Category Archives: 1974

Sister Street Fighter (1974, Yamaguchi Kazuhiko)

Sister Street Fighter should be campy. With the constant horns in Kikuchi Shunsuke’s score, lead Shiomi Etsuko’s colorful outfit, villain Amatsu Bin doing an Elvis impersonation, the countless and intentionally weird martial arts villains… it ought to be campy. But it’s not, because somehow Sister Street Fighter manages to keep its melodrama sincere.

Lead Shiomi is a Hong Kong martial arts champion who goes to Japan to search for her missing brother. He too is a martial arts champion, but like many good martial arts champions, he’s also a secret drug agent. Shiomi isn’t just a concerned sister or martial arts champion, she’s got the assignment of finding him. It’s unclear if she regularly works as a secret agent or just this one time.

Shiomi’s a likable lead. Sister Street Fighter never goes out of its way to require anything like acting from its cast; likable’s about as high as you can get. Especially since Shiomi gets the more tedious half of the movie. The other half is all of Amatsu’s villainy, which gets pretty awful, or something with his goons. Even though the goons are sort of played for laughs and aren’t especially good at being eccentric martial arts villains, the film always takes them seriously. Somehow staying straightfaced through the absurdities does more for pacing than Shiomi’s dramatically inert search for her brother.

In Japan, Shiomi gets herself a bunch of friends and allies, including Sonny Chiba in an extended cameo. Chiba himself had a Street Fighter franchise, but playing a different character (with Shiomi appearing in the final entry, not as the same character as here). There’s no baton-passing to Shiomi, just the relatively effective too slight mentorship. Chiba’s a karate man, Shiomi’s a karate woman, they believe in the good karate schools. They’re pals and they’ve got the most star power in the picture.

Sadly, they barely get any time together.

Amatsu’s an okay villain. He’s an evil jackass, walking around with his sunglasses on all the time and his Elvis capes. Ishibashi Masashi is Amatsu’s overconfident henchman who can’t deal with Shiomi beating him up. Ishibashi’s all right too.

As for the eccentric villains, none of them stand out good or bad. Director Yamaguchi shoots all the fight scenes in long shot with very few cuts. It’s about seeing the fight progress. The fight choreography isn’t great, but what it does well, Yamaguchi knows how to showcase.

He also knows how to do the ultraviolence quite well. Sister Street Fighter is often bloodless, but only because they’re saving all the gore for the finale. It should’ve been peppered throughout, especially given Shiomi’s plot is so bland and it could use all the help.

Most of the film involves Shiomi at Amatsu’s estate, which is a mix of Bond villain, bikini bimbos, and dungeons. Lots and lots of dungeons, but with tech. Shiomi has to break in after the second or third time everyone thinks she’s dead. Sister Street Fighter is short but repetitive. Unfortunately it’s not to reinforce information gathering, but because the writers don’t have any other ideas. So why not just do this one thing again. And then again.

But the scenes with Shiomi on the estate take up a lot of runtime. It’s got a great pace. It doesn’t have the best direction in the film, but it definitely moves the best.

In the end, Sister Street Fighter doesn’t succeed, it just doesn’t fail. It’s like it isn’t even ambitious enough to fail.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Yamaguchi Kazuhiko; written by Kakefuda Masahiro and Suzuki Noribumi; director of photography, Nakajima Yoshio; edited by Tanaka Osamu; music by Kikuchi Shunsuke; production designer, Nakamura Shuichiro; produced by Takamura Kenji and Yoshimine Kineo; released by Toei Company.

Starring Etsuko Shiomi (Li Koryu), Emi Hayakawa (Emi), Sanae Ôhori (Shinobu Kojo), Xiu-Rong Xie (Fanshin), Hiroshi Kondô (Li Gyokudo), Tatsuya Nanjô (Jiro), Nami Tachibana (Reiko), Hiroshi Miyauchi (Li Mansei), Bin Amatsu (Shigetomi Kakuzaki), Masashi Ishibashi (Kazunao Inubashiri), and Sonny Chiba (Hibiki).


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The Streetfighter’s Last Revenge (1974, Ozawa Shigehiro)

The title, The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge, doesn’t really refer to anything in the film itself. The Street Fighter is Sonny Chiba. He’s gone for psychotic killer karate man (from the first film, Last Revenge is the third) to suave, romantic ladies man. Complete with a secret room to put on his disguises. He also does disguises now. Last Revenge is often like a cheap James Bond knockoff, but then there’s some fighting and everything’s okay for a while.

Anyway. Chiba doesn’t wantonly kill everyone anymore but he still does get cheated by the criminals who hire him for the odd jobs. Only Last Revenge is more interested in the Chiba the ladies man than Chiba the killer karate man. So instead of fighting his way through the bad guy’s organization, Chiba instead romances the guy’s evil sister (Ike Reiko). It’s a family thing–there’s Ike, smart brother Kitamura Eizô, and stupid brother Shioji Akira.

Except it’s not a Romeo and Juliet thing, Ike’s really always just trying to kill Chiba. Sometimes involving mafia karate man Frankie Black, who has a magic power (really) to cut heavy objects with his mind. Black’s also dressed like a Mariachi. He’s really tall too. So sometimes Street Fighter’s Last Revenge will have this giant white guy Mariachi fighting Chiba.

It’s absurd and bad and awesome at the same time.

Kitamura–the smart brother–has this whole subplot about government corruption where he ends up teaming up with Wada Kôji’s corrupt prosecuting attorney. Wada’s also a karate man, ten years more advanced than Chiba.

Oh. Yeah. In addition to just having straight-forward, usually well-choreographed fight scenes, Last Revenge reduces Chiba’s badassery. He gets his ass handed to him a few times by Wada, with the film unable to figure out how to be sympathetic to Chiba. Luckily he’s a karate man and just needs to visit Suzuki Masafumi for some tips. Suzuki runs a karate school and is a real good guy, not a de facto one like Chiba.

It’s basically an excuse for director Ozawa to showcase some karate. The fight scenes have more jumping than intricate technique.

Though Shiomi Etsuko, as a young karate woman, gets some nice technique showcasing. She’s ten years too young to take on Chiba, or so he says; he’s ten years too young to take on Wada, or so Wada tells Chiba. Not being developed enough in your karate and hitting people with time-delayed fatal wounds are the big script gimmicks. Neither ever feel like anything but gimmicks.

However, it’s cool seeing Shimoi has a fun arc of rejecting Kitamura and family to be an antihero like Chiba. It gives him a protege, whether he wants one or not. There are lots of ladies interested in Chiba–the film’s first subplot involves his message service receptionist deciding she has to track him down because of his sexy voice. It makes his “romance” subplot with Ike all the more plausible.

Not good, but plausible. Even though Ike’s performance as a deceptive femme fatale is probably the film’s best bit of acting. And Ike gets no favors from the script or Ozawa’s direction. Ozawa doesn’t really do the directing performances thing. He’s patient with his composition, giving the actors space and time, but he doesn’t do anything to help them. It doesn’t really matter for any of the guys. But it matters for Shimoi and Ike.

Wada’s a good villain. Not so much to Chiba, rather as a foil in Kitamura’s plans.

So it’s a shame when none of it comes through at the end. Last Revenge has a chance to be this violent but benign martial arts thriller and screws it up so much it’s difficult to remember how or why it got the goodwill to burn.

Mostly it’s because Chiba’s got such a weak part.

Good photography from Yamagishi Nagaki. Decent score. Street Fighter’s Last Revenge is perfectly well-produced, it just can’t overcome a bad script and that script’s temperate Chiba.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Shigehiro Ozawa; written by Takada Kôji and Shimura Masahiro; director of photography, Yamagishi Nagaki; released by Toei Company.

Starring Sonny Chiba (Tsurugi), Ike Reiko (Aya), Wada Kôji (Takera Kunigami), Shiomi Etsuko (Huo-Feng), Suzuki Masafumi (Masaoka), Kitamura Eizô (Ôwada Seigen), Murakami Fuyuki (Iizuka), Shioji Akira (Ôwada Gô), and Frankie Black (Black).


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Return of the Street Fighter (1974, Ozawa Shigehiro)

Return of the Street Fighter almost stages a third act rally. It comes so close, then it doesn’t. After a string of boring fight scenes, director Ozawa finally gets in a couple good ones. Lead Sonny Chiba against one adversary, instead of a half dozen, two dozen, or four dozen. The failure to do big fight scenes is all on Ozawa. Chiba’s holding up his end–vicious karate killing machine–but Ozawa’s not shooting the fights well. When it’s just Chiba and someone else fighting, Ozawa and editor Horiike Kôzô create this rhythm to the cuts; the “story” pauses entirely for the fight.

When it’s Chiba vs. the evil karate school? Yawn. No fault of Horikke’s though; there’s just no good footage. Ozawa doesn’t do establishing shots. No matter how long Chiba’s fighting or how much ground he’s covered, no establishing shots. Ozawa never takes the camera off Chiba and never lets Chiba stop moving. Not fighting moving, but actually moving from place to place moving. It’s sort of narratively efficient but it doesn’t get the film anywhere. It’s just another unfortunate Return detail.

The story this time has Chiba working for evil karate school owner Tanaka Hiroshi–mostly doing hits. Chiba’s got a plucky, cute girl sidekick, Ichiji Yôko, who seems a little too cozy with Tanaka. Because Chiba doesn’t believe in Tanaka’s brand of karate, Tanaka’s just another client. And when Tanaka tries to hire Chiba to take out rival (good guy) karate school owner Suzuki Masafumi… well, Chiba’s got a line.

Thanks to flashback footage from the first film, we know Suzuki is the only karate school owner Chiba’s ever going to trust. Because we get to see their entire fight scene from the previous film. Return doesn’t even run ninety minutes and there are three lengthy flashbacks using first movie footage, then there’s Ozawa’s karate documentary where he showcases the various weapons and styles in use at Tanaka’s school. Why? Because then when there are actual fight scenes involving weapons and styles, Ozawa gets to rush through and just get to Chiba running away before taking the bad karate men down.

Again, it’s narratively efficient, it just doesn’t do anything good. It makes the actual fight scenes seem abbreviated. It’s a shame. When Ozawa wants, he can direct one hell of a fight scene.

Koiwa Hajjime’s script is pragmatically plotted, even when it misses opportunities. The connecting scenes between fights improve a lot in the second half of the film, contributing to the impression it’s going to get really good for the finale.

None of the cast stands out. Chiba’s pretty good, but underutilized. And it’s not like he can fix the poorly directed group fight scenes. Ichiji is annoying, but because she’s a narrative drag, nothing about the performance. Claude Gagnon is an unimpressive Mr. Big, however. And the showdown with returning baddie Ishibashi Masashi disappoints. Group fight.

The more obvious to becomes Return of the Street Fighter has nowhere to go, the more hurried the film becomes. It’s too bad; Return has the pieces to make something. The good fight scenes are quite good. They’re just dramatically inert. Given the whole film’s about Chiba resolving threads from the last movie, dramatic inertness shouldn’t even be possible.

But dramatically inert Return gets. It’s not all on director Ozawa. Most of it is on him, though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Shigehiro Ozawa; screenplay by Koiwa Hajjime, based on a character created by Takada Kôji; director of photography, Yoshida Sadtsugu; edited by Horiike Kôzô; music by Tsushima Toshiaki; released by Toei Company.

Starring Sonny Chiba (Tsurugi), Ichiji Yôko (Boke), Claude Gagnon (Don Costello), Ishibashi Masashi (Shikenbaru), Tanaka Hiroshi (Otaguro), Shima Naoki (Yamagami), and Suzuki Masafumi (Masaoka).


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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is either terrifying or horrifying. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two. Sometimes it’s visual terror or horror, sometimes it’s audial, sometimes it’s just implied. Director Hooper has three different styles–daytime, nighttime, indoor–and each goes from terror to horror multiple times. The film takes place over less than twenty-four hours, with Hooper and the film taking breaks–sometimes long–to move ahead in the present action. There’s an intense scene, a break, an intense scene, a break, an intense scene, a break.

The breaks are never scenes. There is no comic relief. Even when there’s a relative pause in the intensity, Hooper keeps it buzzing. There’s a constant reminder. It’s not about being concerned or cautious or scared. It’s about being terrified. Hooper, photography Daniel Pearl, co-composer Wayne Bell–in addition to directing, producing, and co-writing, Hooper also co-composes the score–they make the idyllic terrifying. In the opening crawl (narrated by John Larroquette), the film says it’s going to make idyllic terrifying. And it does.

The film, the opening crawl informs the viewer, is about five “youths,” specifically Marilyn Burns and Paul A. Partain (at least, according to the crawl). And Burns does have a central role in the film’s goings-on, whereas Partain just has a big part. He’s left out of the action; Hooper and co-writer Kim Henkel bully Partain to a degree. He’s in a wheelchair–he’s traumatized in the first five or six minutes in an attack from a knife-wielding hitchhiker (Edwin Neal)–yet he’s still a complete jerk. Sure, Burns isn’t an awesome sister to him and her boyfriend, Allen Danziger, is a dick, but Partain’s a jerk.

It’s not about him whining or being unpleasant in general, it’s about how those traits affect his actions, which do not endear him to anyone. And most of Texas Chain Saw Massacre does not involve chainsaws or massacres. Most of it is, in terms of runtime, not intensity of moments–most of it is the five youths.

They’re apparently college students or at least around that age. William Vail and Teri McMinn, who are the nicest, complete the five. The girls are blonde and into astrology. The guys are sort of early seventies dimwit Texas hippie posers. Vail and McMinn are a couple, with Vail the traditional male lead type. He’s sweet, a little dumb, but sensitive.

And, for a while, Hooper and Henkel tease him having the bigger part. Then they give it to Partain; taking the film away from someone likable and sympathetic, putting it on someone unlikable and difficult to sympathize with, even though not sympathizing with him creates guilt. But no resentment. Because Texas Chain Saw isn’t about resentment or sympathy or likability.

It’s about horror and terror.

Hooper shoots the daytime scenes as tranquil, relatively rich in color (there’s this lovely sunflower patch some characters walk through). He does tracking long shots, often with a slight dolly in or out at the end. The narrative distance is the thing. The opening crawl told us to pay attention to the youths–who are in this part of rural Texas seeing if Burns and Partain’s grandfather’s grave has been robbed–and Hooper directs exactly how we can pay that attention. The sound editing is big in Texas Chain Saw, and not just when it becomes a combination of clanging music, screaming, and a chainsaw–which is when the film is being terrifying, while foreshadowing being horrifying. The sound editing is also how Hooper is able to keep the audience with the characters. We can always hear them, we just can’t really see them. Instead, we mostly get to see Partain. Whining. Being weird. Being unpleasant.

The nighttime shots are completely different. Cinematographer Pearl gives the film this rich blackness, which Hooper sporadically, unevenly fills. There’s a chase sequence through bramble; it creates a maze for the pursued, one the audience can’t see around either. And the pursuer–Gunnar Hansen in a mask of flesh and waving a chainsaw–is always just behind. The chainsaw, which Hooper refuses to fetishize, always seems just in range of its target. Later, during the morning sequence, Hooper shows he can do terrifying chase scenes in daytime too. He and Pearl’s subtle use of depth throughout the film is magnificent.

After the nighttime shot comes the interior scenes. Even though there have been some interior scenes on the same location, Hooper handles it differently. Tight shots. Fast cuts. From the victim’s perspective to outside the victim, toggling rapidly; sometimes the rapid cuts lead to the change in perspective. Editors Sallye Richardson and J. Larry Carroll do great work throughout, but the last thirty minutes are unbelievable. The film’s already shockingly intense, but then Hooper and his editors have to kick it up a notch. Turns out there are even more surprises in the story than expected. Though expectation is hard. Hooper keeps the viewer’s attention on each moment as it occurs. No distractions.

Except Partain. Isn’t he annoying? Don’t you hate him? Wow. You hate a kid in a wheelchair. You’re awful. Isn’t he annoying though?

The last third is terrifying and horrifying in a way the first two-thirds aren’t. Turns out there’s a comfort in the unknown, all Hooper and Henkel have for reveals are worst case scenarios. The last third explores that unknown. Intensity to the point of nausea. Then more. Then more. Then more. It never ends.

I suppose Partain’s great. His obnoxious is perfect. Burns’s good. Vail and McMinn are fine. Danziger’s an unlikable prick, which, again, seems to be the point. Hansen doesn’t get any lines, but the physical performance is outstanding. Especially since Hooper takes the time to show the inhuman villains emotional moments, but not their intended victims. Neal’s good. Jim Siedow is a gas station owner who the Mystery Machine–oh, yeah, the youths are in a van–comes across. He’s great.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre terrifies. It’s what Hooper’s going for–terrifying the viewer. The way he does it is to create this masterpiece of mood, timing, photography, performance, everything. Every shot appears precise (which is astounding given the film’s micro budget), every cut is right on; his control of the mood is absolute.

Maybe someday I’ll even be able to watch it in one sitting.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Tobe Hooper; screenplay by Kim Henkel and Hooper, based on a story by Henkel; director of photography, Daniel Pearl; edited by J. Larry Carroll and Sallye Richardson; music by Wayne Bell and Hooper; released by Bryanston Distributing.

Starring Marilyn Burns (Sally), Paul A. Partain (Franklin), Allen Danziger (Jerry), Teri McMinn (Pam), William Vail (Kirk), Edwin Neal (Hitchhiker), Jim Siedow (Old Man), John Dugan (Grandfather), and Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface).


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