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.