Robot Keiji: The Movie (Japan, 1973)
Despite the title, this is not so much a “movie” as a theatrical 25 minute edit combining scenes from multiple episodes from the Robot Detective TV series. It was created for the Toei Cartoon Festival, an anime and superhero film event held by Toei during holiday seasons and aimed at children. The original TV series, which ran 26 episodes, was an early entry in the Metal Hero genre and followed a robot detective who would dress in casual clothes on his free time. Sonny Chiba appeared in one episode, and his brother Jiro had a role as a (human) detective. The Movie Version compiles selected scenes from episodes 1-9, 11 and 12. As such, it’s quite difficult to follow unless you’ve seen the original TV series as there is clearly too much content crammed into 25 minutes. It has also been cropped from its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio to theatrical 2.35:1, which causes major amounts of information to be cut off from top and bottom. That being said, the original TV series seems fun.
* Original title: Robotto keiji: gekijoban (ロボット刑事: 劇場版)
* Director: Various
* Chiba’s role: Cameo (in the movie version)
* Film availability: None. Review format: TV
* TV series availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subs)
The detective’s car
I can’t stop laughing at this bad “guy” (bad robot?) who kidnapped the lady…
As you can see, the framing is often way too tight vertically
Jiro and Sonny
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
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
13 Steps of Maki (Japan, 1975)
This is perhaps Etsuko Shihomi’s most enjoyable, and certainly sleaziest, film. Shihomi is a girl gang leader straight out of a comic book, spending half of her time saving her delinquent karate girls from trouble. It’s basically a pinky violence movie with karate action instead of gun and knife fights. Although there is little plot, the film is well paced. Lots of solid action, no irritating supporting characters or comic reliefs, very little in terms boring side plots, and just when you might start getting a bit tired of it they throw Shihomi in prison and the film goes all WIP. Great theme song too! Sonny Chiba has cool cameo as Maki’s brother, and Roman Porno actress Meika Seri appears as assassin in the prison segment. Someone really need to put this film out on DVD and BD immediately.
* Original title: Wakai kizokutachi: 13 kaidan no Maki (若い貴族たち １３階段のマキ)
* Director: Makoto Naito
* Chiba’s role: Cameo
* Film availability: None. Review format: 35mm.
The Young Eagles of the Kamikaze (Japan, 1968)
Like so many other kamikaze dramas from the 60s, this film opens with a long training sequence that sees the young solders getting yelled at and bullied by their superiors. As it goes on , they develop a bit of tension between each other, and are occasionally visited by a family member. There lies the problem with The Young Eagles of the Kamikaze; it’s all been seen before, and often done better than here. There is some nationalistic pathos but little energy to Shinji Murayama’s direction, and the film lacks interesting characters. At 110 minutes it’s also a good bit longer than it needs to be. The principal cast is made of relatively fresh faces, such as pop idol Teruhiko Saigo (Sing to Those Clouds, 1965), with big names like Koji Tsuruta and Tetsuro Tamba in supporting roles. Cute Reiko Ohara is the best thing about the film. Sonny Chiba is the 4th billed actor, but he only appears in one short scene. Fans of Chiba and war dramas alike would better turn their attention to superior films, such as Kaigun (1964) and Diaries of the Kamikaze (1967).
* Original title: Âa yokaren (あゝ予科練)
* Director: Shinji Murayama
* Chiba’s role: Cameo role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)
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