Category Archives: Year: 1960-1964

Robot Keiji: The Movie

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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

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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)

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

New 7 Color Mask

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New 7 Color Mask (Japan, 1960)

Sonny Chiba landed his very first acting role with a bit of luck. Drafted by Toei in 1959, he replaced Susumu Namishima in Toei’s first ever superhero TV show 7 Color Mask after Namishima dropped out after 31 episodes. Chiba took his role as Detective Ran (the show was then renamed as New 7 Color Mask), a master of disguise fighting all sorts of foreign super villains threatening Japan, including “Golden King” and a middle east terrorist group using poison gas emitting spiders. Ran’s ace in the sleeve was turning into an invincible masked superhero, 7 Color Mask. It’s a world where kilt-wearing masked villains are running around in broad daylight, the police bow to a private detective who solves all crimes for them, and everybody is always fooled by the silliest of disguises. A bit of child-like mindset is required from the viewer.

Chiba himself looks self-assured as stylish as hell in black suit, also benefiting from solid production values (the series was originally meant to be released as edited movie versions in theatres as well, hence shot on 35mm, though only Namishima’s episodes made it to the silver screen). Chiba did all of his own stunts and fighting, with no “suit actor” (stunt performer for the superhero scenes) utilized in the show. The show’s main liability is its unimaginative writing. Ran’s invincibility always saves him from any trouble, and storylines tend to drag a bit until it’s time for the bad guys to get caught.

Toei produced a total of 26 episodes of the show. Episodes 1-13 are included in Toei’s recent 4 disc DVD set. Episode 14 is also featured as an extra. The rest will probably never be seen as, according to Toei’s announcement, the negatives are lost. This seems to have been the case already back in the 1980s when the same 13 episodes were released on video. The positive news is that the series is made of independent story arcs, 1-13 episodes each. The DVD release contains the first two stories (episodes 1-6 and 7-13) in their entirety. The final story arch (episodes 14-26) is missing except for the first episode (14). It’s a shame because that story looked very cool, but at least the first two stories can still be enjoyed.

* Original title: 新七色仮面 (Shin nana iro kamen)
* Director: Toshiro Suzuki
* Chiba’s role: Starring Role
* Film availability: Toei DVD (Japan) (No subs)

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

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