Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Navy

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The Navy (Japan, 1963)
A tale of two best friends in the WWII era Japan. Takao (Sonny Chiba) is a young man enthusiastic about joining the navy to fight for his country. He convinces his best friend Shinji (Kinya Kitaoji) to join him. As it turns out, however, Takao’s poor health prevents him from entering the navy while his friend is chosen instead. As time goes by, Takao becomes a painter and changes his mind about the meaningfulness of war and fighting, while his friend goes the opposite path. Meanwhile Takao’s sister falls in love with Shinji. This is a well made war time drama with decent characters and good performances. It is especially enjoyable to see Chiba in a very atypical quiet drama role. This is by far one of his most restrained performances, yet his usual energy and youthful charm are constantly bubbling under. Although he is not the film’s main character – that is Shinji – his role is pretty major and easily the film’s best.

* Original title: Kaigun (海軍)
* Director: Shinji Murayama
* Chiba’s role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Young men eager to fight for their country

But only Kitaoji gets chosen

Disappointed Chiba…

who later finds a few life as an artist

unfortunately we do not get see when he drew that picture…

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Gambler’s Love

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Gambler’s Love (Japan, 1963)
Sonny Chiba is a young gambler on the run. He pretends to be an innocent student, and is taken in by an honorable yakuza (Hideo Murata) in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. Chiba later falls in love with a beautiful musical actress who is also being looked after by the yakuza clan. This is a decent, very old fashioned period yakuza/romance/drama. Although Chiba is not really the main character – he’s the second billed actor – he is very much the film’s heart and has a major role. Hideo Murata (not to be confused with Hideo Murota, who also appears in the film) plays the benevolent yakuza leader. He was not only a popular actor during the early years of the yakuza film genre, but also a singer; hence we have him singing in this film as well. The film ends with a massive 3 vs. 30 fight which also contains a pretty long take sideways scrolling take – the same kind that movies like Oldboy would use decades later.

* Original title: Asakusa no kyoukaku (浅草の侠客)
* Director: Kiyoshi Saeki
* Chiba’s role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Video on Demand (Japan) (No subtitles)

Murata and Chiba

Chiba talking to a girl

The evil yakuza underlings who are after Chiba

More Chiba

Bruised Chiba stands by his love

Final fight

Yakuza’s Song

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Yakuza’s Song (Japan, 1963)
This is one of Chiba’s best early starring roles, an enjoyable crossover between Toei’s old fashioned yakuza cinema and the kind of “youthful love story set in the criminal world” you’d find in Nikkatsu’s films. Sonny Chiba plays a low ranking yakuza who spends more time enjoying life than doing the yakuza work. He falls in love with a pretty student girl (Chiyoko Honma), whose brother (Saburo Kitajima) later gets drawn into the yakuza business against his own wishes.

Yakuza’s Song is charmingly old fashioned, utilizing many studio sets and typical Showa era music; however, the film’s real strength is the breezy romance between Chiba and lovely Chiyoko Honma. Early/mid 60s was the time when Chiba was at his best as an actor, and here he finds just the right balance between youthful energy and seriousness. It also doesn’t hurt the dressing department seems determined to make Chiba look as cool as possible, and that composer Tooru Funamura provides a cool, highly spaghetti esque score. The film may not add anything new to the genre, and the storyline is strictly standard stuff, but as an enjoyable programmer picture the film delivers!

* Original title: Yakuza no uta (やくざの歌)
* Director: Miki Wakabayashi
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Video on Demand (Japan) (No subtitles)

Honma

Chiba and Honma

Chiba and Honma

Saburo Kitajima

Chiba and Honma

The Loyal 47 Gangsters

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The Loyal 47 Gangsters (Japan, 1963)
A modern gangster film reworking of the 47 Ronin story, where an innocent lord is forced to commit harakiri, but his loyal samurai swear for revenge. In this version Ken Takakura is a young gang boss tricked by the villainous Toru Abe. His underlings, lead by Chiezo Kataoka, start planning for revenge after Takakura dies in jail. Fans of the original story may be interested in seeing how the modern aspect is executed, but otherwise this is a relatively uninspired yakuza film. It doesn’t help that it’s remarkably slow paced, originally intended as the first half of an epic; however, part 2 never surfaced. The biggest point of interest is probably setting some of the scenes in Paris. Sonny Chiba plays one of the gangsters, but his role is sadly very small and forgettable.

* Original title: Gang chusingura (ギャング忠臣蔵)
* Director: Shigero Ozawa
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Takakura and Abe in Paris (see the background)

Chiezo Kataoka

Takakura

Chiba

Chiba

Chiba loses his temper

Tale of A Company Boss: Part 5

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Tale of A Company Boss: Part 5 (Japan, 1963)
The 5th (or 6th, depending on how you count) part in a series of salaryman comedies. Old man Eitarô Shindô, young fella Katsuo Nakamura and future pinky violence comic relief Toru Yuri run a travel agency whose latest customer turns out to be bunch of mischievous elementary school kids. They end up travelling the country with the singing and goofing kids while Nakamura falls in love with their teacher (Hitomi Nakahara from Hepcat in the Funky Hat) and Shindô and Yuri have the hots for a geisha. It’s not a bad film for what it is: fans of the genre should be entertained, even though the film is hardly exceptional. Fans of Chiba should be warned, though: his role as Nakamura’s old student pal is only about 45 seconds.

* Original title: Jirocho shacho to Ishimatsu shacho: Yasugi bushidochu (次郎長社長と石松社員 安来ぶし道中)
* Director: Masaharu Segawa
* Chiba’s role: Cameo role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Shindô

Yuri with a geisha

Customers

Shindô and Yuri

Chiba

Chiba with Nakahara

Nakamura and Nakahara

Gang vs. G-Men

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Gang vs. G-Men (Japan, 1962)
The young Sonny Chiba is fabulous in this wildly entertaining Kinji Fukasaku film. It’s the 4th movie in the very loosely related Gang series. This instalment sees former gangster (Koji Tsuruta) brought back to action when the police needs his help to bring down a dangerous gang lead by Tetsuro Tamba. Chiba plays an enthusiastic young man who goes undercover even though it’s obviously more than he can handle. Critic Mark Schilling aptly described his character as “the seventh samurai” of this story. Though not an all time classic like some of Fukasaku’s later movies, it’s a very stylish and entertaining film full of 1960s cool. Chiba, bursting with youthful charm and energy, is the film’s biggest asset. This is one of his best performances, often leaving superstars like Tamba and Tsuruta in his shadow, and marked the beginning of his best era as an actor.

* Original title: Yakuza tai G Men (ギャング対Gメン)
* Director: Kinji Fukasaku
* Chiba’s role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Tsuruta and his gang

Bad guy Tamba

Enter Chiba

Chiba the cool

Chiba and Tsuruta

Superb shot

Love, the Sun and the Gang

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Love, the Sun and the Gang (Japan, 1962)
The second film in the Gang series, which is linked only by theme and title. Ken Takakura, Tetsuro Tamba and a bunch of other crooks plan on robbing a casino run by foreigners. Of course, most of the gangsters are merely looking for a chance to double-cross their partners. A decently made but unremarkable, jazz-tuned, highly noirish caper by Teruo Ishii. Takakura stars in one of his early “punk roles”, as opposed to the stoic hero roles he later became famous for. The middle part is quite talkative, but there’s some energy to the visual style. Sonny Chiba appears in a small supporting role as a helicopter pilot. He has a couple of good scenes near the end, but his screen time is limited to a couple of minutes.

* Original title: Koi to taiyo to gang (恋と太陽とギャング)
* Director: Teruo Ishii
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Tamba

Takakura and Tamba

Chiba

Chiba

Chiba

Gambler

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Gambler (Japan, 1962)
Meiji era set gambling/family melodrama – not a yakuza film like Toei’s better known gambler films – by veteran Daisuke Ito, who started directing films in the 1920s. The film looks and feels charmingly old fashioned: especially the beautiful sets seemingly built on a mountain or a big hill facing Osaka are atmospheric. Solid execution all-around. However, it’s also very much a teary melodrama – a genre not made for this viewer – with crying scenes coming in ever increasing pace towards the end. Sonny Chiba has a relatively small role as the protagonist’s (Rentaro Mikuni) apprentice. Most of his scenes are during the last 20 minutes and don’t give him much to do.

* Original title: Osho (王将)
* Director: Daisuke Ito
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Mikuni

Chiba on the right

Chiba