, click here.

She Shoots Straight

Then we move to Hong Kong, and Sammo Hung’s wife, Joyce Godenzi takes on a Vietnamese super-criminal. The biggest failing in this film is its lack of logic. Sure it is action packed and the stunts are great, but the shear illogicality of many of the sequences beggars belief. There is no ’cause’ and ‘effect’. If Dirty Harry and his imitators were chewed out by their superiors for endangering the lives of innocent civilians, then by the end of this film, the whole Huang family, which seems to make up the majority of the Hong Kong police force, would be constantly on suspension, or kicked off the force. The disrespect for human life and property is absolutely staggering. But, after all it is only a movie and not real life. To enjoy the mayhem, click here.

Salute of the Jugger

I realise that Salute of the Jugger as released, is a very flawed film. It lacks plot and characterisation. Even as a post-apocalyptic tale of society reverting back to a primitive state it fails miserably. But as a sports film where the underdog takes on a vastly superior opponent and against all odds and achieves the impossible, Jugger pushes all the right buttons and succeeds admirably. The end game is as thrilling to watch as it would be devastating to participate in. Over the years there have been plenty of sports films – most of them are crap (boxing comes off the best with at least the original Rocky and Raging Bull credited against the sport). But I think Salute of the Jugger is one of the great sporting films — okay the ‘game’ wasn’t a real game (one invented for the film), but this film overcomes that hurdle, and not only teaches us the rules, but also taps in to latent sporting emotions hidden within. To join the game click here.

And the Hits Keep Comin': at Teleport City

Yakuza Deka: The Assassin (1970)

Release Year: 1970
Country: Japan
Director: Yukio Noda
Writers: Fumio Konami, Yukio Noda
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Ryohei Uchida, Fumio Watanabe, Giant Baba
Editor: Osamu Tanaka
Music: Masao Yagi
Producer: Koji Ohta

The Assassin is the second film in the Yakuza Deka series, and as the poster above would suggest, this film received an American release. And while the poster plays up the more violent aspects of the story, it is in fact a whole lot lighter in tone, and subsequently far more enjoyable than the first Yakuza Deka film.

This film opens at Tokyo Airport and the Oriental Dance Company have just arrived. They are shuffled off onto a bus with all their equipment. Waiting for them is notorious gangster Ishiguro — a member of the Seiwa gang. Ishiguro is played by Ryohei Uchida, who was also in the first Yakuza Deka film playing an almost identical character; even in the way they dress — flamboyant white suits. Ishiguro has been waiting because hidden inside the Dance troops musical drum kits is a shipment of marijuana — the ‘Devil’s Weed’.

Just as the deal is done, the police swoop. Ishiguro (and an offsider) make a run for it with large suitcases full of grass. The police slowly tighten the cordon around Ishiguro until it looks like he is trapped and has no where to go. Just as he is about to be taken into custody a slick dune buggy slides into the picture. Behind the wheel is Hayata (Sonny Chiba) in a ridiculous wide brimmed hat. He looks like a pimp from a Blaxploitation flick. Hayata calls to Ishiguro and his minion to leap into the buggy, which they do. Hayata speeds away with an armada of police cars hot on his tail. Of course, they get away.

They fugitives head to the ‘Queen Bee’ night club where a swinging little band called ‘The Scorpions’ are playing. It’s a happening place. But Hayata and Ishiguro are not there for the music. They are there for the gambling and out the back there are gaming tables. Later that evening, Mob Boss Mano walks in. Then a four man acrobatic hit squad somersault down from the roof. They are all dressed in black and have rubber face masks covering their features. Armed with machine guns they start firing at Boss Mano. Hayata leaps to the Mob bosses defence and into harms way. The stream of bullets plough into Hayata’s body. Or so it seems. He is wearing a bullet proof vest. As the gun fire dies down, Hayata steps into action with his fists and feet against the deadly Assassins.

The Assassins realise their time is running out as more of Mano’s re-enforcements arrive. They flee. Afterward, Hayata asks for a job working for the Seiwa Gang. Mano recruits him, teaming him up with Ishiguro. It appears that these Assassins work for a rival gang controlled by a mobster named Natsui. Mano assigns Ishiguro and Hayata to kill rival mobster Natsui.

But if you have been reading the reviews in order, and have looked at Secret Police, you will know that Hayata is actually an undercover ‘super-cop’ and will have guessed that his mission is to bring down the mobsters on both sides. To lay this on nice and thick the film cuts to Hayata’s mission briefing scene, which adhering to standard spy film tradition is in a darkened room, where Hayata is shown slides and footage of the pertinent players involved in the operation. Hayata’s name is then wiped from the police list and then told he will be operating on his own — with no backup or guarantee of safety. Finally, before being sent off, he is given a suitcase full of secret weapons which he can use over the course of the mission (but to my recollection the suitcase is never seen again throughout the film — so much for ‘gadgets’!)

The film has a weird romantic interlude. Actually the interlude isn’t that weird, but the way it is filmed is. As Hayata and his romantic interest ride on horseback, a silky pop song is crooned over the top — nothing new there, right? But it looks like the film-makers have experimented with putting vaseline on the edges of the lens to soften the image. In one part of the montage it looks like they have added too much and the edges have dirty ripples. In other parts of the montage it almost looks like a smoky effect, but it has only worked at the bottom, and although deliberate, it looks like someone has over-exposed the film. I guess you’ve got to admire the film-makers willingness to experiment. Thankfully, director Noda’s strength lies in tough, straight action scenes and this film has plenty.

Now this blog is not a forum to condone or condemn drug taking. But when a film depicts drug-taking (or a scene depicting the effects of drug taking), each viewer will judge or react to the scene based on their own personal experiences (or there lack thereof). Now I am child of the late seventies and early eighties and my life has not been so sheltered that I have never met any drug users. I have met many from all walks of life. In this day and age, I would suggest most people work with at least one recreational drug user. And when I have been in the company of people of the drug taking persuasion who are older than myself I have always been told that the ‘marijuana of the early ’70s was so much stronger’ than what my generation was/is exposed to. As I am not a time traveller I can not attest to the veracity of those claims. There may be a touch of the ‘rose coloured glasses’ syndrome inherent in these kind of statements too – I do not know. Anyway, when you look at a film like Yakuza Deka: The Assassin and you witness the depiction of a ’70s ‘marijuana party’ two possibilities spring to mind. The first is ‘Wow!’ — the dope back then was a lot stronger — it caused people to have wild orgies, while the room around them pulsed and throbbed as it changed colours. And the second possibility is that the film-makers had never actually tried marijuana and their depiction of a party is actually a generic ‘trippy drug sequence’. Either way, the scene is a spin out.

I really enjoyed Yakuza Deka: The Assassin. Sonny Chiba provides another highly entertaining performance. There is no denying his athleticism and cat like martial arts skills. This film doesn’t use wires — all the running, jumping and flipping is for real. Chiba even has a few moments of light comedy when he is confronted by the wrestler Giant Baba — he gets to mug and pull a few faces.

The Assassin is better than the first film Secret Police — but due to the familiar casting of Ryohei Uchida once again, and a plot that is so similar to the first film, it feels like an also ran or a remake. I would suggest that if you chose to watch them, do not do it in close succession like I have, because it will take some of the gloss off all that this film has to offer.

Yakuza Deka: The Assassin (1970)

Yakuza Deka: Secret Police (1970)

Release Year: 1970
Country: Japan
Director: Yukio Noda
Writers: Fumio Konami, Yukio Noda
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Ryohei Uchida, Ryoji Hayama, Rinichi Yamamoto, Machiko Yashiro, Yoko Nogiwa, Toru Yuri
Editor: Osamu Tanaka
Music: Masao Yagi
Producers: Koji Ohta, Masao Sato

The James Bond films were more than a massive hit in Japan. They were an unprecedented phenomenon. When the series went to Japan to make You Only Live Twice, the crowds and the attention that Sean Connery garnered were overwhelming. In the book Martinis, Girls and Guns (Sterling & Morecambe. Robson Books 2002), Connery is quoted in an interview from 1974 saying:
‘When we went to Japan, and then to Bangkok and Hong Kong, there were people crowded into Hotel lobbies and on street corners, just waiting to look at me. It became a terrible pressure, like living in a goldfish bowl.’

With the massive influence of Bond in Japan it is not so very surprising that they would start making their own spy movies and television shows. But, and this is just an observation rather than a hard cold fact, the Japanese version of a secret agent was a little different to the one that Western audiences were used to. Firstly, they usually were experts in a form of martial arts. And secondly, and possibly more importantly is that they never left Japan — that is they didn’t ‘globetrot’ like Eurospies — and the agency that they worked for was usually an offshoot of the Police Department. The films are very much spy films, with all the trappings you’d expect — girls, guns, gadgets, and dastardly villains, but the spies depicted were often glorified police men. The titles of many of the Japanese spy films reflect this, like the five film International Secret Police series — International Secret Police: Order No. 8, International Secret Police: Fangs of the Tiger, International Secret Police: Powder Keg, International Secret Police: Key of Keys, International Secret Police: Desperation (portions of Powder Keg and Key of Keys were used as the base for Woody Allen’s What’s Up Tiger Lily?)The children’s television show Spycatcher J3 had it’s operatives working for T.U.L.I.P. (The Undercover Line of International Police) but the series focused on the activities of its Tokyo branch. And Zero Woman (in numerous films) worked for the secret ‘Zero Branch’ of the Police Department. I think I have laboured the point — spies were in fact ‘super cops’.

This review looks at another ‘super cop’ played by martial arts superstar Sonny Chiba in the first film of the Yakuza Deka (Gangster Detective) series. The Australian DVD release is actually called Yakuza Deka: Secret Police. There are four films in the series — the others being Yakuza Deka: The Assassin (Yakuza Deka: Marifuana Mitsubai Soshiki [lit. Gangster Detective: Marijuana Smugglers Ring] 1970, also directed by Yukio Noda), Yakuza Deka: Poison Gas Affair (Yakuza Deka: Kyofu no Doku Gasu [lit. Gangster Dective: The Terror of Poison Gas] 1971, directed by Ryuichi Takamori) and finally Yakuza Deka: No Epitaphs for Us (Yakuza Deka: Oretachi ni Haka wa nai [lit. Gangster Detective: No Graves for Us] 1971, also directed by Ryuichi Takamori). As far as I am aware the last two films are not currently available on DVD.

Yakuza Deka: Secret Police opens in a pachinko parlour in the Ginza. The police surround the building and attempt to arrest two gang members. One is Tetsuji Asai (Ryohei Uchida), who is wearing a slick white suit. The other is Hayata (Sonny Chiba), and he is kind of scruffy looking. Tetsuji and Hayata attempt to make a run for it, and end up on the streets with a veritable army of police after them. But somehow, against the odds, they manage to get away.

Later that evening they are in a gambling house — and guess what? Yep, another raid by the police. Before attempting to make their own escape, Tetsuji and Hayata help the mob boss who runs the gambling house to evade capture. Then they try to get away, but no such luck. They are caught and end up in a jail cell.

But Hayata’s incarceration is short lived. Why? Because he is an undercover police officer. But cell-time is not the only thing that was short lived. Hayata career as a police officer is short lived too. After he is released, in an act of petulance he steals the ‘police department’ sign from out the front of the building. He is booted off the force.

It doesn’t take long for the Yakuza to come sniffing around Hayata. He has valuable skills. Tetsuji is sent to evaluate him and see if he is made from the ‘right stuff’. This is actually a pretty amusing scene. They face each other on the beach, each behing at the wheel of a dune buggy. Then they both place a rose between their teeth. Next, with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on a pistol, they drive at each other firing their guns. The object is not to kill each other, but to shoot their opponent’s rose from it’s stem.

Soon Hayata is accepted into the Yashiro Gang. But — and you’ve propbably guessed this, as this is a spy film review and so far there has been no spying — Hayata is actually working super secretly under cover to bring down the Yashiro Gang, and their financier, Mr Akutsu.

Of course, the Yashiro Gang don’t trust Hayata implicitly. No, they choose to test him. They want the rival gang — the Okura Gang — out of the way. To do this, the Yashiro fake an ambush on Hayata. They then tell Hayata that it was the Okura Gang. So Hayata’s mission for the Yashiro is to kill the head of the Okura Gang. Which he does, now becoming a target for the Okura Gang. I don’t think that I’d be the first to suggest that the story of a man caught in the middle of two warring factions bares a passing resemblance to Yojimbo (or Fistful of Dollars if you prefer).

Yakuza Deka is fairly action packed, but at the beginning it has a confusing directorial style. The story makes sense by the end of the film, but all throughout are these little action set pieces that seem to have little purpose. Only after the scene, is the plot explained. I guess in some ways the film is like an old school detective film and you only find out what is going on as Hayata does. The action sequences however, are not like an old school detective film. Yakuza Deka is tough and violent with a healthy dose of martial arts thrown into the mix.

The last twenty minutes of this film is packed with fights, shootings, electrocutions, explosions, leaping from rooftops, and car chases. There’s even a pesky helicopter dropping dynamite on our hero. In other words, the film has a bit of everything — everything that a spy film afficianado could ask for.

A special thanks to John Drake on the Eurospy Forum for answering my question about this series – and information in general about Japanese spy films and television shows.

Yakuza Deka: Secret Police (1970)