Category Archives: Genre: Comedy

Machine Gun Dragon


Machine Gun Dragon (Japan, 1976)

An underwhelming comedic yakuza film with Bunta Sugawara and his gangster mom robbing a bagful of mafia money. Of course they get in trouble when the mafia sends their finest hitmen, including Toei’s black actor Willy Dosey, after them. There are two great things about the film: Sonny Chiba as a high kicking passport forger and Bunta Sugawara’s theme song. Both last for about two minutes. Nothing else is great about the movie. The whole thing is utterly ridiculous but rarely in an amusing way. One of the weakest films Chiba appeared in in the 70s.

* Original Title: Yokohama ankokugai mashingan no ryu (横浜暗黒街 マシンガンの竜)
* Director: Akihisa Okamoto
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subs)

Stills, lobby cards, VHS, none featuring Chiba


Jail Breakers


Jail Breakers (Japan, 1976)

Sonny Chiba is a master prison breaker in an entertaining, but slightly underwhelming action comedy loaded with impressive stunt work. The film was a return to the “modern stunt action” that had initially made Chiba famous in Key Hunter (1968-1973). The film has a tremendous opening scene in which Chiba escapes a prison by grabbing to ladders from a helicopter, changes his clothes in the air, jumps down to a moving truck and then jumps to another moving vehicle to make the escape. Jackie Chan would do something similar a few decades later in Police Story 3.

The rest of the film is a bit less inspired mix of action, comedy, and criminals taking turns at cheating each other. Writing is sometimes downright lazy, e.g. the scene where a carefully planned escape operation fails and Chiba simply steals a fire engine and drives away (during prison riot) without anyone noticing! Director Kosaku Yamashita was a master of old school ninkyo yakuza films, but he never seemed quite as comfortable with modern day movies. All that being said, it’s still a fun film, and also essentially a family friendly affair with no sex, and only minimal (though slightly bloody) violence.

* Original Title: Dasso yugi (脱走遊戯)
* Director: Kosaku Yamashita
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subs) (review format: 35mm / screencaps: TV)

Opening escape. Over 3 minutes of it was shot in a single take just to show you it’s really Chiba doing it all

Rugby Yaro


Rugby Yaro (Japan, 1976)

The success of Truck Yaro (1975-1979) initiated a whole load of movies that put “Yaro” in their title, including this semi-bonkers sports comedy/drama. Sonny Chiba’s brother Jiro Chiba stars as a Rugby player whose team must find a way to beat the opponent. It’s a standard storyline without any major surprises, but works surprisingly well. Training scenes are relatively nuts; much better than the actual matches actually, which tend to go on forever. There is no sex, nudity or graphic violence, making this a family friendly affair. Sonny Chiba appears for about 7 minutes during the last third as a truck driver who comes to Jiro’s rescue. It’s not a classic film, but a pretty decent time waster.

* Original Title: Rugby yaro (ラクビー野郎)
* Director: Akira Shimizu
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: None. Review format: 35mm

Jiro Chiba

Sonny Chiba

The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno


The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno (Japan, 1974)

Director Teruo Ishii was never keen on making karate movies, but the studio had him direct one with The Executioner (1974). Ishii responded by delivering an over the top action sleaze fest, which was probably more enjoyable than Ishii ever intended. Much to his shock, it was a commercial success and Toei had him make a sequel, which Ishii turned into a madcap action comedy.

In Karate Inferno the same old gang is back, supposed to save a kidnapping victim this time, but when the deal goes, bad they decide to rob their employer instead. There isn’t quite as much action this time around since half of the film consists of Chiba (asshole ninja), Makoto Sato (asshole ex-cop) and Eiji Go (asshole pervert) taking the piss out of each other and molesting Yutaka Nakajima. The jokes are crude but funny, the soundtrack is fantastic, and there’s some great action at the end of the film. Oh, and this is the film that features Chiba saving his pal, whose clothes have caught fire, by pissing on him. Top grade entertainment.

The film contains quite a few film reference jokes, many of which may not be understood by most foreign viewers. For example, in the prison scene we see Kanjuro Arashi as Onitora – the character he played in Ishii’s Abashiri Prison series. Chiba also appeared in the 4th and 6th Abashiri Prison film, which is why he recognizes the character!

* Original Title: Chokugeki jigoku-ken: Dai-gyakuten (直撃地獄拳 大逆転)
* Director: Teruo Ishii
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Adness DVD (USA), Toei DVD (JP) (No Subs)

Kanjuro Arashi

Tale of A Company Boss: Part 5


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)


Yuri with a geisha


Shindô and Yuri


Chiba with Nakahara

Nakamura and Nakahara

Hepcat in the Funky Hat: 200 000 Yen Arm


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


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:

Sonny Chiba A Go Go (Part 4)


Sonny Chiba Festival Day 4: June 21st (Saturday)

Saturday. Back in Tokyo after a few days of normal life. The festival kept running meanwhile, but I didn’t miss any movies because those were second or third screening days for films I had already seen during my last stint. My original plan was to land in Tokyo and first catch a couple of films in Jinbocho Theater before heading to Cinema Vera for only one Chiba film, but I ended up changing my plan and watching both of the evening’s Chibas.

Bullet Train (Shinkansen daibakuha) (Junya Sato, 1975)

My decision was a good one. Though I had seen Bullet Train – Junya Sato’s predecessor to Speed (1994) – before, I didn’t recall it being this good. The excellent thriller stars Ken Takakura as a criminal whose gang plants a bomb on a bullet train and demands money from the government. If the speed falls below 80km / hour, the train will explode. The police do their best to track down the criminals without giving in to their demands, while the desperate train pilot (Sonny Chiba in a rare 1970’s non-action role) is trying to keep his cool. Tension begins to rise among passengers as the train skips its designated stops.

Sato was a solid director who was usually more interested in storylines than exploitation (there are some exceptions, though). Here he does fine job helming a character and story driven thriller, even if there are a couple of silly turns and too many flashbacks used as storytelling device. The film’s biggest merit is its well crafted villains, whose acts are understandable though not acceptable. Takakura does excellent job making his character human, and becomes the film’s central character despite being the villain. Action scenes are few, but expertly executed. The ultra-funky 1970s score feels out of place at first, but eventually becomes a seminal part of the film and makes one wish all good movies had one like this. Supporting roles feature a whole variety of stars from Takashi Shimura to Etsuko Shihomi and Yumi Takigaw, sometimes only getting a few seconds of screen time.

Hepcat in the Funky Hat (Funky Hat no kaidanji) (Kinji Fukasaku, 1961)

The evening’s second movie was one of Chiba’s very first starring roles: Hepcat in the Funky Hat. This energetic little movie was the third collaboration between Chiba and director Kinji Fukasaku. The two had already made two Drifting Detective movies together, the first one being Fukasaku’s directorial debut and Chiba’s first starring role. Fukasaku and Chiba then went on to work together a total of 20 times. When Chiba made his own directorial debut with Yellow Fangs (1990) Fukasaku served as his advisor.

Chiba plays a happy-go-lucky son of a detective, who constantly manages to get himself in the middle of someone else’s trouble, but comes out saving the day. Chiba is full of youthful energy, does some athletics, tries to charm the ladies (without much luck), and kicks a little bit of ass. Some of his goofier acts resemble Hong Kong stars like Alexander Fu Sheng in their more comedic roles in the 1970’s – whether that’s a good thing or not is debatable.

Hepcat in the Funky Hat also showcases the madcap energy Fukasaku later become famous for. The cinematography is wild and innovative, edits come fast and dialogue is delivered at lightning pace. There’s a striking difference between this and some other detective films of the same era, like the Police Department Story films in which Chiba co-starred the same year, or even Fukasaku’s own Drifting Detective films. Hepcat in the Funky Hat runs less than an hour and was originally played as a b-feature for a bigger budgeted a-film, but would probably have been at least 20 minutes longer in the hand of any other director.

In addition, the film deals with the theme Fukasaku explored throughout his career: youth vs. older generations. Having lived through the horrors of war and having felt betrayed by the nation and the older generations, this theme got increasingly violent cinematic incarnations in Fukasaku’s later classics like Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972), Battles without Honour and Humanity (1973) and Battle Royale (2000), where army, yakuza and the government respectively took to roles of rotten authorities. Hepcat in the Funky Hat, however, is a celebration of youthful energy, passion, and early 1960’s youth culture. Its young heroes leave the old men eating dust at every turn!