Category Archives: Role: Small Supporting

Detonation: Violent Riders

Standard

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

Advertisements

The Bullet Train

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Abashiri Prison 6: Duel in the South

Standard

Abashiri Prison 6: Duel in the South (Japan, 1966)
Sonny Chiba’s second appearance in the series comes in one of the weakest Abashiri Prison films. This instalment takes place as far away from Abashiri as possible in Okinawa. The actual Abashiri prison is only featured in stock footage. The storyline mostly focuses on Ken Takakura and goofy pal Kunie Tanaka coming across a pick pocketing kid (whose hooker mom is played by Ishii regular, pinky violence supporting star Yoko Mihara). Veteran star Kanjuro Arashi is the best thing about the film. Chiba has a slightly bigger role than in the 4th Abashiri film, but he doesn’t have much to do. He plays a distinctly different character than last time, unlike some other actors. One characteristic of the series was actually that the same actors would return in sequels, playing essentially the same roles even if their characters had been killed before, which could be a bit confusing at times.

* Original title: Abashiri bangaichi: Nangoku no taiketsu (網走番外地 南国の対決)
* Director: Teruo Ishii
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles), Toei Blu-Ray (Japan) (No subtitles)

Takakura and Tanaka

Mihara and the kid

Chiba and Toru Yuri

Chiba and Takakura

Chiba

It’s an Abashiri Prison film, so you know Kanjuro Arashi is going to show up and kick everyone’s ass sooner or later

The original trailer is cooler than the film itself

Abashiri Prison 4: Northern Seacoast Story

Standard

Abashiri Prison 4: Northern Seacoast Story (Japan, 1965)

The 4th film in the long running Abashiri Prison series that cemented Ken Takakura’s status as the biggest yakuza film star of the 60s. The 1965 original movie established the formula: Takakura is a punkish but ultimately honourable tough guy whose path always leads back to the Abashiri Prison in the snowy Hokkaido that characterized the first film. Director Teruo Ishii helmed them in contemporary style that borrowed elements from ninkyo yakuza films but still retained a modern feel. The films proved so popular Ishii had to deliver up to new 4 films a year, whether or not it was winter, and whether or not they were able to film in Hokkaido.

Northern Seacoast Story takes the story back to the snowy Hokkaido after a couple of warmer entries (of which the 3rd movie was admittedly one of the best in the series). Unfortunately it’s not among the series highlights. The film opens with silly comedy routines with two gay prisoners before turning into a yakuza film variation of Stagecoach (1939) when Takakura is set free and he takes a job to drive a certain truck through Hokkaido. The cargo is cargo a runaway teenager (Reiko Ohara), a mother accompanied by sick child, and two ruthless criminals (Tooru Abe and Takashi Fujiki). It’s hardly an original movie, but the solid genre cast, jazz soundtrack and winter landscapes provide enough entertainment to warrant a viewing for fans. Sonny Chiba plays a small supporting role as an inmate with health problems. His character initiates the plot, but is only featured in the early scenes.

* Original title: Abashiri bangaichi: Hokkai hen (網走番外地 北海篇)
* Director: Teruo Ishii
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles), Toei Blu-Ray (Japan) (No subtitles)

Code of Ruffians

Standard

Code of Ruffians (Japan, 1965)
Strictly by-the-numbers yakuza drama about a yakuza clan gone straight, now working on a construction project in the mountains, and of course bullied by an evil gang. Koji Tsuruta stars; Sonny Chiba has a smallish and unremarkable role as a young, rich construction project boss, who learns something about the realities of life outside urban centres. Takashi Shimura and Junko Fuji appear in supporting roles. There were quite a few of these kind of movies back in the mid 60s, including some others featuring Chiba (e.g. Dragon’s Life, 1964; and North Sea Chivalry, 1967). They made an interesting point of how much of the modern Japan was supposedly built by yakuza clans. They usually emphasized how the former clans had given up on criminal life, and consequently contained only limited amounts of hard boiled “gangster cinema”. In this one, too, one has to wait until the final 15 minutes before Tsuruta goes into the yakuza mode. Unfortunately the film isn’t all that involving. Director Yusuke Watanabe would make his biggest hit two decades later with the beloved action/drama/comedy Keiji Monogatari (1982).

This film probably has another English title as well, which I’d love to share with everyone if God was kind enough to tell me which page in Chris D’s yakuza film book I should be looking at. If anyone has found it, please let me know.

* Original title: Buraikan jingi (無頼漢仁義)
* Director: Yusuke Watanabe
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Tsuruta

Chiba

Shimizu

Junko Fuji

Tsuruta finally in yakuza mode

Meiji Underworld – Yakuza G-Men

Standard

Meiji Underworld – Yakuza G-Men (Japan, 1965)
“G-Men” was something of a buzz word in the 1960s Japanese action/crime cinema. It’s was a popular slang term for Government Men or undercover agents. Toei especially liked to use it whenever the storyline had something to do with policemen going undercover. In this film it’s the Japanese gangster Hiroki Matsukata who is forced to work for the police to find out who robbed a truck full of gold. Of course, there is very little doubt about who did it as soon as yakuza film baddie Bin Amatsu walks into the frame. Director Eiichi Kudo was better known for his samurai classics like 13 Assassins. This early 20th century set gangster film is not especially badly made, but it is strangely unmoving. It’s neither very original nor that stylish, although the few action scenes it has are entertaining. Sonny Chiba has a small and forgettable supporting role as one of the detectives, with about 10-15 minutes of screen time.

* Original title: Yakuza tai G Men: Meiji ankokugai (やくざGメン 明治暗黒街)
* Director: Eiichi Kudo
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Matsukata

Amatsu

Chiba

Sing to Those Clouds

Standard

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