Tag Archives: Toei Company

The Streetfighter (1974, Ozawa Shigehiro)

There’s not much story to The Streetfighter. There’s some, but it’s usually dumb. Director Ozawa isn’t interested in developing lead Sonny Chiba as a character. He’s one of the best “karate men” (I really wonder if that term’s just the subtitles) in Japan and he’s a mercenary. He’s got a chubby, lovable sidekick, Yamada Goichi, who cooks for him and dotes on him. It’s a weird subplot, as the film’s first attempt to make Chiba likable (through Yamada) immediately goes dark after Chiba kills some guy and sells his sister into prostitution.

The Streetfighter doesn’t have any good roles for women. It’s questionable whether it has any good roles for men, but it really doesn’t have any good roles for women. They’re either disposable, evil or just around to fall over Chiba. Oddly, only the “bad girls” are any good at fighting. In its longer scenes, when there’s nothing but bad expository dialogue, it’s hard to avoid its problems and the fundamental misogyny is its biggest problem. The other big problem–it being, you know, dumb–is more forgivable.

So there aren’t any good roles for women, Chiba’s got no character, the bad guys are really lame. But The Streetfighter has something else. It has Chiba the movie star, the presence, the karate man. He makes exaggerated faces and barbaric noises. He looks like a caged beast during the fight scenes, every attack he makes the door to freedom opening. It doesn’t make for a good film, but it makes for some great scenes.

Director Ozawa and editor Horiike Kôzô know how to do the fight scenes. Horiike’s editing is good throughout, but the fight scenes–slowed down, sped up–are phenomenal. Ozawa’s hit or miss. Streetfighter doesn’t have the biggest budget and Ozawa occasionally stumbles when trying to hide a short cut here or there, but the film’s solidly produced. Except for the fight scenes. They’re amazing. The penultimate fight scene, with Chiba working his way through bad guys in the bowls of a ship, almost redeems the entire film. It might if the final fight scene were anywhere near as good.

The Streetfighter tries to make a point of its meanness–especially in the graphic violence–but it’s a confused gesture. Chiba’s not mean. He’s so matter of fact, he’s as absurd as the villains. Until he starts kicking ass. Then he’s magic, then The Streetfighter’s magic. The rest of the film is just waiting for those moments.

Nice photography from Tsukagoshi Kenji and a fun score from Tsushima Toshiaki help.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ozawa Shigehiro; written by Takada Kôji and Torii Motohiro; director of photography, Tsukagoshi Kenji; edited by Horiike Kôzô; music by Tsushima Toshiaki; production designer, Suzuki Takatoshi; released by Toei Company.

Starring Sonny Chiba (Takuma Tsurugi), Nakajima Yutaka (Sarai Chuayut), Yamada Goichi (Zhang Rakuda), Masashi Ishibashi (Shikenbaru Tateki), Yabuki Jirô (Shikenbaru Gijun), Shihomi Etsuko (Shikenbaru Nachi), Suzuki Masafumi (Masaoka Kendo), Kawai Nobuo (Tsuchida Tetsunosuke), Kazama Ken (Kan Senkaku), Sumitomo Shiro (Onaga) and Watanabe Fumio (Mutaguchi Renzo).


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Battle Royale (2000, Fukasaku Kinji), the director’s cut

Battle Royale has to be seen to be believed. It shouldn’t work–a film about teenagers killing each other (under a government mandated law) played as a sweeping melodrama, but it does. It’s somehow brilliant, all thanks to director Fukasaku. The action takes place on this tropical island and Fukasaku fills it with beautiful shots and beautiful music (Strauss, Verdi, Schubert, Bach) and it feels peaceful. Not even the violence can ripple the calm the film presents.

The story’s high concept in a lot of ways and the film never deals with it (there’s a major plot hole because of that avoidance), instead, it’s this overblown teen movie. It’s the teen melodrama taken to the nth degree–this film (which is a comedy a lot of the time) is the one John Hughes never could have made. Apparently there’s going to be an American version at some point. I can’t even imagine how neutered it’s going to be (or would be, I can’t believe it’ll get made).

The acting in the film is solid, without any real standouts. It wouldn’t work with standouts. Yamamoto Tarô is probably the closest thing to one, just because he’s got the fullest role. In some ways he’s the main character, but not really. The film takes itself incredibly seriously and Fukasaku never lets the violence get fetishized. Given the film’s ludicrous proposition, it’s singular he was able to pull it off.

The conclusion has ups and downs and then finishes on a big up.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Fukasaku Kinji; screenplay by Fukasaku Kenta, based on the novel by Takami Koushun; director of photography, Yanagijima Katsumi; edited by Abe Hirohide; music by Amano Masamichi; production designer, Heya Kyôto; produced by Fukasaku Kenta, Fukasaku Kinji, Kataoka Kimio, Kobayashi Chie, Nabeshima Toshio and Okada Masumi; released by Toei Company.

Starring Fujiwara Tatsuya (Shuya), Maeda Aki (Noriko), Yamamoto Tarô (Kawada), Shibasaki Kou (Mitsuko), Ando Masanobu (Kiriyama), Kuriyama Chiaki (Chigusa), Takaoka Sosuke (Sugimura), Tsukamoto Takashi (Mimura) and Kitano Takeshi (the teacher).


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Sky High (2003, Kitamura Ryuhei)

Sky High has got to be one of the stupider movies I’ve ever seen. There are other factors contributing to it being bad, as stupidity doesn’t necessarily undo a film, but it’s real stupid. Shockingly, the screenwriter worked on Kitamura’s perfectly fine Azumi. Sky High‘s a prequel to a TV series, which is an adaptation of a manga. I imagine the terrible, stupid story starts in the manga, though it’s possible this filmic adaptation is at complete fault. Kitamura, as director, is solely responsible for this garbage… in fact, as I started watching the film and it appeared to be poor (not unspeakably dumb as it turned out), I consoled myself with the knowledge, eventually Kitamura would get around to a really good fight.

Guess what?

There are no really good fight scenes in Sky High. At the end, it seems like there finally might be one, but no… it’s just a mediocre sequence with promise, as opposed to the rest of the film, where mediocre would be a sterling achievement. I suppose Kitamura’s composition is all right throughout, but not really anything special. There are some good muted special effects but they’re overshadowed by the scenes in the afterlife, at the gate to hell, heaven, and Monster Island, where much of the film takes place. This set appears a deserted warehouse and the set decorator only seems to have spent a half hour getting it set up. The big scary door looks like something out of a Roger Corman direct-to-video from the 1990s. It’s embarrassing and painful to watch.

The performances range from mediocre (and borderline acceptable) to terrible. Kikuchi Yumi is terrible. Her performance is the worst thing I can remember seeing. She’s constantly acting poorly, whether through dialogue or expression. Oh, and her sword fight scene (it rips a lot of the choreography from Azumi) is lame. I never thought I’d see a lame Kitamura sword fight. The bad guy is played by Osawa Takao, who’s not a bad actor… except in this film. It’s so stupid I’m sure he had nothing to work with. As the good guys, Shaku Yumiko and Tanihara Shosuke are both fine. They actually have a wonderful scene at the beginning, when I thought this film was going to be an action-packed remake of Seven, not a demonic possession slash big dumb, stupid, bad cop movie, but not really a cop movie. It’s a remake of Ghost. Someone thought taking a bunch of Ghost and putting it in Japan–oh, and when Kitamura tries to reference Versus, it’s desperate and sad–I don’t know who had that terrible idea, but I imagine they also had a hand in writing this terrible film.

I mean, I kept watching it because I figured there had to be a good fight scene….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kitamura Ryuhei; screenplay by Kiriyama Isao, based on a manga by Takahasi Tsutomo; director of photography, Furuya Takumi; edited by Kakesu Shuichi; music by Morino Nobuhiko and Yano Daisuko; produced by Endo Hitoshi, Deme Hiroshi and Yokochi Ikuei; released by Toei Company.

Starring Shaku Yumiko (Mina), Tanihara Shosuke (Kohei), Osawa Takao (Kudo), Uotani Kanae (Rei), Taguchi Hiromasa (Kishi), Toda Naho (Aoyama), Kikuchi Yumi (Kamiina) and Shiina Eihi (Izuko).


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Golgo 13: The Kowloon Assignment (1977, Noda Yukio)

Certain films I don’t even bother asking my fiancée if she wants to watch. Golgo 13 was obviously one of them. Sonny Chiba as an invincible hitman, bopping around the hip and neon 1970s Hong Kong… I figured she wouldn’t mind sitting it out. I think I might have known Golgo 13 started as a manga–certainly I did after I saw this film’s listing with Chiba’s name and did a minute of Googling–and I had played the old Nintendo game in the late 1980s. I was never particularly good at it (though I did remember the name “Duke Togo” when it came up in the film). I tend not to see–or even considering seeing–most kung fu movies. Sonny Chiba is an exception. He’s not much of an actor, but he doesn’t need to be, he just needs to kick ass. He kicks a lot of ass in Golgo 13.

While the film isn’t masterfully directed, the action scenes are excellent so those ass-kicking scenes are fun to watch. I know I commented in my Raiders post about how Spielberg’s taken credit for Bruckheimer’s short-shot editing, but Golgo 13 has them and has them in a style more consistent with their current use then Raiders does. I’m not sure Golgo is the film to start it, but I imagine the short-shots do come from this genre.

The film succeeds because it never fails to entertain the viewer. It runs ninety minutes or so and there’s a fight scene once every five or six minutes. There might be one stretch where there isn’t one, but then there’s a good chase scene or something. It works out. However, Chiba has to share the film with the police detective hunting him down (I’d love a monograph comparing it to Heat… or maybe just Golgo 13 dubbed with Heat’s dialogue… or vice versa–Golgo even ends at an airport) and the cop, played by the singularly named Callan (who appears to have no other credits), is bland. He’s not likable, so it’s good Chiba’s constantly outsmarting him. For a while, there’s a female detective who has some good fight scenes.

While the film is more matter-of-factly violent then any American film I’ve ever seen, it does owe a lot to American films of its period, particularly the blaxploitation film, seeing as how Mr. Big is a white guy. He also has an island fortress. He also has diplomatic immunity and there are a number of scenes mirroring Lethal Weapon 2 (except, you know, Sonny Chiba is actually tough). My only quibble with the film are the long cigarillos Chiba smokes throughout. I think they’ve got to be a reference to the comic book, since Chiba smokes them with visible effeteness.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Noda Yukio; screenplay by Matsumoto Takeshi and Nakajima Nobuaki, based on the manga by Saitô Takao; director of photography, Akatsuka Shigeru; edited by Suzuki Akira; music by Ibe Harumi; produced by Leung Callan; released by Toei Company.

Starring Sonny Chiba (Duke Togo), Leung Callan (Detective Smith), Shihomi Etsuko (Ling Lam), Shindo Emi (Lin Yip), Elaine Sung (Laan Kong), Danna (Dut Lai), Nick Lam Wai Kei (Fung Chow Lui), Jerry Ito (Polanksi) and Lee Chi-Chung (Ming Wong Tak).


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