Category Archives: Year: 1960-1964

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

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Decree from Hell

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Decree from Hell (Japan, 1964)
While Toei’s gangster movies are best remembered for the chivalrous ninkyo movies (roughly 1963-1972) and the documentary style jitsuroku movies (roughly 1969-1977), there also existed a third sub-genre that we might simply call contemporary gangster films. Decree from Hell belongs to this genre, and like many others of its kind, it suffers from the lack of strong genre identity. Chiezo Kataoka is a gangster boss who barely escapes an assassination attempt by Toru Abe’s evil gang. A gang battle ensues. This is a forgettable time waster with a fairly routine storyline, a bit of action and some humour. There’s quite a bit of focus on the gangsters’ families and gangs, including Sonny Chiba as Kataoka’s teenage son who wishes to gave no part in the criminal business. The film is a part of a very loosely related series of “Hell” movies, all starring Kataoka.

* Original title: Jigoku meirei (地獄命令)
* Director: Shigehiro Ozawa
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: None. Review Format: TV

Kataoka

Silly comedy… many gangster movies at that time had these scenes

Chiba

Chiba

Chiba

Dragon’s Life

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Dragon’s Life (Japan, 1964)

An early ninkyo film from before the genre had truly established its form. Koji Tsuruta plays an honourable outlaw who saves an older man from an ambush. It turns out the man is the head of a hard working clan appointed to a railway construction project. A ruthless yakuza gang is also trying to get their share of the project and attempts to sabotage the work. After the old man dies, his son (Sonny Chiba) and daughter (Junko Fuji) try to complete the project. Tsuruta joins them while also falling in love with a local woman working in a bar (after all, Tsuruta always was more of a lover than his stoic colleague Takakura).

Dragon’s Life is not bad – it has some pretty good scenes – but it tends to lack the clear focus of the best ninkyo films. Fans of the genre will immediately recognize the structure and many story devices used here, though, including an honourable man (Shigeru Amachi) working for the villain clan but in love with Fuji. Interestingly enough, the film contains partial female nudity, which was a rarity in a ninkyo film, as well as in any film made as early as this (as for the Japanese film industry in general, 1964 was the turning point, but obviously the ninkyo genre did not follow this trend). Sonny Chiba plays another “son role” – he did quite a few of them in the early/mid 60s – but he doesn’t especially stand out. It’s not his fault, the role just isn’t very memorable.

* Original title: Ryuko ichidai (竜虎一代)
* Director: Tsuneo Kobayashi
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Tsuruta

Chiba

Chiba and Fuji

Final walk. Ninkyo fans know this type of scene very well.

Gambler Tales of Hasshu: A Man’s Pledge

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Gambler Tales of Hasshu: A Man’s Pledge (Japan, 1963)

This is one of the many films based on the legend of Chuji Kunisada, a wandering gambler and a defender of the weak in the Edo period. In other words, he was the Japanese Robin Hood. In this film Kunisada (Chiezo Kataoka) arrives to a small town terrorized by an evil gang. He insists that he is not Kunisada, as the word is Kunisada has been executed, but of course the audience know better. Sonny Chiba plays an unusual supporting role as a helpless young man unable to defend himself from the gangsters. He does, however, get to play taiko drums and dance with Junko Fuji (who makes her film debut here). Chiba’s father, an old judge who helps Kunisada, is played by Takashi Shimura (Seven Samurai). The film hardly anything exceptional, but it’s a pretty decent jidai geki / yakuza drama.

* Original title: Hasshu yukyoden – otoko no sakazuki (八州遊侠伝 男の盃)
* Director: Masahiro Makino
* Chiba’s role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Kataoka

Chiba

Chiba and Shimura

Chiba and Junko Fuji

Chiba playing taiko drums

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

The Navy

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The Navy (Japan, 1963)
A tale of two best friends in the WWII era Japan. Takao (Sonny Chiba) is a young man enthusiastic about joining the navy to fight for his country. He convinces his best friend Shinji (Kinya Kitaoji) to join him. As it turns out, however, Takao’s poor health prevents him from entering the navy while his friend is chosen instead. As time goes by, Takao becomes a painter and changes his mind about the meaningfulness of war and fighting, while his friend goes the opposite path. Meanwhile Takao’s sister falls in love with Shinji. This is a well made war time drama with decent characters and good performances. It is especially enjoyable to see Chiba in a very atypical quiet drama role. This is by far one of his most restrained performances, yet his usual energy and youthful charm are constantly bubbling under. Although he is not the film’s main character – that is Shinji – his role is pretty major and easily the film’s best.

* Original title: Kaigun (海軍)
* Director: Shinji Murayama
* Chiba’s role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Young men eager to fight for their country

But only Kitaoji gets chosen

Disappointed Chiba…

who later finds a few life as an artist

unfortunately we do not get see when he drew that picture…

Gambler’s Love

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Gambler’s Love (Japan, 1963)
Sonny Chiba is a young gambler on the run. He pretends to be an innocent student, and is taken in by an honorable yakuza (Hideo Murata) in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. Chiba later falls in love with a beautiful musical actress who is also being looked after by the yakuza clan. This is a decent, very old fashioned period yakuza/romance/drama. Although Chiba is not really the main character – he’s the second billed actor – he is very much the film’s heart and has a major role. Hideo Murata (not to be confused with Hideo Murota, who also appears in the film) plays the benevolent yakuza leader. He was not only a popular actor during the early years of the yakuza film genre, but also a singer; hence we have him singing in this film as well. The film ends with a massive 3 vs. 30 fight which also contains a pretty long take sideways scrolling take – the same kind that movies like Oldboy would use decades later.

* Original title: Asakusa no kyoukaku (浅草の侠客)
* Director: Kiyoshi Saeki
* Chiba’s role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: Video on Demand (Japan) (No subtitles)

Murata and Chiba

Chiba talking to a girl

The evil yakuza underlings who are after Chiba

More Chiba

Bruised Chiba stands by his love

Final fight

Yakuza’s Song

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Yakuza’s Song (Japan, 1963)
This is one of Chiba’s best early starring roles, an enjoyable crossover between Toei’s old fashioned yakuza cinema and the kind of “youthful love story set in the criminal world” you’d find in Nikkatsu’s films. Sonny Chiba plays a low ranking yakuza who spends more time enjoying life than doing the yakuza work. He falls in love with a pretty student girl (Chiyoko Honma), whose brother (Saburo Kitajima) later gets drawn into the yakuza business against his own wishes.

Yakuza’s Song is charmingly old fashioned, utilizing many studio sets and typical Showa era music; however, the film’s real strength is the breezy romance between Chiba and lovely Chiyoko Honma. Early/mid 60s was the time when Chiba was at his best as an actor, and here he finds just the right balance between youthful energy and seriousness. It also doesn’t hurt the dressing department seems determined to make Chiba look as cool as possible, and that composer Tooru Funamura provides a cool, highly spaghetti esque score. The film may not add anything new to the genre, and the storyline is strictly standard stuff, but as an enjoyable programmer picture the film delivers!

* Original title: Yakuza no uta (やくざの歌)
* Director: Miki Wakabayashi
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Video on Demand (Japan) (No subtitles)

Honma

Chiba and Honma

Chiba and Honma

Saburo Kitajima

Chiba and Honma

The Loyal 47 Gangsters

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The Loyal 47 Gangsters (Japan, 1963)
A modern gangster film reworking of the 47 Ronin story, where an innocent lord is forced to commit harakiri, but his loyal samurai swear for revenge. In this version Ken Takakura is a young gang boss tricked by the villainous Toru Abe. His underlings, lead by Chiezo Kataoka, start planning for revenge after Takakura dies in jail. Fans of the original story may be interested in seeing how the modern aspect is executed, but otherwise this is a relatively uninspired yakuza film. It doesn’t help that it’s remarkably slow paced, originally intended as the first half of an epic; however, part 2 never surfaced. The biggest point of interest is probably setting some of the scenes in Paris. Sonny Chiba plays one of the gangsters, but his role is sadly very small and forgettable.

* Original title: Gang chusingura (ギャング忠臣蔵)
* Director: Shigero Ozawa
* Chiba’s role: Small supporting role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subtitles)

Takakura and Abe in Paris (see the background)

Chiezo Kataoka

Takakura

Chiba

Chiba

Chiba loses his temper