Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Kamikazes

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The Kamikazes (Japan, 1962)
The 1960s saw Japanese war movies becoming popular mainstream hits, and subsequently drifting towards more nationalistic tones after a number of pacifist classics that had played to international recognition in the 1950s. The output ranged from harmless adventures to patriotic melodramas. The Kamikazes leans towards the latter, but it’s still a pretty decent movie most of the time. The film follows both kamikaze pilots and human torpedo pilots – the latter being a less commonly discussed but highly interesting topic. Some of the nationalistic emphasis drags the film down, but the battle scenes, both air and underwater, are highly effective. Sonny Chiba has a pretty big supporting role as a kamikaze pilot. It’s a solid performance, but not especially memorable.

* Original title: Minami taiheiyo nami takashi (南太平洋波高し)
* Director: Kunio Watanabe
* Chiba’s role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Video on Demand (Japan) (No subtitles)

Takakura as a submarine captain

Tetsuro Tamba is a human torpedo

Chiba

…who plays a kamikaze pilot

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The Escape

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The Escape (Japan, 1962)

* Original title: ni ni roku jiken: Dasshutsu (二・二六事件 脱出)
* Director: Tsuneo Kobayashi
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Video on Demand (Japan) (No subtitles)

Please see my old review here:
https://sketchesofchiba.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/sonny-chiba-a-go-go-part-2/

Here are some still images from the film:

Takakura

Chiba

Iron Sharp

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Iron Sharp (Japan, 1961)
Sonny Chiba is Iron Sharp – a superhero who must fight alien invaders who arrive in flying saucers. The campy sci-fi adventure has a lot to be enjoyed: an awesome superhero mobile, good special effects (better than the 2014 Godzilla film if you ask me), aliens watching terrestrial TV in outer space, and of course Chiba! At 74 minutes the film never drags. The alien costumes are leave something to be desired, though: they’re not even men in rubber suits, but men in plastic suits with iron helmets. Unfortunately in 1964 the film was licensed, and butchered, by American distributor Walter Manley Enterprises who not only cropped and dubbed, but also re-cut and enhanced it with extensive stock footage, eventually earning the film – or rather its American version Invasion of the Neptune Men – a reputation as one of the worst films ever made.

* Original title: Uchu Kaisoku-sen (宇宙快速船)
* Director: Koji Ohta
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles) (Iron Sharp version), Dark Sky Films DVD (USA) (dubbed, cut, re-edited Invasion of the Neptune Men version)

Title screen

Chiba the superhero and his mobile!

Chiba the scientist

Many have called these kids irritating, but I didn’t think so at all. Again, maybe an issue with dubbed version?

Evil aliens

Karate vs. Alien

Here’s a brief summary what Walter Manley Enterprises did to Iron Sharp when they created the Invasion of the Neptune Men version:

1) The film was originally released in the US in TV. For this purpose, it was cropped from its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio to 1:37:1, making its battle scenes incomprehensible. The DVD release by Dark Sky Films widens the presentation to 1.78:1, which is still missing plenty of image.

2) The film was given a nerve shatteringly bad English dubbing. Many people familiar with the English version would be very surprised to learn the kids in the film are not irritating at all in the original Japanese version.

3) The film was heavily cut, which made the storyline extremely incoherent. They even deleted the two scenes where Iron Sharp is originally introduced, the 1st one being a scene where the boys talk about him and the 2nd being the opening credits scene where the character makes his first appearance.

4) Other than just deleting scenes, the film was re-edited. The film’s last 15 minutes originally consisted of three battle scenes played in order and taking place in three different locations. In the US version they are all edited together into one big battle that takes place all over the place and makes absolutely no sense.

5) Speaking of the films last 15 minutes, it’s actually 21 minutes in the US version. While there is about one minute worth of stock footage stolen from a different film, the rest was achieved by recycling the same shots from the battle scenes over and over again every few minutes. None of this happens in the original Japanese version.

Speaking of stock footage, it always cracks me up when I see reviewers calling the film’s special effects crappy, and the in the same review criticising the film of bad taste for using WWII stock footage of a “Hitler Building” being blown up. That’s not stock footage, it’s a special effects shot made for this film. The building in question, or should I say the miniature in question, is Tokyu Culture Hall in Shibuya. The “Hitler” on its wall is an advertisement for the Swedish documentary film Den blodiga tiden. This documentary about Nazi Germany was released in Japan in February 1961 (5 months before Iron Sharp) under its Japanese title Waga tôsô, which btw is written in there in Japanese.

Here is the real building in Tokyo

Hepcat in the Funky Hat: 200 000 Yen Arm

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Hepcat in the Funky Hat: 200 000 Yen Arm (Japan, 1961)
A solid sequel which however put more emphasis on plotting than the 60’s youth culture. This time the plot is about a young baseball player whose market value is more important for the greedy adults than his health. It’s a nice piece of entertainment by Fukasaku and Chiba, but more conventional than the first film. As a result it’s not quite as good as the previous movie, but still a fun ride. Cute and energetic female lead Hitomi Nakahara also returns, playing a different but similar role as last time.

* Original title: (ファンキーハットの快男児 2千万円の腕)
* Director: Kinji Fukasaku
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Hepcat in the Funky Hat

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Hepcat in the Funky Hat (Japan, 1961)

* Original title: (ファンキーハットの快男児)
* Director: Kinji Fukasaku
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Please see my old review here:

https://sketchesofchiba.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/sonny-chiba-a-go-go-part-4/

Drifting Detective: Black Wind in the Harbour

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Drifting Detective: Black Wind in the Harbour (Japan, 1961)
Fukasaku and Chiba are back in a sequel filmed with the same cast and released just two weeks after the first film. This time the storyline is set in a small seaside town and the film favours detective and watadori film influences over westerns. Like its predecessor, the film runs barely over one hour and never drags. It’s a little less goofy, but doesn’t have as beautiful landscapes the first movie had. Not an especially good film, but for fans of Fukasaku and Chiba it’s an entertaining if flawed 60 minutes.

* Original title: Fûraibô tantei: Misaki o wataru kuroi kaze (風来坊探偵 岬を渡る黒い風)
* Director: Kinji Fukasaku
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Drifting Detective: Tragedy in the Red Valley

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Drifting Detective: Tragedy in the Red Valley (Japan, 1961
Kinji Fukasaku started his career with this Japanese gunplay Western set in the snowy mountains. A local farmer family is being harassed by a rich businessman and his goons who are after their land. The film was highly influenced by both American Westerns as well as Japanese watadori (drifter) films. The 21 year old Sonny Chiba stars in his first leading man role as a wandering detective who takes a stand against the bad guys. It’s fun seeing the two talents together for the first time, and the action scenes and cinematography are terrific. However, the film is a bit too goofy on its own right, with constant joking, comic book style characters and comic timing that is sometimes a bit off. You can see Chiba and co-star Harumi Sone are trying a bit too hard to be fun and energetic.

* Original title: Fûraibô tantei: Akai tani no sangeki (風来坊探偵 赤い谷の惨劇)
* Director: Kinji Fukasaku
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Lovely visuals

Chiba

Harumi Sone

Bad guys

Police Department Story: 12 Detectives

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Police Department Story: 12 Detectives (Japan, 1961)
This is an unusually long episode in the Police Department Story series, which reached its 17th instalment here. At 88 minutes it runs a third longer than the previous two films which were helmed by a different director. Unfortunately the extended running time has not translated into increased ambition. Instead, it feels like a direct adaptation of the written story, with few cinematic tricks thrown in. The storyline is bigger than before, but also lacking the melancholy and sensitive themes that made the previous film so interesting. It’s still a passable movie with nothing totally wrong about, but hardly a very memorable one. Sonny Chiba is again solid in his supporting role, but his character is given little to do and gets less screen time than before. This was the third and last time he appeared in the series which would still run for another 7 films.

* Original title: Keishichô monogatari: 12 nin no keiji (警視庁物語 十二人の刑事)
* Director: Shinji Murayama
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Video on Demand (Japan) (No subtitles)

Police Department Story: 15 Year Old Woman

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Police Department Story: 15 Year Old Woman (Japan, 1961)
The 16th film in the Police Department Story series marks a notable improvement over the previous instalment, even though they were most likely shot back-to-back. Sonny Chiba returns to his co-starring role as one of the detectives inspecting the case of a 15 year old girl, whose dead body was discovered floating in a river. As usual, the film runs only one hour and doesn’t depart too far from the usual formula; however, it greatly benefits from frequent outdoor locations that were missing from the previous film. It also touches far more serious topics, such as child abuse and mental insanity, and even utilises Rashomon-like storytelling techniques to some extent. The last scene especially is haunting and echoes far more talented filmmakers like Kurosawa. Chiba has also greatly improved his acting with a far more confident performance, including a lot of small gestures even when his character is only in the background.

* Original title: Keishichô monogatari: 15 sai no onna (警視庁物語 十五才の女)
* Director: Shoichi Shimazu
* Chiba’s role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Video on Demand (Japan) (No subtitles)

Title screen

Crime scene

Chiba

This shot reminds me of Kurosawa’s High and Low… and it’s not the only one in the film

More Chiba

More Chiba

I like Chiba’s acting in many of the scenes where he’s only in the background

The victim when she was still alive

Chiba finds the murder weapon

Police Department Story: Alibi

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Police Department Story: Alibi (Japan, 1961)
Sonny Chiba in his first movie role. This is the 15th film in the Police Department Story series that started in 1957. Most of the films were one hour long detective tales shown as b-features in theatrical double bills. All of them were written by Kimiyuki Hasegawa. This installment kicks off with the murder of a security guard in a major company. It’s a relatively well made, although not especially cinematic story with plenty of talkative scenes at the crime scene and in the police headquarters. Chiba has a supporting role as one of the detectives. He’s not bad, but his lack of experience shows when he’s surrounded by the series’ regular cast. He sometimes looks like he’s waiting for his turn to speak.

* Original title: Keishichô monogatari: Fuzai shomei (警視庁物語 不在証明)
* Director: Shoichi Shimazu
* Chiba’s role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Video on Demand (Japan) (No subtitles)

Crime scene

Detectives

Chiba

More Chiba!