It’s been a long time coming but a couple of recent finds have set me on the path to finally watching this Sonny Chiba standard. First off I acquired the original one sheet for the film and secondly Shout Select released this and the two follow-ups to blu ray in a nice collector edition. All of which leads me to spotlighting a film I’ve avoided for years for no real reason other than I usually turned my nose up at budget label releases on films that have generally fallen into public domain in my corner of the world.
Not having any idea where this film was headed aside from Chiba being some sort of killing avenger I was at first surprised to learn that his character was a killer for hire. One who was less concerned with who the target was than what the job paid. The film starts off with Chiba rescuing another killer from the hangman’s noose and making a less than clean getaway. It’s all for money and when the man’s brother and sister don’t have the cash to payoff things become violent and deadly. No Chiba isn’t the hero I thought him to be going in on my first time viewing.
The major thrust of the plot will begin when Chiba turns down an offer to kidnap a wealthy young heiress played by Yutaka Nakajima. Both the Yakuza and Mafia are behind the plot and when Chiba turns down the money being offered he signs his death warrant. A team of assassins are dispatched to kill Chiba and his manservant who serves as both comic relief and somewhat of a Kato/Burt Kwouk. It’s this attack that puts Chiba on the path to becoming the young woman’s protector.
While Chiba and Kato embark on not only saving Miss Nakajima but taking out the army of assassins sent to kill him, there is a parallel story going that will collide with Chiba’s forceful presence by the time the film winds down to it’s violent conclusion. The results of his freeing the killer at the start of the film ended up with Chiba killing the man’s brother and sending his sister into the sex trade for they’re not having the money to pay him. He now has an enemy who has sworn to kill him and is hired on by the Yakuza to meet Chiba in a death match to win back his sister’s honor.
Again Chiba is not necessarily the straight up freedom fighter I thought him to be. Plenty of action will follow as Chiba battles his way through the Yakuza to protect Nakajima and just as she thinks she’s safe, a twist that we all saw coming is going to rear it’s ugly head.
Violent? Bloody? Ball busting? Skull cracking?
How about all the above as Chiba delivers one powerful blow followed by another under the direction of Shigehiro Ozawa who would direct all three films in the trilogy. The violence of The Streetfighter is that in your face style that film lovers of the 1970’s cinema love to wallow in. It’s that 42nd Street era that some of us love to harken back to even if some like myself never actually lived it or stepped foot on it’s seedy sidewalks. From that once in a lifetime skull fracture shot to the bloody groin grip, this one has that flavor that Tarantino is so identified with and of course it’s film’s like this one that led to the Kill Bill saga for today’s audiences. Looking at the film it’s easy to see why Tarantino wanted Chiba’s participation in the films casting him as the master swordmaker, Hattori Hanzo.
Shout Selects blu ray release of the film looked fine to me though I could easily tell where and when they used two different source prints to maximize the quality of the release as they pointed out when the film first begins. Works fine for me having never seen those low budget VHS tape renderings or the subsequent DVD releases that polluted the bargain bins at video stores in the early days of the new format.
Forgive me for not knowing the background and careers of the many character players in The Streetfighter aside from Chiba and even when it comes to him I’m more aware of WHO he is as opposed to what he’s done over a 60 year career in movies and TV. After a quick check on the shelves I only see 23 Chiba films here in my personal collection. Mostly karate flicks and a couple 60’s sci-fi thrillers tossed in for good measure alongside the big budgeted Virus of 1980. The funny thing with Chiba is that as a kid who really accelerated his intake of movies in the late 70’s and early 80’s I knew who he was but me and all my buddies looked at him and pretty much any other karate star as a Bruce Lee knockoff. Even though we’d never yet seen Enter the Dragon. We just knew that Lee was the master and died young. The rest were Lee wannabes and though Chiba proved to be more than that, there were still plenty of pretenders to the crown as you can see here in a fun look of movie posters I featured previously.
Posters? Well let’s just say I do have some select Chiba titles and that includes a recently acquired North American release one sheet for The Street Fighter tucked away in the vault.
How about an outtake? Here’s my attempt to deliver a Chiba like blow should anyone decide to raid the vault and remove this gem from it’s rightful home.