Following the release of Sonny Chiba: Street Fighter, the hacks at Vintage Home Entertainment offer us this new three-flicks-squeezed-unto-a-single-DVD. I don’t mind the cheap cover and utter absence of special features, and even the full screen format and bad dubbing are to be expected with old kung fu movies, I guess. But this is some real hackwork, obviously transferred from old VHS, with ensuing buzzing sound, washed out images and even the occasional video fuzz. It’s still a hoot and a holler to get to watch these vintage Japanese B-movies.
First up is Viva Chiba! THE BODYGUARD (aka “Karate Kiba”), pure exploitation moviemaking from the mid-‘70s stretch during which Sonny Chiba starred in 5 or 6 quickie features a year. You gotta love the bright red paint used for blood, the ridiculous sound FX, the groovy music and the clumsy but enthusiastic zoom-ins, even though the “plots” tend to be spectacularly idiotic.
The movie opens with the following quote, allegedly from Ezekiel 25:17:
“The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the father of lost children. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am CHIBA the BODYGUARD when I lay my vengeance upon them.”
Hmm, I wonder if Quentin Tarantino has seen this film…
The film kicks off with Chiba stopping an airplane hijacking, then he holds a press conference to announce that he’s gonna wipe out Japan’s drug industry, karate-chopping a Coke bottle to show he means it. This pisses off the mob, naturally, so they beat up Chiba’s sister and leave her naked in the street with ‘Cosa Nostra’ carved in her arm. Now it’s personal! Chiba is contacted by a mysterious woman who says she has information about this ‘Cosa Nostra’, and he becomes her BODYGUARD.
Mysterious Woman: “How can such a beautiful hand be such a deadly weapon?”
Chiba: “Because I’ve worked all my life. I’m number one.”
YES! BECOME THE NUMBER ONE MAN!
Later that night, Mysterious Woman is attacked by dudes who were hidden IN her couch. Chiba kills them all, ripping one dude’s arm off in the process. Do not fuck with CHIBA the BODYGUARD! Then there’s a weird bordello scene where a pimp eats a pig’s head and cuts a whore’s tit. Enters Chiba, then… Nothing! Whaaa? He’s not even gonna pluck out the dude’s sack? Nope, it just cuts to the next day at a used cars lot then… Aw crap, why do I bother! This shit is so incoherent, half the scenes seem random and pointless, I’d bet dollars to donuts that they didn’t even have a shooting script!
Anyway, Chiba and Mysterious Woman drive around, they get shot at, then they find a black man’s head with ‘Cosa Nostra’ carved in the forehead (Chiba: “It’s a warning.”). There’s a drug deal that goes awry, Mysterious Woman and Chiba run, they get shot at some more, Chiba kicks a few bad guys’ asses, and eventually the movie stops.
SHOGUN’S NINJA (aka “Ninja bugeicho momochi sandayu”) is a not too subtle knock-off of “Shogun Assassin” and its brand of over the top ninja action and violent samurai swordplay. This is your basic revenge story: boy Takamaru’s father is betrayed and killed by Shogun, boy’s mother hara-kiries in shame, then Shogun’s ninja assassins are sent to completely annihilate the Mimoshi clan, killing every man, woman and child. Takamaru, though, is taken away to China where he trains in martial arts until he’s ready to return to avenge his family and reclaim his father’s land.
Nothing too original here, but the movie is sometimes surprisingly stylish and the fight scenes are well choreographed (by Chiba himself). Bad dubbing, shaky zoom-ins and hilariously inappropriate porno-funk/easy-listening music make the film plenty campy, but if you go with it you’ll be wildly entertained. I mean, kids being beheaded? Tree-climbing “spider-ninjas”? People being boiled alive? A dude spinning on a rope so fast that it blocks arrows? Sonny Chiba having his henchmen stand on his shoulders in battle? What’s not to like!
Sonny Chiba is awesome as the evil Shogun and Hiroyuki Sanada is JackieChan-sational as Takamaru, but Kill Bill fans will be happy to know that the best thing in the movie is the training sequence with a master more than a little reminiscent of Pei Mei. “I Will Beat Any Defeatism Out Of You!!!” The cruel Chinese master has white hair, white beard and bushy white eyebrows, he beats students with a stick and constantly belittles them verbally. “Fool! If This Cane Had In Reality Been A Sword, Your Hand Would Have Been Severed Right Off!!!”
LEGEND OF EIGHT SAMURAI (aka “Satomi hakken-den”) explodes out of the gate with a supremely cheesy ‘80s anthem sung by John O’Banion (who also croons a priceless power ballad during the film’s love scene) – mucho appropriate for a film set in feudal Japan, right?
Sonny Chiba is one of the 8 samurai (actually referred to as the 8 ninjas in the film) who possess magical crystals that drive them to find and protect a Princess from an evil witch and her minions. This leads to a bunch of fight scenes rather chaotic but kinda fun, especially when they involve rubber monsters, and to dialogue so ridiculous you wonder if the “translators” didn’t just make up a bunch of nonsense.
“I just wanted to make you happy… by becoming a NINJA!”
“A great lord’s word always has to be honored, so the Princess gave herself to the dog.”
“Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha, so I see you hunt heads for money. An interesting business…”
“She’s not your mother, an evil spirit has taken her body!”
“I’ve successfully made their breath, their blood, sweat, every part of their body into DEADLY POISON!!!”
“If you don’t leave me alone I’ll bite my tongue off and DIE!”
“You’re the reincarnated form of my dead grudge and you will help us to get our revenge!”
“Ha! So you think there’s power in those balls? You’re crazy but I tell you, I got two as well!”
And on and on with the stupid lines. Then there’s the bad lighting, tacky costumes, overacting, special effects that wouldn’t make it on Mighty Morphing Power Rangers… What’s not to like?
So on the whole, with “Sonny Chiba: Samurai” you get three mostly crappy movies jammed on an even crappier DVD. That makes for a big load of crap, but I must admit it amused me for many hours.