The Sonny Chiba Collection: Volume 2
By: David Michael Brown on September 17, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Eastern Eye (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 253 minutes
The Movie
Directors: Yukio Noda, Yukio Noda, Norifumi Suzuki
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Tetsuro Tamba, Ryohei Uchida, Yutaka Nakajima
Screenplay: Fumio Konami, Fumio Konami, Takeshi Matsumoto
Music: Masao Yagi, Masao Yagi, Shunsuke Kikuchi
Country: Japan
Year: 1970, 1970, 1975
Most readers will know the legend that is Sonny Chiba from his performance as Hattori Hanzo in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 1. His elegant portrayal of the master swordsman gives you a small insight into the great mans charisma but to truly discover what made him such a hero in the Seventies you have to watch his films from the era. He came to fame after the death of Bruce Lee; Enter the Dragon was a massive box office hit in Japan and the country needed a new hero. Enter Sonny Chiba! A street tough, aggressive karate master who brought a brutal and violent edge to the genre, he came to prominence with The Streetfighter; allegedly the first film to be rated "X" purely on its level of violence. His films have always been difficult to see but now, thanks to Madman, we have boxes of them. Volume One of The Sonny Chiba Collection included The Streetfighter's Last Revenge, The Bullet Train and Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, and Volume Two, reviewed here, features three of his earlier films, the Yakuza Deka series along with The Killing Machine.

Yukuza Deka 1: Secret Police and Yakuza Deka 2:The Assassin are a delight. Hip, kitsch and full of some amazing kung fu, the films are like a cross between Austin Powers, James Bond and Enter the Dragon. In both films Chiba plays Hayata, an undercover cop who is trying to infiltrate a Yakuza gang. The convoluted plots are merely an excuse for Chiba to hang out in deliriously psychedelic go-go bars, show of his fighting skills and to adorn himself with a series of truly outrageous outfits. He has more costume changes than a Cher concert; the opening ensemble he wears in the sequel, including a preposterously wide brimmed black leather hat, wouldn't look out of place in Superfly. Chiba looks like he is enjoying every moment on celluloid, whether he is breaking limbs or wooing ladies and his joy is infectious. A special mention must also be made of Masao Yagi's score, a deliciously funky brew that helps Chiba to strut his stuff. Not that its all frivolity and camp laughs; when Chiba needs to kick some Yakuza butt he knows how to show off his vicious karate skills as bodies are beaten, broken and bloodied.

These two camp classics are joined by a much grittier effort in the form of The Killing Machine. Based on the life of real life karate master Doshin So, Chiba shows another side of his character playing a martial arts guru. Set during the last days of WWI, Doshin returns home to Osaka a shattered man after working as a spy for the Japanese Government only to find that gangsters are terrorising his local community. Tired of fighting, but forced into action, Chiba displays exactly why he became such a legend with some amazing kung fu performances. This time round he looks like he means every punch. It's gripping stuff and the perfect antidote to the frivolity of the two Yakuza Deka films.

Watching these films perfectly sums up the two sides of Chiba's persona; the wise cracking ladies man with tongue firmly in cheek and the hard as nails action hero with revenge on his mind. It's easy to see why his charismatic performances won over a legion of martial arts fans.
The anamorphic transfers are gorgeous; crystal clear and full of vibrant colour, it's obvious that a lot of effort went into this set. There is some occasional print damage but that is to be expected from any film from Japan from this era.
The mono Dolby soundtrack is clear without really impressing too much. It's an easy listen and does Yagi's excellent score justice.
Extra Features
Each film is given a small amount of extras. You get a Sonny Chiba biography, a poster gallery, and the original trailer along with a selection of trailers from various Madman Entertainment releases.
The Verdict
An excellent set; nicely packaged and priced, The Sonny Chiba Collection Vol.2 is the perfect introduction to the world of a kung fu great. The films, especially the Yakuza Dekas pair are marvellous and the excellent transfers sweeten the deal. It's a shame that Madman were not more generous with the extras but overall this is a bargain and a must buy for anyone with an interest in Seventies martial arts cinema.
Movie Score
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