Karate Bullfighter

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Karate Bullfighter (Japan, 1975)

Sonny Chiba portrays his own master, kyokushin karate founder Masutatsu Oyama, is this excellent karate biopic, which obviously takes some liberties from the facts. The film is a live action adaptation of the Oyama comic books written by Ikki Kajiwara. Apparently master Oyama did not mind being portrayed as a brute and an “accidental” rapist – all of which worked to the film’s benefit.

Chiba is at the top of his game here. He portrays Oyama as a man who attends a karate tournament, beats all opponents, and then throws away the trophy because he thinks sportsman karate is for pussies! The fights are generally excellent and very physical, although they do suffer from some needlessly shaky camerawork (probably influenced by the documentary style yakuza films of the era). Chiba also fights a real bull – something Oyama also did.

Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi was never much of a storyteller, and that’s the film’s biggest flaw. It feels very episodic, making the film sometimes feel longer than it is. There’s a bit of love story, a bit of rivalry with nemesis Masashi Ishibashi, a bit of melodrama as Oyama kills a drunken man and then tried to make it up by taking care of his wife and child, and so on. One can sense the film tried to combine the juiciest parts of its source material without emphasizing coherence too much.

Chiba’s brother Jiro Chiba (who later starred in the excellent The Defensive Power of Aikido, 1975) plays a major supporting role as Oyama’s apprentice. Chiba returned later the same year for an even better sequel Karate Bearfighter.

* Original Title: Kenka karate kyokushin ken (けんか空手 極真拳)
* Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Adness DVD (USA), Toei DVD (JP) (no subs)

I don’t have many screencaps for this, so please forgive me for not doing the film justice.

Sonny and Jiro

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