Category Archives: Genre: Detective

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!

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Key Hunter

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Key Hunter (Japan, 1968-1973)

This was Sonny Chiba’s most important, although not best, work in the 1960s. The detective TV series focusing on Japan’s International Secret Police was created by Chiba and Kinji Fukasaku as a starring vehicle for Tetsuro Tamba. Hayato Tani, Eiko Okawa, Yoko Nogiwa and Chiba, who was in charge of creating the action scenes, co-starred. Although the whole cast appeared together in some episodes, most of the 262 episodes highlighted one or two characters with the rest either supporting or taking a rest. It’s an uneven but enjoyable series that contained action, thriller and comedic storylines. Today it’s best remembered for Tamba’s cool charisma and Chiba’s wild stunts, that include breathtaking moments like Chiba climbing out of a speeding car and grabbing on to a small aircraft that is about to take off.

The series made Chiba an action superstar in Japan and earned him fans in Hong Kong, including Jackie Chan who admired Chiba’s stunt performances. Chiba himself later stated that the series was a goldmine for him to practice his skills as action performer. He also established Japan Action Club during the production of the series. That being said, most of the best action scenes are during the show’s later episodes; the earlier ones feature some cool stunts but also plenty of standard action. In total, Chiba appeared in 177 episodes of which in more than one third he was the main star.

The storylines often leaned towards fantasy, the best ones usually written by Yuichi Ikeda. One of the best episodes features a criminal who has changes his face with a plastic surgery trying to escape. His girlfriend, the detectives, and a bunch of assassins all infiltrate the same flight with him but no one knows each others’ identity. Other great stories include Chiba forced to double a race driver who is targeted by assassins, and a episode where a young German boy is trying to resurrect the Third Reich in Japan. Many of the comedic episodes with the female cast fare much worse. Also, it’s a bit a shame that most of Chiba’s episodes were written not by Ikeda, but Susumu Takaku, who mainly penned pretty standard storylines.

Note: the review is based on Toei’s 20 episode DVD Collection as well as on a couple of dozen early episodes I caught on TV.

* Original title: Key Hunter / Kii hantaa (キイハンター)
* Directors: Kinji Fukasaku, Ryuichi Takamori, Hajime Sato, Yasuo Furuhata etc.
* Chiba’s role: Co-starring role
* Availability: Toei DVD (5 x 4 = 20 episodes) (no subs). Review Format: TV + DVD

Screencaps part 1: black & white episodes (1-104)
Tamba with a blonde girl in the opening episode (directed by Kinji Fukasaku)

The whole team.

Chiba and Tamba looking cool as hell

Chiba looking cool as hell

Although not a martial arts series, Chiba also threw in a few fights

Chiba has to attend a car race in disguise instead of a race driver who is being targeted by assassins.

Key Hunter screencaps part 2: colour episodes (105-262)

A German boy is preparing the return of the Third Reich in Japan

Insane Chiba stunt

Another insane Chiba stunt. That is really him, not a doll.

Unfortunately the show also features this kind of silliness

Thankfully also this kind of coolness

Sing to Those Clouds

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Sing to Those Clouds (Japan, 1965)

The success of Here Because of You (1964) produced a whole bunch of loosely related follow-ups, all musically oriented youth films starring the lovely Chiyoko Honma. She’s a singing high school girl again, in the middle of a truly complicated love/hate/friendship mess where her former best friend’s rebellious brother (Jiro Okazaki) has a crush on her, while she has a crush on her teacher, while the ex-friend is trying to sabotage her happiness, and then there’s a few other guys with a crush on her as well. The film’s first half is a bit too loose with somewhat random scenarios, but it works pretty well when it follows the young rebel Okazaki. Oddly enough, the real co-star, pop singer Teruhiko Saigo, gets the shorter straw just like Kazuo Funaki did in Here Because of You.

Sonny Chiba is a teacher again, although he’s a literature teacher this time. That doesn’t stop him from catching underage smokers and making them jump the rope as punishment until they drop from exhaustion, though. The role is smaller than last time, but nevertheless very enjoyable. The film is not quite on par with the better written and catchier Here Because of You, but director Koji Ota helms the film with just enough style and inserts many musical scenes, including a out-of-nowhere appearance by pop idol group Johnny’s. Once again, the film is charmingly old fashioned and very 60s. Filmed in the beautiful seaside landscapes of Bōsō Peninsula.

* Original title: Ano kumo ni utaou (あの雲に歌おう)
* Director: Koji Ota
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role (but not that small)
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Chiyoko Honma and Teruhiko Saigo

Young rebel Jiro Okazaki

Chiba sensei

Don’t screw with Chiba

Or he’ll make you jump the rope

Johnny’s (there’s more in the tree)

Teruhiko Saigo singing on his way home

Here Because of You

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Here Because of You (Japan, 1964)

A very enjoyable youth film about two high school kids who aren’t exactly in love, but certainly have a bit of love/hate sparks between them. It was a starring vehicle for two young pop stars, Kazuo Funaki and Chiyoko Honma (Yakuza’s Song, 1963). However, it is Sonny Chiba as their nice guy gymnastics teacher who ends up having one of the film’s best roles. Chiba lands himself in trouble after one of his students hurts himself in his class, and the kid’s father begins a smear campaign to get him fired. What results is a high school “court room” session where the double faced adults are accusing Chiba of everything they can think of while his students come to his defense. Director Ryuchi Takamori helmed numerous mediocre action films in the 1960s. This movie, his first as a director, is different. It’s full of upbeat energy, good performances, and catchy songs. It an old fashioned movie in the most positive sense.

* Original title: Kimitachi ga ite, boku ga ita (君たちがいて僕がいた)
* Director: Ryuichi Takamori
* Chiba’s role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Kazuo Funaki and Chiyoko Honma

Chiba as their teacher

Honma finds Chiba has never washed his dirty socks… he has stored them all in the closet

Chiba and Junko Miyazono

Special Tactical Police: Part 2

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Special Tactical Police: Part 2 (Japan, 1963)
The second and final Special Tactical Police film. Once again the detectives lead by Toru Abe investigate a tricky case; this time the poisoning of a diva-like fashion model. The formula is familiar from the previous film: plenty of talk until the case solves itself just before the climax. What makes the sequel a notch better than the first movie is the final 10 minutes, which packs the kind of emotion and intensity that were largely missing from the first film. The movie also comes with occasional beautifully shots that capture the early 60s urban landscapes and noirish detectives via black & white widescreen cinematography. Sonny Chiba’s role is unfortunately once again quite minor. Although he has a decent amount of screen time, he only has a handful of lines.

* Original title: Tokubetsu kido sosatai: Tokyo eki ni harikome (特別機動捜査隊 東京駅に張り込め)
* Director: Koji Ohta
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: None. Review Format: TV

The detectives arrive the crime scene

Abe

Chiba in the background

I think this is a simple, yet gorgeous shot

Chiba

Ready for the next job. Chiba in the front seat

Special Tactical Police

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Special Tactical Police (1963)
One of the longest running detective series in Japanese television (801 episodes, from 1961 to 1977), Special Tactical Police was also extended to silver screens in 1963 with two feature films. Both films ran approximately one hour and were released as b-features in theatrical double bills. One can assume they did not prove as popular as the television show as only two films were produced. The first film opens with a woman seemingly committing a suicide by throwing herself under a train. The police, however, suspect things aren’t as simple as they seem. Plenty of dialogue driven police work follows until the case is solved.

The television show could easily be compared to the Police Department Story film series, with which shared theme, format, and screenwriter. The feature films, however, utilized a different writer and a new cast, oddly enough playing the same characters that appeared in the television show. Sonny Chiba is the first billed in the opening credits; yet he is given very little to do in the film and mostly takes the back-seat as one of the detectives. The real star is head detective Toru Abe in a rare good guy role; most fans remember him from yakuza films, in which he nearly always played a back-stabbing, slimebag gang boss.

Special Tactical Police competent enough from a technical point of view, but it does tend to lean too much on talk instead of visual storytelling. It feels less cinematic, and more like a television-like compared to the best Police Department Story films.

* Original title: Tokubetsu kido sosatai (特別機動捜査隊)
* Director: Koji Ohta
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role

Crime scene

Toru Abe drinking coffee; Chiba on the left

Harumi Sone

Chiba, Abe and Hitomi Nakahara

There’s a lot of taking on car phone in the two films…

Chiba

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