Category Archives: Role: Small Supporting

King of Gangsters

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King of Gangsters (Japan, 1967)

The 11th and final film in the Gang series. Most of the films had different directors and cast, and were only connected by the title and Toei’s marketing department. Unlike the early entries, which were jazzy capers, this final entry is a prototype jitsuroku yakuza film. Just back from the war, Noboru Ando leads a gang of war vets turned gangster in the US occupied streets of Tokyo. They get into a conflict with a Chinese gang as well as the military police. Tetsuro Tamba appears as a police chief trying to bring peace to the streets; 1st wave pinky violence star Masumi Tachibana is a girl grieving his dead gangster father. Like many of director Yasuo Furuhata’s films, this is light on action and relatively realistic in characterization to the point becoming dull. It is more interesting as a somewhat nationalistic peek into the history of Japan and modern yakuza than as a gangster flick. Sonny Chiba plays one of Ando’s men, but like most supporting roles in the film, his part is ultimately minor despite getting a decent amount of screen time.

* Original title: Gyangu no teiô (ギャングの帝王)
* Director: Yasuo Furuhata
* Chiba’s role: Minor Supporting Role
* Film availability: None. Review format: TV

Ando in the middle. Hideo “I’m in every gangster flick” Murota in the backround

Sonny Chiba (right) and Shingo Yamashiro (in a relatively non-comedic role)

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Four Sisters

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Four Sisters (Japan, 1962)

Fans of Sonny Chiba’s violent action movies may find it surprising that there was a time when he was occasionally cast as “love interest”. Such is the case in this film, which is a bit of an unusual movie in Toei’s generally very masculine body of work. It’s a family drama (adapted from a novel by Fumio Niwa) about four sisters and their mother who wants to marry them off to respectable and successful men rather than to the ones they really love. The protagonist (Yoshiko Mita) is being arranged to businessman Fumio Watanabe although her heart belongs to handsome but poor Chiba. Chiba has only four or five scenes but he’s bursting with youthful energy as he often did in his early roles. The film itself is decent in a genre that is not exactly my cup of green tea.

* Original title: Sanroku (山麓)
* Director: Masaharu Segawa
* Chiba’s role: Small Supporting Role
* Film availability: None. Review format: 16mm

Mid-August Commotion

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Mid-August Commotion (Japan, 1962)

Toei’s early 1962 release The Escape, which was one of the many films depicting the February 26th Incident of 1936, must have been a success since this movie, released in August, is almost a carbon copy. It is, however, loosely based on a different true story. This one deals with Japan’s surrendering in WWII. On August 14-15 the surrendering declaration had already been prepared for broadcasting; however, a group of rebel soldiers attempted a coup d’état (just like February 26th) by invading the emperor’s palace. Koji Tsuruta is the hero trying to get the recording out of the house for public broadcasting. It’s a standard film that works pretty well once the action begins; however there’s a good 45 minutes of talk before things start rolling. Sonny Chiba, who had a tiny role as a solder in The Escape, has a few more minutes of screen time here as a doctor invited to the house as a part of the plot to get Tsuruta out.

* Original title: 八月十五日の動乱 (8 gatsu 15 nichi no douran)
* Director: Tsuneo Kobayashi
* Chiba’s role: Small Supporting Role
* Film availability: None / Review format: TV

Dead Angle

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Dead Angle (Japan, 1979)

154 minute, novel based crime drama about a sociopath businessman (Isao Natsuyagi) and his associates who cheat small businesses out of their money with shady contracts in the early 50s. It’s a pretty well acted and somewhat original film that nevertheless suffers from the late 70s / early 80s “mammoth disease” that came to plague Japanese cinema. Running time has been extended beyond the necessary point, and the emphasis has been shifted from action to character drama. Thankfully, here it works pretty well. Sonny Chiba has a small but decent supporting role as a small time mobster who becomes partners with the main character, doing some of his dirty work.

* Original title: Hakuchu no shikaku (白昼の死角)
* Director: Toru Murakawa
* Chiba’s role: Small Supporting Role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (JP) (no subs)

Chiba

Chiba

Chiba

Message From Space

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Message From Space (Japan, 1978)

The Japanese were quick to take note of Star Wars’ success, releasing a handful of copycats to Japanese screens before the film had even opened in Japan. Message From Space was the biggest budgeted (approx. $5 million) of them. Hiroyuki Sanada, Etsuko Shihomi, and Vic Morrow star; Sonny Chiba has a small and forgettable supporting role. In fact, more interesting than the cast is the fact that the film was based on an old samurai novel. Unfortunately the sci-fi adaptation turned out quite a mess with hardly any interesting characters. Special effects are sometimes good, sometimes not. Tokusatsu fans may still like it, and indeed the film has its fans, but for non-genre fans there are better movies to see. Fukasaku did much better with his second try, Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983), which was a tremendously entertaining pop ballad period fantasy version of the same story.

* Original title: Uchu kara no messeji (宇宙からのメッセージ)
* Director: Kinji Fukasaku
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (in Japanese, no subtitles), Shout! Factory DVD (US) (English dub), Discotek / Eastern Star DVD (US) (sub and dub) (the legal status of this release is questionable)

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

The Bullet Train

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The Bullet Train (Japan, 1975)

Toei anticipated Speed (1994) by nearly two decades with this excellent thriller. The film stars Ken Takakura as a criminal who 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 1970s non-action role) is trying to keep his cool. Tension begins to rise among the uninformed passengers as the train skips its designated stops.

Director Junya Sato does fine job helming a character driven thriller, even if there are a couple of silly bits and too many flashbacks. The film’s biggest merit is the well crafted villains, whose acts are understandable though not acceptable. Takakura is very good at making his character human. Action scenes are few, but expertly executed. The ultra-funky 1970s score feels out of place at first, but once you get used to it, you can’t imagine the movie without it. Supporting roles feature a whole variety of stars from Takashi Shimura to Etsuko Shihomi, Yumi Takigawa, and Tetsuro Tamba, sometimes only getting a few seconds of screen time. Chiba has limited screen time, but it’s nice to have him in the film.

Interestingly, 1975 saw the release of not one but two bullet train thrillers. The other was Yasuzo Masumura’s Toho release Dômyaku rettô, in which noisy bullet trains are seen as industrial monsters upsetting peace and tradition. In that film, too, activist/terrorists threaten to destroy a speeding bullet train unless the government gives in to their demands. Suffering from a silly premise and underwhelming climax, Dômyaku rettô was certainly the lesser of the two bullet train films released that year.

* Original Title: Shinkansen daibakuha (新幹線大爆破)
* Director: Junya Sato
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Twilight Time BD (US) (Upcoming), IVL DVD (R3 HK), Subkultur BD (DE) (no Eng subs), Optimum DVD (UK)

The original English dubbed US release was cut down to around 115 minutes, and should be avoided. The uncut version runs 152 minutes (NTSC).

Takakura

Chiba

Shihomi

Delinquent Boss: Ocho the She-Wolf

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Delinquent Boss: Ocho the She-Wolf (Japan, 1969)

The second film in the Delinquent Boss series is a tiresome action comedy without a hint of inspiration. It was – for some reason – a phenomenally successful series for star Tatsuo Umemiya, who plays a silly biker gang boss surrounded by – at least in this entry – unfunny comic reliefs. The series went on for 16 instalments, in addition to which the character appeared in at least two unrelated movies, including a cameo in Girl Boss Blues: Queen Bee’s Challenge (1972). The series also gave its the title and some minor inspiration for the far superior Delinquent Girl Boss series.

Film connections are actually one of the few interesting things about Ocho the She-Wolf: the titular character is the same one Reiko Ike plays in Sex & Fury and Female Yakuza Tale, although those films were set in a different period and featured quite a different kind of Ocho. She’s played by Junko Miyazono here, but the role is pretty small. Sonny Chiba also appears in a small supporting role, and while it’s always a pleasure to see Chiba on screen, he has very little to do here. The same can be said about Bunta Sugawara. Even the massive end slaughter is an utter bore despite all the gunplay, explosions and bikes.

* Original title: Furyô banchô: Inoshika Ochô (不良番長 猪の鹿お蝶)
* Director: Yukio Noda
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Human Torpedoes

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Human Torpedoes (Japan, 1968)
Hiroyuki Matsukata plays the man who developed the Japanese human torpedo, a suicide weapon used in WWII. It’s an interesting topic and makes good cinema for the first 30 minutes, after which the film turns into to a typical human relationship war drama with melodramatic and nationalistic undertones. It gets a bit better again towards the end when the human torpedoes are put into use. Sonny Chiba appears briefly during the last 15 minutes as a submarine captain, looking cool and charismatic with beard. It’s too bad he only a has a couple of minutes of screen time, despite getting his name listed 3rd in the opening credits. The film would be much better if most of the middle third was cut out, and the focus was on developing and using the human torpedoes.

* Original title: Ningen gyorai: Âa kaiten tokubetsu kogetikai (人間魚雷 あゝ回天特別攻撃隊)
* Director: Shigero Ozawa
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Chiba on the left

Chiba in the middle

Bitches of the Night

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Bitches of the Night (Japan, 1966)
A well made, atmospheric, although remarkably tame exploitation melodrama about a playboy bartender (Tatsuo Umemiya) who pretends to be gay in order to approach women. He is in cahoots with another opportunist, a young woman (Mako Midori) who trying to seduce a rich married man. Their attempts at making easy money can only end tragically. This is a rather aged morality tale about the sinful life in urban metropolis, but captures the era, the bars and the cityscapes very nicely. It’s also becomes quite interesting and touching when Umemiya fools a naive country girl (heartbreakingly played by Reiko Ohara) into living with him. Sonny Chiba makes a very brief appearance as a policeman looking for his sister. He only has two scenes. The film was part of the “Night / Yoru” series, which consisted of very loosely linked movies where Umemiya plays pimps or other such characters.

* Original title: Yoru no mesuinu ( 夜の牝犬)
* Director: Shinji Murayama
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: None. Review Format: TV

Umemiya on the right

Chiba as a policeman

Chiba

Ohara

Midori