Category Archives: Year: 1970-1974

Military Spy School

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Military Spy School (Japan, 1974)

Another take on the Nakano Spy School which trained spies during WWII. The students were taught aikido, ninjutsu, weapons, explosives, foreign languages etc. Sonny Chiba already starred in the superb 1968 action/noir Army Intelligence 33, which was based on the same topic. This 1970s version is less successful, despite a big name cast (Chiba, Bunta Sugawara, Isao Natsuyagi etc.). Director Junya Sato adds more realism, but cuts down the action and loses the elegance of the ’68 version. This version is also more focused on the theme than any specific character, hence it doesn’t really have a main character. It’s not a bad movie, but one feel it should’ve been better considering the cast and interesting topic.

* Original title: ルパング島の奇跡 陸軍中野学校 (Lubang tô no kiseki: Rikugun Nakano gakkô)
* Director: Junya Sato
* Chiba’s role: Major Supporting Role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan)

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The Bodyguard

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The Bodyguard (Japan, 1974) [TV]

Not to be confused with the unrelated Bodyguard Kiba (aka The Bodyguard) films, this karate packed TV series is an undiscovered gem that features some of Sonny Chiba’s best action. Chiba stars as a member of a private bodyguard company established by Ko Nishimura (the priest from Lady Snowblood), brought to Japan after hammering a roomful of Arab villains to death in Middle East. His colleagues are played by karate girl Etsuko Shihomi, Chiba’s brother Jiro Chiba, young nice guy Yuuki Meguro, and dirty fellow lone wolf Yoji Takagi who occasionally joins the gang.

The series, produced briefly after the release of the first Street Fighter film, is basically combination of martial arts action and traditional Japanese detective series format where we often had a group of 4-5 detectives solving crimes. Although not strictly a martial arts series, for these guys karate is usually the solution to any problem, and the action only gets better and more frequent as the series advances. Most episodes feature at least one fight, but many feature two or three fights.

Chiba is fantastic in the series. The fights ar as good as in his films, and are always clearly filmed without shaky camera. They are little short, though. And while the series may lack the excessive bloodletting and sex of Chiba’s mid 70’s films, the action looks and sounds painful. It also says something about the series’ grittiness that a lot of the time the bodyguards fail to keep their client alive till the end. Adding to the effect is a fantastic, badass score.

The 18 year old Shihomi makes perhaps an even bigger impression than Chiba. She has never looked as cute and energetic as she does here kicking guys in the face. She doesn’t get any fights in the early episodes, but becomes a major attraction later on. It’s pretty difficult to curb your enthusiasm when an episode title that roughly translates as “The Roaring Female Dragon of Hokkaido” appears on screen and a miscellaneous bunch of martial arts villains that look like the cast of Sister Street Fighter (released towards the end of the show’s production) are introduced. Hell yeah!

Jiro Chiba gets his share of action as well, and while Yuuki Meguro is not a fighter he turns out to be a sympathetic young guy in suit. Yoji Takagi isn’t too bad either although it takes a while to warm up to him. Guest stars include Pinky Violence actresses Reiko Ike, Ryoko Ema, Yukie Kagawa, and Yumi Takigawa, Roman Porno starlets Yuri Yamashina and Moeko Ezawa, kick boxing legend Tadashi Sawamura, and of course Chiba & Shihomi’s eternal karate nemesis Masashi Ishibashi.

If there is something negative about the series it the uneven and mostly unremarkable writing. Most storylines are decidedly routine, save for a few stand outs. There are also episodes that try too much with drama at the expense of action (e.g. the closing episode), and one rather unbearable comedic episode. Generally speaking the series is relatively free of comedy, except for some funny dialogue between Nishimura and older lady Izumi Yukimura (the owner of a tiny fashion shop operating in the same premises with the bodyguard office). However, in episode 16 some idiot came up with the idea of switching Yukimura for a hyperactive comedic young woman (the actress is credited as “Beaver”). Thankfully she only causes damage to a couple of episodes.

Despite its flaws, The Bodyguard is one of the seminal karate products of the mid 70s. For a Chiba fan it’s a truly exciting discovery that deserves far wider recognition than it has been getting.

* Original title: The Body-Guard / Za bodigaado (ザ・ボディガード)
* Director: Kazuyoshi Yoshikawa, Hideo Tanaka, Koichi Takemoto, Yasuo Furuhata etc.
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Availability: Toei DVD (to be released May 2017) (no subs). Review format: TV.

Chiba and Nishimura

Etsuko Shihomi and Jiro Chiba

Shihomi and Yuuki Meguro

Shihomi kicking arse

Shihomi vs. Masashi Ishibashi

Chiba being his usual mean self

This double-episode was shot in the US

Chiba being mean in Nevada

Jiro Chiba

Yuri Yamashina

Reiko Ike

Tadashi Sawamura

Shihomi!

The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno

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The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno (Japan, 1974)

Director Teruo Ishii was never keen on making karate movies, but the studio had him direct one with The Executioner (1974). Ishii responded by delivering an over the top action sleaze fest, which was probably more enjoyable than Ishii ever intended. Much to his shock, it was a commercial success and Toei had him make a sequel, which Ishii turned into a madcap action comedy.

In Karate Inferno the same old gang is back, supposed to save a kidnapping victim this time, but when the deal goes, bad they decide to rob their employer instead. There isn’t quite as much action this time around since half of the film consists of Chiba (asshole ninja), Makoto Sato (asshole ex-cop) and Eiji Go (asshole pervert) taking the piss out of each other and molesting Yutaka Nakajima. The jokes are crude but funny, the soundtrack is fantastic, and there’s some great action at the end of the film. Oh, and this is the film that features Chiba saving his pal, whose clothes have caught fire, by pissing on him. Top grade entertainment.

The film contains quite a few film reference jokes, many of which may not be understood by most foreign viewers. For example, in the prison scene we see Kanjuro Arashi as Onitora – the character he played in Ishii’s Abashiri Prison series. Chiba also appeared in the 4th and 6th Abashiri Prison film, which is why he recognizes the character!

* Original Title: Chokugeki jigoku-ken: Dai-gyakuten (直撃地獄拳 大逆転)
* Director: Teruo Ishii
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Adness DVD (USA), Toei DVD (JP) (No Subs)

Kanjuro Arashi

The Executioner

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The Executioner (Japan, 1974)

By mid 1974 karate films had proven so popular that even directors who didn’t want work with the genre were ordered to make some. Such was the case with madman Teruo Ishii, who made The Executioner one of Chiba’s trashiest pictures. The hit squad flick features ninja descendant Chiba, ex-cop Makoto Sato, and death row convict Eiji Go hired to wipe out a drug cartel. Former police chief Ryo Ikebe and his assistant Yutaka Nakajima are behind the assignment.

Ishii was bored with the project, so he filled it with extreme violence, sex, and crude jokes – and let’s not even get started with the hilariously degrading treatment of every single female character in the film. One of the highlights features Chiba having a go with his half-dead opponent’s naked girlfriend while the poor man is taking the count on the floor. Another scene features rock star gone actor Rikiya Yasuoka biting a man’s ear off.

Chiba is in his usual manic swing, frequently using exaggerated violence against his opponents, sometimes landing 17 extra blows after the opponent is clearly ready to drop dead. It’s a fun show, even if the fights are not quite Chiba’s best. Yasuaki Kurata, in a full Bruce Lee mode, joins the cast for the final fight. Hiroyuki Sanada appears in the early scenes, playing Chiba’s character in the childhood flashbacks where he’s being trained by a ninja master.

The Executioner is hardly a pretty movie, but that’s exactly where it’s appeal lies. As irredeemable trash it never ceases to entertain, and it works like medicine on broken hearts (tested more than once). The film was followed by an even crazier sequel The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno.

* Original Title: Chokugeki! Jigoku-ken (直撃!地獄拳)
* Director: Teruo Ishii
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Adness DVD (USA), Toei DVD (JP) (No Subs)

Hiroyuki Sanada

Kurata kicking ass

Sister Street Fighter

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Sister Street Fighter (Japan, 1974)

Toei extended their winning formula to an unrelated but wonderfully entertaining sister series that gave the 18 year old Etsuko Shihomi her first starring role. The non-stop cavalcade of semi-sleaze and delightfully violent martial arts follows Shihomi battling a drug syndicate lead by a flamboyant madman (Bin Amatsu), whose “hobby” is beautiful women and evil martial arts masters. While not as fast as Chiba, Shihomi made an instant impression by performing all of her stunts and fighting. Chiba has a wonderful supporting role, and Masashi Ishibashi plays villain again. The lack of strong plot is the only real weakness. Just avoid the cut R-rated version, which was widely available on bootleg DVDs once upon a time, and is missing over 4 minutes of action and violence. Oh, and for those wondering why Shihomi’s character is Chinese; that’s because the role was originally written for Angela Mao.

Three sequels followed. Chiba did not return to the series, but Masashi Ishibashi did, and Yasuaki Kurata was featured in the next two films.

* Original Title: Onna hissatsu ken (女必殺拳)
* Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
* Chiba’s role: Major Supporting Role *
* Film availability: BCI Eclipse Sister Street Fighter DVD Box Set (USA), BCI Eclipse Sister Street Fighter BD Double Feature, Toei DVD (JP) (No Subs), HK Video Street Fighter Box Set (FR) (FR subs only)

* This is a bit tricky. Chiba’s screentime is certainly limited; however, he is featured in three fight scenes and provides some of the film’s best moments. I’m calling it a “major supporting role” because “minor supporting role” simply wouldn’t do it justice. Feel free to disagree.

The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge

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The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge (Japan, 1974)

Unfairly bashed third film tones down the violence and goes for more laid back action fun. This time Tsurugi is a ladies man with James Bond’s sex appeal and Ethan Hunt’s face mask stash. Make no mistake, though, he’s still pretty much an asshole who steals the mafia’s money, throws an enemy fighter in the cremator, and has serious difficulties respecting women. Screenwriter Koji Takada provides some very witty dialogue and insults (“I don’t give a damn if you’re Fire Bird or fried chicken). Action choreography is a bit uneven, but never less than entertaining, and the final fight is quite good. The film also features the best female roles in the series, with Etsuko Shihomi and Reiko Ike looking gorgeous, and the latter managing to breathe genuine dignity and spiciness into her mafia seductress character – a small miracle on the genre. A very enjoyable film although obviously no match for the unforgettable original; just don’t go in expecting a bloodbath.

While the first Street Fighter movie came with a classic English dub, the third movie is certainly best seen in its original form. The American New Line Cinema version not only loses the witty dialogue in the dubbing process, it also heavily alters the storyline (drug dealers instead of corrupt politicians; a drug tape instead of confessions caught on tape, two tapes instead of one tape) and character’s motivations (Shihomi works for police instead of mafia). In a addition, it’s cut and plays many scenes on different order than they should be in (as a result Chiba actually becomes a nicer guy in the US version). What a mess.

* Original Title: Gyakushû! Satsujin ken (逆襲!殺人拳)
* Director: Shigero Ozawa
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Optimum DVD (UK), HK Video (FR) (FR subs only)

Return of the Street Fighter

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Return of the Street Fighter (Japan, 1974)

The first of the two Street Fighter sequels is a fun grindhouse film that doesn’t reach the greatness of the original, but comes with superior fight choreography. The film also shows in a nutshell why the series enjoys such popularity, and where Japanese karate action was heading in 1974.

The karate films Chiba made in 1973-1974 were all contemporary action films with plenty of martial arts thrown in. However, the genre was heading towards a more serious approach to martial arts, exemplified by the numerous martial arts biopics released in 1975 (e.g. Killing Machine, The Defensive Power of Aikido). Return of the Street Fighter was still an urban action flick, but the amount of martial arts – and martial artists – on display already suggested of the trend.

Despite the rushed production (the sequel hit the theatres less than 3 months after the original) Toei had time to audition 100 martial arts from various countries, 11 of which were chosen to appear in the film, in addition to Masashi Ishibashi, Masafumi Suzuki & his students, and the JAC stuntmen returning from the first film.

The “fighter overpopulation” actually causes the film to lose its story focus early on as we are treated one martial arts demonstration after another. Fans of karate films should not be complaining, but casual viewers may find it a bit too much. However, there seems to have been even more footage than could be fit in the film, as the original teaser trailer features quite a bit of action, training, and promotional footage not found in the film.

For most people the real reason to watch The Street Fighter movies is of course Chiba and the character he portrays. Takuma “Terry” Tsurugi is back and in good form, even if he’s a little less nasty this time. Highlights include Tsurugi taking down a police station’s entire night shift crew in order to assassinate a target held by the police, and Tsurugi walking away from a crime scene with a big smile on his face while a villain is burning in the flames behind him. The film is a perfect example of a cinema era when heroes were allowed to be villains and villains could pass for heroes.

Action fans will also be pleased that the fight choreography is excellent throughout. There are lots of fights, the action is well choreographed, and the most commonly used sound effect is that of a breaking bone. There also a good bit of the series’ trademark ultra violence, such as Tsurugi punching a man in so hard at the back of his head that his eyes pop out.

Story wise the film is a carbon copy of the original – to the extent that the writer of the original film, Koji Takada, has been given a “created by” credit even though he was apparently not involved with the sequel. The film merely switches Chinese triads for New York mafia, avenging death row prisoner for an avenging ex-detective, and a Singaporean sidekick for an Okinawan sidekick (the naturally cute Yoko Ichiji stripped down of her cuteness (sadly not of her clothes), and given a rather irritating character to play).

While the weaknesses somewhat hurt the film, the imperfection also makes the film a more genuine grindhouse type film, with its own trashy appeal. With expectations kept in check, Return of the Street Fighter is quite a bit of violent fun. Oh, and a bit of fun trivia: the bearded hippie mafia boss who appears in the film was played by the young Canadian filmmakers Claude Gagnon, who would later pick up the Japanese Film Directors’ Association’s prize for best director for his Art Theater Guild film Keiko (1979).

* Original Title: Satsujin ken 2 (殺人拳 2)
* Director: Shigehiro Ozawa
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Optimum DVD (UK), HK Video (FR) (FR subs only), Toei DVD (no subs)

Original Teaser with footage not found in the film

The Street Fighter

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The Street Fighter (Japan, 1974)

This was the film that started the golden age of Japanese karate entertainment. Two important factors should be considered when we discuss the film: timing and talent. Although Chiba had been making action movies since the early 1960s, including a couple of full-fledged martial arts films, Japanese karate films had never really taken off. For years Chiba had to deal with producers and directors who had little to no interest in the fighting aspect. Matters were made even worse by tight filming schedules. Things finally begun to change when Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon was released in Japanese theatres in December 1973 and proved a major hit (it was the first Lee film to arrive Japan; others followed in 1974-1975). All of a sudden there was a genuine demand for martial arts films.

The story behind The Street Fighter goes a bit further back than that, though. The production was launched earlier in 1973 after Toei screenwriter Koji Takada had seen a number of kung fu films in Hong Kong (probably during the production of Tokyo-Seoul-Bangkok Drug Triangle) and managed to convince Toei executives that they should produce something similar with Japanese karate. Takada had Toei producers attend an advance screening of Enter the Dragon, which did the trick. Chiba was selected as the star: not surprising considering not only his status as the leading Japanese action star / stunt choreographer, but also his expertise in martial arts.

At first Toei intended the film to be an international co-production, but the Hong Kong studio it was offered to, Golden Harvest, did not take the bait. Perhaps Toei’s understanding of a movie with an international appeal -that is, Chiba killing gangsters from various foreign countries – was not to their liking. This does, however, explain why parts of the film take place in Hong Kong and many of the characters are Chinese (although portrayed by Japanese actors). The budget was cut from the original, but the film went to production and Chiba spent his Christmas holidays filming the movie. The Street Fighter hit the theatres in February 1974, six week after Enter the Dragon.

The Street Fighter was also a movie that could not have been born much earlier – or at least not turn out the way it did – as the necessary action talent had just been discovered a few months earlier. Chiba’s earlier action films had often suffered from the lack of co-stars with martial arts experience who could make good opponents for Chiba. Most of Toei’s action film stars were yakuza film actors who looked good with a gun or sword, but made poor karate fighters. This finally changed when Chiba discovered Masashi Ishibashi, who was cast as a villain in Chiba’s previous movie Bodyguard Kiba 2 (1973). Ishibashi was a real life karate master and Chiba’s senior, who had been acting in movies for a good while already but hadn’t done much on-screen action before. With Ishibashi on board Chiba had finally found an actor who could keep up with the choreographies even when films had to be completed at lighting pace.

The action scenes in The Street Fighter were co-designed by Chiba and Ishibashi (as well as other real life martial artists), who played the film’s famous villain and returned for countless other Chiba films like Karate Bullfighter. There were other real life martial artists involved as well, like the future leader of All Japan Karate Federation Masafumi Suzuki (the older master), pro wrestler Tsutomu Harada (the villain who loses is eyes), and kick boxer Ken Kazama & karate man Yushiro Sumi (as two bodyguards). Chiba’s brother Jiro, who later went on to star in The Defensive Power of Aikido (1975), and Chiba’s protégé Etsuko Shihomi, who would become the biggest Japanese female martial arts star of all time, are also featured in minor roles. Furthermore, Chiba’s real life master Masutatsu Oyama’s influence can clearly be seen in the film: although he does not appear on screen, his thoughts are obviously echoed in the opening scene where Ishibashi criticizes the state of modern karate.

The Street Fighter also became an unforgettable showcase of Chiba’s anti-hero charm and ultra-violence. Chiba was given relatively free hands at creating the main character, a badass mercenary called Takuma Tsurugi. Chiba drew influence from the psychotic yakuza villain he had played in Kinji Fukasaku’s yakuza film Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Hiroshima Death Match (1973), but made the character a little less evil this time. He also added his own brand of Oyama influenced fighting, which was faster and more brutal than the extended and balletic fighting scenes seen in many Kong Kong films. What resulted was 90 minutes of cinematic badassness that remains one of the most enjoyable action films of the 1970s. It was also very successful upon its release in both Japan, where Chiba toured theatres giving action demonstrations, and the US, where the film was even featured in the Playboy magazine, probably due to having been the first movie ever rated X for violence alone by MPAA.

For better or worse, The Street Fighter has characterized Chiba’s reputation ever since and made him a cult hero all around the world. However, his best work as an on-screen martial artist was still to come. The Street Fighter was still a contemporary action film where, for the most part, gunplay had merely been replaced with martial arts. This was no doubt largely due to Toei, as well as their filmmakers from screenwriter Takada to director Shigero Ozawa, being veterans of yakuza films rather than martial arts movies. It wasn’t until the next year when Chiba’s martial movies found their purest form in films like Killing Machine, Karate Bearfighter and The Defensive Power of Aikido, all of which were biopics of real life martial artists.

Side note: there is some confusion regarding Chiba’s side-kick character calling him “darling” throughout the film in the Japanese language version. The word is actually not “darling”, it’s “talen” which is Chinese for “master”. This makes perfect sense since the character is supposed to be Chinese or Singaporean, whose life was saved by Chiba. The Japanese mispronunciation of the term has, however, fooled many viewers and added unintended homosexual sub-context. It’s quite amusing indeed, especially when the character even cooks Chiba’s meals and does his laundry; however, it’s all a misunderstanding.

* Original Title: Gekitotsu: Satsujin ken (激突! 殺人拳)
* Director: Shigehiro Ozawa
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Optimum DVD (UK), HK Video (FR) (FR subs only), Toei DVD (no subs)

Bodyguard Kiba 2

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Bodyguard Kiba 2 (Japan, 1973)

This interesting, but uneven sequel was an important turning point on Chiba’s career. Chiba had been trying to introduce martial arts into his films for a while, the original Bodyguard Kiba (1973) being the most prominent example, but the problem had always been that most Japanese actors were not fit for physically demanding action films. To address this problem Chiba had opened his own acting school “Japan Action Club” (JAC) in 1970, but it still took a few years before Chiba got his gang together. Bodyguard Kiba 2 was the film where it finally happened.

JAC graduate and Chiba fangirl Etsuko Shihomi was the first addition to the team. Shihomi had joined JAC due to her admiration for Chiba, but had been too young to become a star before. Now, at the age of 17, she was finally ready for her first movie role as Kiba’s sister. Though she doesn’t have many scenes, the ones she appears in are loaded with both cuteness and fighting. It didn’t take her long to become Japan’s leading female martial arts actress, which happened with the following year’s Sister Street Fighter (1974). She would also frequently play supporting roles in Chiba movies, such as The Street Fighter, The Killing Machine, and The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno.

An even more important addition to the team was Masashi Ishibashi. Ishibashi was a real life karate master and Chiba’s senior, who had been acting in movies for a while but had not done much action before. The word is that Ishibashi often visited Masutatsu Oyama’s dojo as a quest instructor on his way back home (he couldn’t be a full time instructor since his karate style was different from Oyama’s). With Ishibashi on board Chiba had finally found an actor who could keep up with the choreographies even when films had to be completed at lighting pace. Ishibashi would go on to play villains in countless Chiba and Shihomi movies (e.g. The Street Fighter, Karate Bullfigher, Sister Street Fighter) in, and also work on the action choreography with Chiba.

Bodyguard Kiba 2 opens with each of the three stars giving their best in great night time fight in rain. Even Chiba fans who never saw the film have probably caught a glimpse of the fight as footage of it was featured in the theatrical trailer for Karate Bullfighter.

The rest of the film unfortunately does not live up to the great opening. Chiba is Kiba again, but this time he has fallen from grace and sent to prison for all the violent acts he has committed. Once he’s out, he begins working as a bodyguard in a club that is crawling with gangsters. Never mind that he was a gangster hating hero that singlehandedly crushed a syndicate and even saved a passenger plane from criminals in the previous film! A man’s got to earn money to cover his sister’s hospital bills!

What happens next in the film is… not all that much. Chiba and bad guy Eiji Go go on about who’s got a bigger, ehm, fist, and spend some time hanging out at the club. Things finally speed up when Chiba’s prison pal Tsunehiko Watase is released. Turns out he was betrayed by the gang Chiba is now working for. It’s a nice ninkyo yakuza film style twist, although unfortunately largely wasted with minimal character development (see the superb The Defensive Power of Aikido for a much better handing of a similar theme). Watase is good (as he always is), and although not really a martial artist, he does have a bit of karate experience from his student days. He would go on to star in Wicked Kempo, his only real martial arts film, in 1974.

Bodyguard Kiba 2 comes to its conclusion in an entertaining, though not classic, violent climax. If the rest of the film had been as good as the opening and closing fights, this would be a small gem. As it stands, Bodyguard Kiba 2 is more relevant for uniting Chiba, Shihomi and Ishibashi for the first time on screen. Their next collaboration, The Street Fighter, would be an all time classic.

* Original title: Bodigaado Kiba: Hissatsu sankaku tobi (ボディガード牙 必殺三角飛び)
* Director: Ryuichi Takamori
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan)

Side note: although the caps below are from the VHS quality VoD version, Toei has new HD scans of both Bodyguard Kiba films.

Chiba vs. Ishibashi

Chiba

Shihomi

Ishibashi

Shihomi and Masutatsu Oyama

Chiba kicking ass (or heads, to be more precise)

Bodyguard Kiba

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Bodyguard Kiba (Japan, 1973)

Sonny Chiba is as a Japanese karate fighter taking on the mafia in this mediocre grindhouse action film, which is notable for foreshadowing the karate film boom that would begin a year later. The sequel, Bodyguard Kiba 2 would be even more important in this respect.

The first Bodyguard Kiba film exists in two different versions. The American version is called “The Bodyguard” and it was released in 1976. This version not only removes some scenes, but also adds new ones. The additions include the famous Ezekiel speech that Quentin Tarantino quoted in Pulp Fiction, a modified opening credits sequence accompanied by Viva! Chiba! chanting, and a scene featuring US martial artists Aaron Banks and Bill Louie discussing who’s a tougher guy: Sonny Chiba or Bruce Lee? Yes, Chiba plays himself in this version, and he appears to be busier fighting crime than making movies!

The original Japanese version of the film, Bodyguard Kiba (1973), isn’t really a better movie, but it does contain interesting context missing from the American version. In the Japanese version Chiba plays Kiba, a karate fighter who becomes a bodyguard in order to promote karate to the world, rather than just fight criminality like in the US version.

One of the key differences between the two versions is the long press conference sequence where Kiba explains in detail about his master’s karate philosophy. We also see short clips of Kiba’s master training with his students. Everything Kiba says in this scene actually refers to Sonny Chiba’s real life master Masutatsu Oyama. The training footage we see also features the real Oyama and his students. The American version alters this scene heavily by removing the Oyama footage (it’s actually used as the opening credits scene, lacking the context of the Japanese version) and using a heavily altered dub that doesn’t make any reference to Oyama or karate philosophy.

The Japanese version features an entirely new scene at the end of the film, where, after killing about 40 people and seeing several others lose their life, Kiba speaks one more time to the press and concludes it has all been great promotion for karate. The character actually comes out as a bigger asshole in the Japanese version thanks to this scene!

The reason why the Japanese version is heavy on karate context is that the film was based on a manga by Ikki Kajiwara. The author was simultaneously publishing two comic books loosely based on Masutatsu Oyama’s life. Karate Kiba was aimed for adult readers while the slightly more true-to-reality Karate Baka Ichidai (which was later adapted to screen as Karate Bullfighter, Karate Bearfighter and Karate for Life) was intended for younger readers. As a results, Karate Kiba features more sex and graphic violence.

It’s just too bad the film was helmed by the walking definition of mediocre, Ryuchi Takamori. The action scenes, while somewhat entertaining, are sloppily edited, the storyline is quite messy, and there are some slow patches. Nevertheless, there is some memorable ultra-violence and enjoyable spaghetti western imagery. Also, look out for Etsuko Shihomi as a stunt double for Yayoi Watanabe, who plays Chiba’s sister. In the sequel, Shihomi would inherit the acting role.

Neither version of Bodyguard Kiba are especially good, but both have their merits. The Japanese version is more interesting from the karate philosophy perspective, but the trashy US edition comes with some amusing new scenes.

* Original title: Bodigaado Kiba (ボディガード牙)
* Director: Ryuichi Takamori
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Japanese version: VoD (Japan) / US Version: BCI DVD (US) (Eng Dub). Review format: 35mm

Chiba talks about karate… or international crime, depending on which version you’re seeing.

US exclusive: Aaron Banks and Bill Louie

Oyama!