Category Archives: Year: 1975-1979

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

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13 Steps of Maki

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13 Steps of Maki (Japan, 1975)

This is perhaps Etsuko Shihomi’s most enjoyable, and certainly sleaziest, film. Shihomi is a girl gang leader straight out of a comic book, spending half of her time saving her delinquent karate girls from trouble. It’s basically a pinky violence movie with karate action instead of gun and knife fights. Although there is little plot, the film is well paced. Lots of solid action, no irritating supporting characters or comic reliefs, very little in terms boring side plots, and just when you might start getting a bit tired of it they throw Shihomi in prison and the film goes all WIP. Great theme song too! Sonny Chiba has cool cameo as Maki’s brother, and Roman Porno actress Meika Seri appears as assassin in the prison segment. Someone really need to put this film out on DVD and BD immediately.

* Original title: Wakai kizokutachi: 13 kaidan no Maki (若い貴族たち 13階段のマキ)
* Director: Makoto Naito
* Chiba’s role: Cameo
* Film availability: None. Review format: 35mm.

The Defensive Power of Aikido

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The Defensive Power of Aikido (Japan, 1975)

Sonny Chiba left the leading role to his brother Jiro in this excellent, though very loose martial arts biopic of Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba. For entertainment’s sake, the film focuses on Ueshiba’s somewhat reckless early years. Chiba himself shows up in a slightly villainous supporting role as a bodyguard for a no-good gang. He eventually cuts his ties with the gang, but only after accidentally injuring an innocent woman and feeling he must take responsibility about it.

This is one of the best Japanese martial arts films of the 70s, not only for excellent fights, but especially for Koji Takada’s screenplay, which uses themes of honour, brotherhood and conflict similar to old school yakuza films. Jiro Chiba pales in comparison to his brother, but he makes a decent lead and there is genuine spark in the fights between them. Etsuko Shihomi and Masafumi Suzuki appear in the film as well. Add a cool soundtrack by The Street Fighter composer Toshiaki Tsushima and you’ve got a highly recommended film. Interestingly enough, it’s also one of the least exploitative films in the genre, with no sex or nudity at all.

* Original Title: Gekitotsu! Aikido (激突!合気道)
* Director: Shigero Ozawa
* Chiba’s role: Major supporting role
* Film availability: VoD (Japan) (No subs). Review format: 35mm.

Masafumi Suzuki and Jiro Chiba

Chiba

Shihomi

Sonny vs. Jiro

Karate Bearfighter

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Karate Bearfighter (Japan, 1975)

A very enjoyable sequel packs loads of action but almost no plot. Chiba is his usual badly behaving self as Oyama, who seems not have learned anything from the previous film’s events, and all the better for it. When he isn’t working as a yakuza bodyguard, he’s picking up fights at local dojos. He finally gets a grip of himself and travels to Hokkaido, where he befriends a little boy, but his enemies won’t leave him alone. He also agrees to fight a bear for money.

Unlike in the previous film where Chiba battled a real bull, this time we’re treated a remarkably unconvincing man in a bear suit. It’s silly, but at least you don’t have to feel sorry for the poor animal. The rest of the action is fast, fierce and plentiful, but once again slightly hurt by shaky camerawork.

The biggest issue in the otherwise entertaining film is the lack of a plot, which leaves the storyline without a clear aim. The film is lots of fun whenever there is action, but there is also a clear drop in the interest curve whenever the film shifts to a storytelling mode. Chiba’s earlier and more accomplished martial arts biopic Killing Machine wasn’t terribly plot driven either, but featured much better character drama.

* Original Title: Kenka karate gokushin burai ken (けんか空手 極真無頼拳)
* Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Adness DVD (USA), Toei DVD (JP) (no subs)

Screencaps from the Adness DVD:

A little bit more for Karate Bearfighter from the Toei DVD

Original Teaser

Masutatsu Oyama (middle) instructing a fight scene

Karate Bullfighter

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Karate Bullfighter (Japan, 1975)

Sonny Chiba portrays his own master, kyokushin karate founder Masutatsu Oyama, is this excellent karate biopic, which obviously takes some liberties from the facts. The film is a live action adaptation of the Oyama comic books written by Ikki Kajiwara. Apparently master Oyama did not mind being portrayed as a brute and an “accidental” rapist – all of which worked to the film’s benefit.

Chiba is at the top of his game here. He portrays Oyama as a man who attends a karate tournament, beats all opponents, and then throws away the trophy because he thinks sportsman karate is for pussies! The fights are generally excellent and very physical, although they do suffer from some needlessly shaky camerawork (probably influenced by the documentary style yakuza films of the era). Chiba also fights a real bull – something Oyama also did.

Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi was never much of a storyteller, and that’s the film’s biggest flaw. It feels very episodic, making the film sometimes feel longer than it is. There’s a bit of love story, a bit of rivalry with nemesis Masashi Ishibashi, a bit of melodrama as Oyama kills a drunken man and then tried to make it up by taking care of his wife and child, and so on. One can sense the film tried to combine the juiciest parts of its source material without emphasizing coherence too much.

Chiba’s brother Jiro Chiba (who later starred in the excellent The Defensive Power of Aikido, 1975) plays a major supporting role as Oyama’s apprentice. Chiba returned later the same year for an even better sequel Karate Bearfighter.

* Original Title: Kenka karate kyokushin ken (けんか空手 極真拳)
* Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Adness DVD (USA), Toei DVD (JP) (no subs)

I don’t have many screencaps for this, so please forgive me for not doing the film justice.

Sonny and Jiro

Killing Machine

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Killing Machine (Japan, 1975)

Sonny Chiba stars as Doshin So, the founder of Shaolin Karate, in this superb martial arts film set immediately after WWII. It was the first of the many martial arts biopics made in 1975 that brought the genre to a higher level by focusing not only on the violent mayhem, but also on the more philosophical aspect of martial arts. This one was easily one of Chiba’s best directed movies with excellent pacing, strong focus on a well written storyline, and a very good leading performance by Chiba. There may be a few crying orphan child too much, but a bit of melodrama only works to the film’s benefit and there’s a suitably epic feel to the film. The production values are better than in most Chiba films, with limited but entirely functional sets capturing the atmosphere of the mid-1940s Japan. The fight scenes are terrific as well: fast, hard hitting and filmed with steady hands. Highly recommended.

* Original Title: Shorinji kenpo (少林寺拳法)
* Director: Norifumi Suzuki
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Adness DVD (USA), Toei DVD (JP) (no subs)

A little bit more for Killing Machine from the Toei DVD

Great teaser trailer with Chiba practicing in front of Doshin Do

Doshin Do

Photo gallery

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

Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope

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Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (Japan, 1975)

This is the holy grail of Sonny Chiba madness. Chiba is the last remaining member of a werewolf clan, and a crime reporter who conceals his true identity from the mortals. The film kicks off with a series of ultra-brutal murders, in which members of a rock band have been slaughtered. The culprit appears to be a woman with supernatural powers. Her skills are demonstrated in the opening scene, were one of the rockers (Rikiya Yasuoka) pretty much explodes into pieces.

There is no other Sonny Chiba film as outrageous as this. The film begins as a psychedelic city noir, then transcends into a science fiction film with mysterious research labs, and eventually reaches for mythical tones as Chiba returns to his birth town in the mountains. Some of the scenes unfolding feature a werewolf vs. werewolf karate fight, a werewolf being created surgically by doctors, and Chiba pulling off the prison bars with his bare hands. It’s bloody as hell and comes with copious amounts sex and nudity as well. And let’s not even get started with the odd mother syndrome as Chiba rubs his face against Yayoi Watanabe’s breasts because she reminds him of his mother!

The mad visions spring from Kazumasa Hirai’s ‘Adult Wolfguy’ graphic novels. Hirai also published the similarly titled but more youthful ‘Wolfguy’ manga that Toho had already adapted into a film in 1973. Toho’s enjoyable adaptation was no children’s film either, but Toei brought the sex and violence to a whole new level. The material was expertly adapted into a screenplay by Koji Takada. The relatively high level of continuity Takada manages to bring into the screenplay is quite shocking in fact. The storyline comes a long way, and the process feels. This is a far more coherent display of mayhem than some other Chiba films, where parts of the movie don’t always connect to each other so well.

Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi does what he’s best at, delivering non-stop mayhem with occasional beautiful images. Most of his other films, such as Sister Street Fighter and Karate Bearfighter, were very enjoyable; none of them however were quite as great as Wolfguy. Yamaguchi’s usual problem, shaky cam, is thankfully nearly absent here, resulting in lots of fun action. Wolfguy isn’t entirely a karate film, but it was made at the height of the karate film boom, which meant there were a lot of hand to hand fights accompanying gunplay and explosions.

Wolfguy is one of those rare cult movies that not only lives up to its outrageous premise, but exceeds it. It was certainly a hit with the audience at the Sonny Chiba festival in Tokyo, where one poor fella became mentally insane after the film! He sat quietly during the film, but burst into an uncontrollable laughter once the film finished and couldn’t stop. His maniac laughter echoed in the theatre staircase for several minutes. The film’s greatness must have been too much for him to handle.

I saw Wolfguy three times that day. Since it was a double feature with Game of Chance, playing all day, I simply decided not to give my seat away after the first go. After the insanely enjoyable second viewing I initially left for Co-ed Report: Yuko’s White Breasts (1971), which was playing on the other side of the town, but that screening turned out to be sold out, so I headed back to Chiba fest for one more go at Wolfguy, and I didn’t regret one bit!

The fact that there is no DVD or even video release anywhere in the world (update: that will soon change) is a crime against humanity!

* Original Title: Wolfguy: Moeru okami otoko (ウルフガイ 燃えろ狼男)
* Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
* Chiba’s role: Starring role
* Film availability: Arrow DVD / BD (UK/US) (May 2017). Review format: 35mm. Screencaps: TV

Sonny Chiba A Go Go (Part 5)

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Sonny Chiba Festival Day 5: June 22nd (Sunday)

Game of Chance (aka Legendary Lullaby) (Rokyoku komori-uta) (Ryuichi Takamori, 1966)

Ninkyo yakuza films were probably Toei’s most important genre in the mid / late 60s. The chivalrous yakuza films pitched honourable outlaws who followed the codes of honour against corrupt gangs who exploited the innocent. The hugely popular genre made actors like Ken Takakura, Koji Tsuruta and Junko Fuji some of the biggest stars of their time. It was therefore no wonder that Toei also tested Sonny Chiba as a ninkyo hero. His run in the genre was brief but produced some interesting results.

Chiba as a single father and swindler who has to escape with his 6 year son (Hiroyuki Sanada in his first role) after being caught cheating in the gambling table. The father and son travel to Tokyo, where Chiba is hoping to leave the kid to his mother’s care, but things don’t go as planned and he ends up joining bad guy Toru Abe’s gang.

Game of Chance is quite an unusual film for it is clearly built on ninkyo film pillars, yet Chiba commits some dishonourable acts that a typical ninkyo hero would never do. However, many of the best ninkyo films contained a major supporting character who was an honourable man but would be working for the enemy because of a blood relation or some obligation. Chiba’s character in Game of Chance is, in fact, much like a typical ninkyo supporting character who has been made the main character.

The unusual approach makes Game of Chance an odd bird, and we could argue it’s not a pure ninkyo film to begin with, but it also adds to its interest. The things Chiba does in Game of Chance may be dishonourable, but they can also be defended to some extent, adding more shades of grey to the ninkyo formula.

Game of Chance also stands out for its heavy focus on feminine drama, which was unusual in the masculine genre. As the film proceeds, Chiba occasionally takes the back seat and makes way for Sanada and his mother candidates, including his biological mother and and a lovely young lady (Reiko Ohara) who becomes his foster mother. It all works surprisingly well, with good performances from everyone involved. It’s especially entertaining to see Chiba in a role that finds balance between his usual enthusiastic energy and quiet moments. The film doesn’t get back to violent action until the last 10 minutes.

Director Ryuichi Takamori does decent job helming the film, though he never approaches the greatness of true ninkyo classics (e.g. the Red Peony Gambler series, the Brutal Tales of Chivalry series). He was a mediocre director who rarely improved movies with his involvement, but a couple of times on his career he did decent job, and this was one of them.

The 5 year old Hiroyuki Sanada performs here under his real name, Hiroyuki Shimosawa. He appeared in a number of other yakuza films in the following years, such as New Abashiri Prison: Vagrant Comes to a Port Town (1969) and Brutal Tales of Chivalry: I Sincerely Want to Kill You (1970), before joining Chiba’s acting school Japan Action Club in 1973. In the late 70s and early 80s Chiba and Sanada would often play supporting roles in each others’ films, until in Adventurer Kamikaze (1982) the two finally starred in equal leading roles.

Game of Chance was followed by two sequels, both starring Chiba, and both shot in colour. These films remain the only time Chiba has played starring role in a ninkyo film, although he had appeared in supporting roles a few times earlier on his career (e.g. Gambler`s Love, 1964).

Taro Hitofushi performs the theme song, which served as inspiration for the film’s story.


Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (Wolfguy: Moero ôkami-otoko) (Kuzuhiko Yamaguchi, 1975)

This incredibly entertaining action film stars Sonny Chiba as a karate skilled crime reporter who also happens to be a werewolf. He keeps his true nature hidden from the mortal world and lives among normal people as one them. As the film opens, he begins investigating a series of ultra-brutal murders in which members of a rock band have been slaughtered by a woman with supernatural powers. Her skills are demonstrated in the opening scene, in which one of the rockers (Rikiya Yasuoka) bumps into Chiba’s car and pretty much explodes into pieces a moment later on a side alley.

Wolfguy just may be the most outrageous Sonny Chiba ever made! The film goes from psychedelic city noir to science fiction set in mysterious research labs, and eventually mythical action as Wolfguy returns to his birthplace in the mountains. It’s packed with unbelievable scenarios such as werewolf vs. werewolf karate fight, werewolf shooting people with machine gun and Chiba pulling off the prison bars with his bare hands. The film also features ultra-gory murders straight out of a splatter movie, super funky soundtrack, great action, frequent female nudity, and odd mother syndrome with Chiba rubbing his nose between pinky violence star Yayoi Watanabe’s breasts because she resembles him of his mother!

What is most surprising about Wolfguy is how it makes shockingly much sense structure-wise. Unlike many other Chiba films where the main difference between the beginning and ending was the number of opponents, Wolfguy really comes a long way storywise. It also manages to retain a sufficient level of continuity, despite being a combination of several ‘Adult Wolfguy’ graphic novels by Kazumasa Hirai. Hirai also published the similarly titled but more youthful ‘Wolfguy’ manga that Toho had already adapted into a film in 1973, but Toei wanted to fill their movie with non-stop sex and violence so they went for the adult version.

The film was expertly handled by director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (Sister Street Fighter, Karate Bearfighter). The shaky cam style that hurt some of his other movies is virtually absent here, resulting in several excellent action scenes that vary from martial arts to gunplay. There’s even a tank in one scene, though it never enters the frame! Overall Wolfguy is one of those rare cult movies that not only live up to their outrageous premise, but exceed it. The fact that there is no DVD or even video release anywhere in the world is a crime against humanity!

It says something about the film that I watched it three times during the same day. It was the first film I saw that day, followed by Game of Chance, after which I simply decided not to give away my seat. After the insanely enjoyable second viewing I initially left the theatre and headed for Laputa Asagaya for Co-ed Report: Yuko’s White Breasts (1971), but it turned out the screening was sold out and I couldn’t get a ticket. With nothing better to do I went back to Cinema Vera for one more go at Wolfguy, and I didn’t regret one bit!

Wolfguy was certainly a hit with the audience. In the last screening one poor Japanese fella became mentally insane! He sit quiet during the film, but as soon as the film ended he burst into uncontrollable laughter and couldn’t stop. He left the theatre laughing like a madman. His maniac laughter echoed in the theatre for several minutes, essentially turning the whole place into a madhouse. The film’s greatness must have been too much for him to handle.

This was the end of my second Tokyo stay, but I was only halfway through the festival. Stay tuned for more reviews!

Sonny Chiba A Go Go (Part 4)

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Sonny Chiba Festival Day 4: June 21st (Saturday)

Saturday. Back in Tokyo after a few days of normal life. The festival kept running meanwhile, but I didn’t miss any movies because those were second or third screening days for films I had already seen during my last stint. My original plan was to land in Tokyo and first catch a couple of films in Jinbocho Theater before heading to Cinema Vera for only one Chiba film, but I ended up changing my plan and watching both of the evening’s Chibas.

Bullet Train (Shinkansen daibakuha) (Junya Sato, 1975)

My decision was a good one. Though I had seen Bullet Train – Junya Sato’s predecessor to Speed (1994) – before, I didn’t recall it being this good. The excellent thriller stars Ken Takakura as a criminal whose gang 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 1970’s non-action role) is trying to keep his cool. Tension begins to rise among passengers as the train skips its designated stops.

Sato was a solid director who was usually more interested in storylines than exploitation (there are some exceptions, though). Here he does fine job helming a character and story driven thriller, even if there are a couple of silly turns and too many flashbacks used as storytelling device. The film’s biggest merit is its well crafted villains, whose acts are understandable though not acceptable. Takakura does excellent job making his character human, and becomes the film’s central character despite being the villain. Action scenes are few, but expertly executed. The ultra-funky 1970s score feels out of place at first, but eventually becomes a seminal part of the film and makes one wish all good movies had one like this. Supporting roles feature a whole variety of stars from Takashi Shimura to Etsuko Shihomi and Yumi Takigaw, sometimes only getting a few seconds of screen time.

Hepcat in the Funky Hat (Funky Hat no kaidanji) (Kinji Fukasaku, 1961)

The evening’s second movie was one of Chiba’s very first starring roles: Hepcat in the Funky Hat. This energetic little movie was the third collaboration between Chiba and director Kinji Fukasaku. The two had already made two Drifting Detective movies together, the first one being Fukasaku’s directorial debut and Chiba’s first starring role. Fukasaku and Chiba then went on to work together a total of 20 times. When Chiba made his own directorial debut with Yellow Fangs (1990) Fukasaku served as his advisor.

Chiba plays a happy-go-lucky son of a detective, who constantly manages to get himself in the middle of someone else’s trouble, but comes out saving the day. Chiba is full of youthful energy, does some athletics, tries to charm the ladies (without much luck), and kicks a little bit of ass. Some of his goofier acts resemble Hong Kong stars like Alexander Fu Sheng in their more comedic roles in the 1970’s – whether that’s a good thing or not is debatable.

Hepcat in the Funky Hat also showcases the madcap energy Fukasaku later become famous for. The cinematography is wild and innovative, edits come fast and dialogue is delivered at lightning pace. There’s a striking difference between this and some other detective films of the same era, like the Police Department Story films in which Chiba co-starred the same year, or even Fukasaku’s own Drifting Detective films. Hepcat in the Funky Hat runs less than an hour and was originally played as a b-feature for a bigger budgeted a-film, but would probably have been at least 20 minutes longer in the hand of any other director.

In addition, the film deals with the theme Fukasaku explored throughout his career: youth vs. older generations. Having lived through the horrors of war and having felt betrayed by the nation and the older generations, this theme got increasingly violent cinematic incarnations in Fukasaku’s later classics like Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972), Battles without Honour and Humanity (1973) and Battle Royale (2000), where army, yakuza and the government respectively took to roles of rotten authorities. Hepcat in the Funky Hat, however, is a celebration of youthful energy, passion, and early 1960’s youth culture. Its young heroes leave the old men eating dust at every turn!