Category Archives: Genre: Action

Detonation: Violent Riders

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Detonation: Violent Riders (Japan, 1975)

Detonation: Violent Riders is the first instalment in Toei’s series of bosozoku biker gang films. Formed by youngsters grown tired of traditional Japanese school and societal systems, the bosozoku gangs received notable media attention in the 1970’s as newspapers and magazines cashed in with the phenomena and even took it out of its original frame. Toei was quick to smell easy box office revenue as the bosozoku hysteria provided an opportunity to combine their established cinematic formulas with a current and talked about real life phenomena. Much like with karate films (The Executioner), director Teruo Ishii got assigned to the job despite his lack of interest for the genre.

Bosozoku’s roots date back to the post WWII years when a new societal problem group arised. Having lived under the war time rule and even an assumption of never returning home alive, such as the kamikaze pilots assigned for a mission that never came to be, some of the war veterans could not return to peaceful life without difficulties. The most extreme of these individuals started looking for new excitement by tuning cars and conducting less than desired, gang type activities on city streets. Inspiration and idols were found from foreign movies such as Rebel Without a Cause (1955). This way of thinking later caught the motorcycle obsessed youth and bosozoku was born.

The first 20 minutes of Detonation: Violent Riders is exactly what one would expect from a Teruo Ishii bosozoku film. Black dressed biker men chase on the streets, perform stunts on bikes and bring public outrage. A leather dressed lady provides the men with physical pleasures out in the nature, and the night is spent partying with topless dancers. Disagreements between men are solved by speeding towards cliff blindfolded. Ishii knows how to make quality cinema.

No high art by any means, Ishii directed the Detonation films as a gun for hire. Easily bored with conventional filmmaking, Ishii spend a notable amount his career – and Toei’s money – for his personal cinematic refreshment. The infamous late 60s ero-guro epics (The Joy of Torture, Inferno of Torture etc.) are only the tip of iceberg in the director’s resume. In the Detonation movies Ishii threw in just about any elements he found potentially entertaining. Very describing of the director’s talent is, that even with this philosophy Ishii managed to deliver several technically competent cult classics. Violent Riders, however, is not among his best efforts.

After a strong start it soon becomes obvious that Violent Riders’ biggest problem is the screenplay which, rather than being full of holes, appears to one big hole in itself. Pieces of poorly attached storyline are hanging somewhere on the sides, ready to fall at any moment. If there is an actual plot to be found, it would probably be the romance between the wild hearted mechanic boy Iwaki (Kouichi Iwaki) and the innocent but gang tied Michiko (Tomoko Ai). The newcomer is quick to make enemies while at the same time his old pals are tempting him to re-join the gang and fight the competing group. The execution of this however, far from dynamic and engaging.

Motorcycle money shots are what Ishii handles without difficulties. Close ups, sunset backgrounds and fast scenes on streets are plenty, even if there isn’t much in terms of bike tuning. Worth a mention is also a jaw dropping truck crash escape stunt that does, however, turn out to be a trick shot with closer look. Far less convincing is the climatic gang war that is little more than a messy display of bikers riding in circle and kicking and punching each other on the way. Thankfully the film’s last few minutes mark an improvement and leave a good taste in the viewer’s mouth.

Next to the bikes Violent Rider’s best offering is the cast. Little known outside his native country, rocker / bike maniac (and soon to become television superstar) Koichi Iwaki handles the lead role well. His manners and looks are a perfect for for a character like this. Heavy weigh support is provided by Sonny Chiba whose beard-faced charisma is an instant hit. Regrettably, Chiba’s role is quite small and his action talent has been notably limited. Most other supporting actors are unknown stars and one-timers – real life gang members by a good guess. Toei was never shy of picking up natural talents from the streets… and most of the time the results were pretty good.

Three sequels followed, the first two of them helmed by Ishii. In Detonation! Violent Games (1976) Ishii drew inspiration from West Side Story and even introduced slight musical elements, resulting in the best film in the series. In Season of Violence (1976) Ishii tried to do a modern sun tribe film in the lines of Crazed Fruit and other 50s classics, but the film turned out quite boring and lacked in action. The relatively decent last film, Detonation! 750CC zoku (1976), directed by Yutaka Kohira (Dragon Princess), shifted some of the focus to cars but still managed the best bike chase in the series. All of the films starred Iwaki. Chiba only appeared in the first film.

* Original title: Bakuhatsu! Boso zoku (爆発!暴走族)
* Director: Teruo Ishii
* Chiba’s role: Small Supporting Role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subs)

Iwaki

Chiba

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Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope

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Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (Japan, 1975)

This is the holy grail of Sonny Chiba madness. Chiba is the last remaining member of a werewolf clan, and a crime reporter who conceals his true identity from the mortals. The film kicks off with a series of ultra-brutal murders, in which members of a rock band have been slaughtered. The culprit appears to be a woman with supernatural powers. Her skills are demonstrated in the opening scene, were one of the rockers (Rikiya Yasuoka) pretty much explodes into pieces.

There is no other Sonny Chiba film as outrageous as this. The film begins as a psychedelic city noir, then transcends into a science fiction film with mysterious research labs, and eventually reaches for mythical tones as Chiba returns to his birth town in the mountains. Some of the scenes unfolding feature a werewolf vs. werewolf karate fight, a werewolf being created surgically by doctors, and Chiba pulling off the prison bars with his bare hands. It’s bloody as hell and comes with copious amounts sex and nudity as well. And let’s not even get started with the odd mother syndrome as Chiba rubs his face against Yayoi Watanabe’s breasts because she reminds him of his mother!

The mad visions spring from Kazumasa Hirai’s ‘Adult Wolfguy’ graphic novels. Hirai also published the similarly titled but more youthful ‘Wolfguy’ manga that Toho had already adapted into a film in 1973. Toho’s enjoyable adaptation was no children’s film either, but Toei brought the sex and violence to a whole new level. The material was expertly adapted into a screenplay by Koji Takada. The relatively high level of continuity Takada manages to bring into the screenplay is quite shocking in fact. The storyline comes a long way, and the process feels. This is a far more coherent display of mayhem than some other Chiba films, where parts of the movie don’t always connect to each other so well.

Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi does what he’s best at, delivering non-stop mayhem with occasional beautiful images. Most of his other films, such as Sister Street Fighter and Karate Bearfighter, were very enjoyable; none of them however were quite as great as Wolfguy. Yamaguchi’s usual problem, shaky cam, is thankfully nearly absent here, resulting in lots of fun action. Wolfguy isn’t entirely a karate film, but it was made at the height of the karate film boom, which meant there were a lot of hand to hand fights accompanying gunplay and explosions.

Wolfguy is one of those rare cult movies that not only lives up to its outrageous premise, but exceeds it. It was certainly a hit with the audience at the Sonny Chiba festival in Tokyo, where one poor fella became mentally insane after the film! He sat quietly during the film, but burst into an uncontrollable laughter once the film finished and couldn’t stop. His maniac laughter echoed in the theatre staircase for several minutes. The film’s greatness must have been too much for him to handle.

I saw Wolfguy three times that day. Since it was a double feature with Game of Chance, playing all day, I simply decided not to give my seat away after the first go. After the insanely enjoyable second viewing I initially left for Co-ed Report: Yuko’s White Breasts (1971), which was playing on the other side of the town, but that screening turned out to be sold out, so I headed back to Chiba fest for one more go at Wolfguy, and I didn’t regret one bit!

The fact that there is no DVD or even video release anywhere in the world (update: that will soon change) is a crime against humanity!

* Original Title: Wolfguy: Moeru okami otoko (ウルフガイ 燃えろ狼男)
* Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Arrow DVD / BD (UK/US) (May 2017). Review format: 35mm. Screencaps: TV

The Bodyguard

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The Bodyguard (Japan, 1974) [TV]

Not to be confused with the unrelated Bodyguard Kiba (aka The Bodyguard) films, this karate packed TV series is an undiscovered gem that features some of Sonny Chiba’s best action. Chiba stars as a member of a private bodyguard company established by Ko Nishimura (the priest from Lady Snowblood), brought to Japan after hammering a roomful of Arab villains to death in Middle East. His colleagues are played by karate girl Etsuko Shihomi, Chiba’s brother Jiro Chiba, young nice guy Yuuki Meguro, and dirty fellow lone wolf Yoji Takagi who occasionally joins the gang.

The series, produced briefly after the release of the first Street Fighter film, is basically combination of martial arts action and traditional Japanese detective series format where we often had a group of 4-5 detectives solving crimes. Although not strictly a martial arts series, for these guys karate is usually the solution to any problem, and the action only gets better and more frequent as the series advances. Most episodes feature at least one fight, but many feature two or three fights.

Chiba is fantastic in the series. The fights ar as good as in his films, and are always clearly filmed without shaky camera. They are little short, though. And while the series may lack the excessive bloodletting and sex of Chiba’s mid 70’s films, the action looks and sounds painful. It also says something about the series’ grittiness that a lot of the time the bodyguards fail to keep their client alive till the end. Adding to the effect is a fantastic, badass score.

The 18 year old Shihomi makes perhaps an even bigger impression than Chiba. She has never looked as cute and energetic as she does here kicking guys in the face. She doesn’t get any fights in the early episodes, but becomes a major attraction later on. It’s pretty difficult to curb your enthusiasm when an episode title that roughly translates as “The Roaring Female Dragon of Hokkaido” appears on screen and a miscellaneous bunch of martial arts villains that look like the cast of Sister Street Fighter (released towards the end of the show’s production) are introduced. Hell yeah!

Jiro Chiba gets his share of action as well, and while Yuuki Meguro is not a fighter he turns out to be a sympathetic young guy in suit. Yoji Takagi isn’t too bad either although it takes a while to warm up to him. Guest stars include Pinky Violence actresses Reiko Ike, Ryoko Ema, Yukie Kagawa, and Yumi Takigawa, Roman Porno starlets Yuri Yamashina and Moeko Ezawa, kick boxing legend Tadashi Sawamura, and of course Chiba & Shihomi’s eternal karate nemesis Masashi Ishibashi.

If there is something negative about the series it the uneven and mostly unremarkable writing. Most storylines are decidedly routine, save for a few stand outs. There are also episodes that try too much with drama at the expense of action (e.g. the closing episode), and one rather unbearable comedic episode. Generally speaking the series is relatively free of comedy, except for some funny dialogue between Nishimura and older lady Izumi Yukimura (the owner of a tiny fashion shop operating in the same premises with the bodyguard office). However, in episode 16 some idiot came up with the idea of switching Yukimura for a hyperactive comedic young woman (the actress is credited as “Beaver”). Thankfully she only causes damage to a couple of episodes.

Despite its flaws, The Bodyguard is one of the seminal karate products of the mid 70s. For a Chiba fan it’s a truly exciting discovery that deserves far wider recognition than it has been getting.

* Original title: The Body-Guard / Za bodigaado (ザ・ボディガード)
* Director: Kazuyoshi Yoshikawa, Hideo Tanaka, Koichi Takemoto, Yasuo Furuhata etc.
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Availability: Toei DVD (to be released May 2017) (no subs). Review format: TV.

Chiba and Nishimura

Etsuko Shihomi and Jiro Chiba

Shihomi and Yuuki Meguro

Shihomi kicking arse

Shihomi vs. Masashi Ishibashi

Chiba being his usual mean self

This double-episode was shot in the US

Chiba being mean in Nevada

Jiro Chiba

Yuri Yamashina

Reiko Ike

Tadashi Sawamura

Shihomi!

Tokyo Seoul Bangkok Drug Triangle

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Tokyo Seoul Bangkok Drug Triangle (Japan/Korea/Thailand/Hong Kong, 1973)

Sonny Chiba stars in this major Asian co-production based on the thoughts and ideas of the anti drugs/prostitution/sexually transmitted diseases campaigning businessman / political figure Tsusai Sugawara, who had previously inspired the two Narcotics / Prostitution G-Men films (1972). Tokyo Seoul Bangkok was a loose follow-up, with Chiba playing an ordinary man instead of a narcotics detective, and the storyline taking place in four Asian countries: Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Japan. Co-stars came from each country, and multiple edits of the film were produced for different markets.

The film opens in South-Korea, with truck driver Chiba arriving Seoul to receive his dead sister’s ashes. While there, he discovers the death may not have been an accident after all, and has something to do with international drug smuggling. Chiba receives help from a Korean detective (Choi Bong, delivering the film’s only martial arts moves) to track down his sister’s runaway gangster husband (Hiroki Matsukata) and his Korean lover (Kim Chang-Suk). The chase takes Chiba first to Hong Kong and eventually Thailand, where Chiba hooks up with a bilingual woman (Nora Miao) and a local tough guy (Chaiya Suliyun).

Tokyo Seoul Bangkok has long been a sought-after movie for its fantastic cast, but those few who have seen it have sometimes been left a bit underwhelmed. This is more due to false expectations than the film, although the latter is also at fault. Tokyo Seoul Bangkok is not a martial arts movie, and it’s not even very much an action movie as the filmmakers aim for more realistic crime drama/thriller. While that’s quite fine, it is also true that with the level of action talent involved, the viewer can’t help but to wish there were some more outrageous action sequences. This is especially true when some of the scenarios are, in fact, a little too wild to feel entirely realistic. Also, as a drug thriller, it is not as good as for example A Narcotics Agent’s Ballad (1972).

On the positive side, the storyline is very good and the film remains interesting from start to finish. Locations are well used, especially in the Thai sequences, which are both exotic and atmospheric. This is partly due to the beautiful score by Ichiro Araki, which is also used to create some powerful images when the camera lingers on Chiba’s desperate, badly bruised face. The supporting cast is interesting as well, the real stand outs being Nora Miao and Hiroki Matsukata. The latter’s portrayal of an ultra-stylish gangster may be at odds with the film’s intended realism, but he’s so cool the viewer won’t mind. The same can be said about one great action sequence in Thailand.

There’s a lot of history to the production. First of all, it was the first film Chiba made after finishing the Key Hunter TV series (1968-1973), marking the beginning of a new era on his career that allowed a stronger focus on films. Tokyo Seoul Bangkok was also one of the two major drug trafficking themed Asian co-productions that had been planned for 1973, the other having been The Shrine of the Ultimate Bliss. The latter was to star Bruce Lee, Sonny Chiba and George Lazenby, but by the time Chiba arrived Hong Kong, Lee had just passed away (the project was eventually completed in heavily modified form and with a new cast as “Stoner”). It is likely (but unconfirmed) that the planned meeting between Chiba and Lee was scheduled to take place while Tokyo Seoul Bangkok was filming in Hong Kong.

The Lee connection is probably the reason why the film co-stars Nora Miao, whose open cleavage may come as a delightful surprise to the fans of her Hong Kong films. It’s a lot of fun to see Chiba and Miao act together, although the kiss suggested by one of the promotional stills is not found in the film, at least not in the Japanese cut (which is the only cut is available at the moment). If it did take place, it would surely make Miao the only woman in the world who has kissed both Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba!

Tokyo Seoul Bangkok Drug Triangle is a fascinating, even if slightly underwhelming piece of cinema that can be quite enjoyable when approached with realistic expectations. It’s not the lost action classic some wished it to be, but it’s an atmospheric and entertaining crime drama with a good storyline.

* Original title: Mayaku baishun G-Men: Kyofu no niku jigoku (Tokyo-Seoul-Bangkok: Jitsuroku Mayaku Chitai)
* Director: Sadao Nakajima
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Choi Bong

Matsukata

Chaiya Suliyun and Nora Miao

Yakuza Wolf: Extend My Condolences

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Yakuza Wolf: Extend My Condolences (Japan, 1972)

A strange follow-up for having almost nothing to do with the original film. This one is more in line with the Yakuza Deka action comedies, albeit with a little less humour and action. Chiba is a clean shaven, suit wearing small time goon betrayed by a big shot yakuza. After his release from prison, he and pal Tatsuya Fuji start planning a heist/revenge plot against the yakuza. Former Nikkatsu director Buichi Saito (who also directed the 4th Lone Wolf & Cub film) keeps the film in constant move, but he doesn’t have a the kind of unique script the first film had to work with. Hence, no spaghetti western imagery or surreal visuals here. There is still plenty of fun to be had, though, including some nice stunt work and a catchy theme song by Chiba. Reiko Ike, finally 18 for real (she had been lying about her age when she appeared in her first movies), plays Chiba’s ex-girlfriend. She doesn’t have much else to do than sing and show her breasts, but it’s nice to have her in the film.

* Original title: Ookami yakuza: Tomurai wa ore ga dasu (狼やくざ 葬いは俺が出す)
* Director: Buichi Saito
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: None (review format: TV)

Narcotics/Prostitution G-Men: Terrifying Flesh Hell

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Narcotics/Prostitution G-Men: Terrifying Flesh Hell (Japan, 1972)

An entertaining, but a slightly underwhelming sequel to A Narcotics Agent’s Ballad dispatches undercover cop Chiba to Okinawa. The poster and title suggests of sexploitation, but that is in fact just advertising promises. In reality the film tones down the sex and nudity from the first film and focuses more on narcotics than prostitution. Unfortunately the film also lacks the tension and superb characterization of the first film. This one is more of a basic cops vs. thugs flick, with Chiba teaming up with local cop Tsunehiko Watase and befriending dark skinned, half-Japanese small time goon (Ken Sanders). The Okinawa location brings some colour to the production, including a lot of foreign faces (amusingly always presented as criminals!) but is not as well used as you’d wish. That’s not saying it’s a bad film, though, quite the contrary. While unable to live up to its predecessor, it’s a fast paced crime film with solid tech credits, occasional sex and violence, and Chiba smoking three lung cancers’ worth of tobacco.

This was the last of the two Narcotics/Prostitution G-Men films; however, next year there was a movie called Tokyo Seoul Bangkok Drug Triangle. Chiba played a different character, but the film was again based on Tsusai Sugawara’s anti narcotics/prostitution campagn, making it a loosely linked follow-up for the two Narcotics/Prostitution G-Men films.

* Original title: Mayaku baishun G-Men: Kyofu no niku jigoku (麻薬売春Gメン 恐怖の肉地獄)
* Director: Shin Takakuwa
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: None (review format: TV)

A Narcotics Agent’s Ballad

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A Narcotics Agent’s Ballad (Japan, 1972)

This terrific, atmospheric neo noir is one of Chiba’s finest films. The gritty crime movie kicks off from a gangster run sex club where one of the customers is murdered. It turns out the victim is a policeman. Older detective Yamamoto (Asao Sano) and his partner Tamura (Hiroshi Miyauchi) begin investigating, only to find out Yamamoto’s own daughter is involved in a prostitution ring. Yamamoto kills himself and his daughter, leaving Tamura alone with the case.

Tamura later crosses paths with Kikuchi (Chiba), a narcotics detective so deep undercover that it’s no longer clear on which side of the law he is operating. Kikuchi’s wife awaits at home while he’s working his way deeper into the underworld by hanging out with pimps and drug dealers, and having one night stands heroin addicts. His real identity kept secret even from the police.

Director Shin Takakuwa does excellent job helming the film. He goes for character driven crime drama supported by a terrific screenplay. There’s a lot of attention given not only to the main characters, but also their loved ones, and how their work affects everyone around them. Pitting Chiba and Miyauchi against each other works especially well. The bets keep getting bigger as the film goes on until the tension reaches a hair-rising level towards the end. Action scenes are few, but very well executed. An atmospheric score by Toshiaki Tsushima (Battles without Honor and Humanity; The Street Fighter) completes the package.

The film was based in an idea by senior businessman Tsusai Sugawara, who had been campaigning against drugs, prostitution and sex diseases in Japan. Sugawara himself plays Chiba’s superior in the film. Fear not the filmmakers going soft due to his involvement: A Narcotic’s Agent’s Ballad is gritty and borderline sleazy 70s crime cinema with no happy ending, very much comparable to Kinji Fukasaku’s films in content and quality.

* Original title: Mayaku baishun G-Men (麻薬売春Gメン)
* English aka: Narcotics/Prostitution G-Men.
* Director: Shin Takakuwa
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: None (review format: TV)

Yakuza Wolf: I Perform Murder

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Yakuza Wolf: I Perform Murder (Japan, 1972)

Sonny Chiba is a silent, unshaven avenger in Ryuichi Takamori’s violent yakuza western. Chiba plays a man who is after the yakuza who killed his father and sold his sister to prostitution. He’s now taking out bad guys one at a time and agitating gangs against each other while making his way towards the syndicate boss (Koji Nanbara).

There is an instantly obvious Django influence that goes all the way to the fantastic finale where Chiba, with both of his arms broken by the villains, uses a custom made shotgun attached to a severed steering wheel and a stand which he can he operate without hands. The film also sports a colourful, even surreal visual look that predates the Female Prisoner Scorpion films that unleashed similar images later the same year. The obvious connection is screenwriter Fumio Konami, who wrote this as well as the Female Prisoner Scorpion films. Furthermore, the scene where Chiba attempts to rescue his sister from an underground sex club is like straight outta the bizarre world of Teruo Ishii.

Director Takamori is the weakest link as usual, managing the highlights quite well but sometimes failing to pump the kind of energy into the film that it really deserves. It’s still a very cool film, though, with enough sex, violence and style to keep you thoroughly entertained. It also marked the beginning of a new, darker era for Chiba after a decade of clean hero roles.

* Original title: Ookami yakuza: Koroshi ha ore ga yaru (狼やくざ 殺しは俺がやる)
* Director: Ryuichi Takamori
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: None (review format: TV)

Yakuza Deka: No Epitaphs for Us

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Yakuza Deka: No Epitaphs for Us (Japan, 1971)

The 4th and final film in the Yakuza Deka series. It’s another programmer picture, but this one does its job admirably, packing action, fights and great stunt sequences every 15 minutes and filling the gaps with Chiba riding a horse topless, robbing a jewellery store while dressed as Buddhist monk, and walking around in white suit while waving a Tommy Gun. Some of the stunts include Chiba hanging from a cable car 50m above the sea/ground, and jumping out from a car while it’s flying through the air. There are many amusing comedy bits as well, especially with co-star Ryohei Uchida, and Chiba sings again. It was exactly this kind of movies that made Jackie Chan a fan of Chiba’s work; indeed, the mix of action, stunts and humour often resembles the films Jackie would do in the 1980s. Easily the best film in the Yakuza Deka series.

* Original title: Yakuza Deka: Oretachi ni haka ha wai (やくざ刑事 俺たちに墓はない)
* Director: Ryuichi Takamori
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Yakuza Deka: Poison Gas Affair

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Yakuza Deka: Poison Gas Affair (Japan, 1971)

The 3rd Yakuza Deka film is yet another enjoyable time waster, as good as the previous film. This time much of the action is set in a snowy ski resort, allowing Chiba to orchestrate all kinds of action scenarios with skis, snowmobiles and other winter machinery. There’s also a relatively decent amount of martial arts included considering the early production year. Chiba first needs to prove his skills in a brief fight against a tonfu-fighter, stick-fighter, dagger-man and karate fighter, and later fight for his life against two ninjas. Unfortunately some of the action seems a little hastily put together and the official tagline of “grand action where Chiba risks his life every 5 minutes” oversells the film a bit. It’s still a good bit of fun and the storyline is probably the best so far, with some genuine dramatic tension and yet another fine supporting performance Ryuhei Uchida. Pinky violence star Yukie Kagawa appears as female ninja. Oh, and Chiba doesn’t show his ass this time.

* Original title: Yakuza deka: Kyofu no doku gasu (やくざ刑事 恐怖の毒ガス)
* Director: Ryuichi Takamori
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: None (review format: TV)