Blu-ray Review: The Sonny Chiba Collection

Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews, Top Story

Sonny Chiba (Kill Bill) is one of the greatest badass actors in cinematic history. He was as lethal with his hands and feet as he was a gun. He was the complete package on the silver screen. The martial arts cinematic explosion dominated movie screens in the mid-70s thanks in part to the sensation of Bruce Lee. Films from Hong Kong based studios Golden Harvest and the Shaw Brothers found an audience in the grindhouses, twin theaters and drive-ins across America. But what about Japanese movies? The island nation’s cinematic exports centered on giant mutant reptiles stomping Tokyo and the latest epic from Akira Kurasawa around this time. Japan made delivered a massive punch during the Kung Fu fighting era when The Street Fighter starring Sonny Chiba arrived in 1974. The movie was so intense that it received an X rating from the MPAA based off how Chibi was popping out eyeballs, ripping off private parts and crushing skulls. He brought an extreme violence to the screens. The film was followed by two sequels and a Sister Street Fighter series. Chiba was an international action superstar. The Sonny Chiba Collection contains 7 of his films including 4 action films that came out right before The Street Fighter and 3 Samurai films that shows his a badass nature transcended time.

Yakuza Wolf: I Perform Murder (1972 – 88 minutes) brings the spaghetti western to the Yakuza world. Gosuke Himuro (Chiba) returns home in the opposite of a heartwarming story. Turns out that his father was a mobster that was whacked. His sister vanished into the underworld’s prostitution racket. Gosuke has two objectives on this homecoming: kill those responsible for his father’s murder and rescue his sister if she’s still alive. Making things slightly easier for him is the police detective letting Gosuke do the dirty work. The cop is down for less mobsters on the street. The script borrows a bit from both Kurasawa’s Yojimbo (which was borrowed for A Fistful of Dollars) and Django. You get a sense that Gosuke is an Italian Western figure with his beard and a hat that could work on a cowboy. While he’s not roaming the city on horseback, Chiba drives a Ford Mustang. He’s not typical Yakuza. Chiba does more than mimic Clint Eastwood since he’s a lot more flexible as he tears things up with the various mobsters.

Yakuza Wolf 2: Extend My Condolences (1972 – 84 minutes) has Chiba get screwed over when he attempts to buy guns from a U.S. military connection. The deal goes bad when another batch of mobsters want to cut into the deal. This leads to him getting busted by the cop because of his loyalty to his partner. He ends up in prison with an old pal with a serious plan for what to do when they bust out. Along with their plan to get rich, they get involved in a lot of Yakuza nastiness. This doesn’t seem to be a real sequel since Chiba’s character is called Ibuki. But it’s a spiritual successor since Chiba is still raising hell against the mobsters who have screwed him over.

Bodyguard Kiba (1973 – 87 minutes) was recut and run in America as The Bodyguard after the success of The Street Fighter. The advertising campaign declared, “Viva Chiba!” People flocked once more to see Chiba busting up bad guys. This time he’s a bodyguard named Kiba who has to go put down a group of criminals attempt to highjack his plane. Instead of waiting for the police, Kiba turns into a one-man-army and kicks their collective asses. During a press conference, Kiba declares he will focus on shutting down the illegal drug trade in Japan. He promises to protect anyone who will come forward and help him put an end to this menace. A mysterious woman knocks on his door wanting to take him up on his offer. He knows this is serious business since his sister gets beaten up with a message cut into her arm for Kiba. Has the bodyguard picked on too big of an enemy this time? Only the Japanese version is featured here. The big thing about the US cut is that it features the quote that Jules in Pulp Fiction swears is from the Bible. It’s not. Instead of “the Lord,” it says “Chiba the Bodyguard” at the end.

Bodyguard Kiba 2 (1973 – 88 minutes) opens with Chiba fighting in a typhoon. The rain is pouring as the two men fight each other and the elements in the forest clearing. Turns out this is an unsanctioned rematch of a major tournament that Kiba (Chiba) won. Instead of judges, the rules are simple – the fighter that isn’t dead is the winner. The fight gets nasty when Kiba’s sister is blinded by students of the rival school that aren’t happy just being spectators. This outlaw melee leads to Chiba getting locked up in prison for taking part in the unsanctioned beating. After serving his time, Kiba gets an offer to be the bodyguard to a nightclub owner that needs protection since he’s refusing to cooperate with the Yakuza. His life gets extra messy when Kiba falls for a folk singer named Mari. But his mobster connections work against him with her. Ultimately, he has to battle more mobsters which gets tricky when he is blinded. Bodyguard Kiba 2 is Chiba being Chiba. The opening fight with Masashi Ishibashi led to the actor being asked to co-star in The Street Fighter for a rematch with Sonny.

Shogun’s Shadow (1989 – 111 minutes) has a small child in line to being the next Shogun under attack by people who want to prune the family tree. While the future Shogun takes a soak at his remote village, an army of assassins arrive and let arrows rain down on the child’s protective force. He avoids capture and his elite bodyguard crew take care of the attackers. The Shogun wants the boy brought to a coming-of-age ceremony promptly while the advisors think this could be dangerous. Who disagrees with a Shogun. Chiba turns out to be the villain in this powerplay as he tries to outsmart the prime bodyguard (Ken Ogata, best known for playing the novelist Yukio Mishima in Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters). There’s a lot of action in this tale of palace intrigue. Chiba looks badass swinging around his samurai sword. Chiba and Ogata elevate this historical drama with their action skills.

Samurai Reincarnation (1981 – 122 minutes) is a supernatural tale from the time of the Shogun. Nearly 350 years ago (although you can add in an extra 41 years since the movie’s release), the Shogun had banned Christianity. The local converts revolted and nearly 37,000 were killed by the Shogun’s warriors. Shiro Amakusa (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters‘ Kenji Sawada) feels that God has screwed them over by letting them get massacred. He makes a deal darkness to get revenge. He gains power including bringing the dead back to life. Chiba plays a swordsman drawn into the fantastical tale. It’s spooky and spiritual. There’s so much messed up action on the screen to keep things captivating in a midnight movie way.

Swords of Vengeance (1978 – 160 minutes) is extra-long because Sonny Chiba co-stars with the only man in Japan that has the same level of badassery: Toshirō Mifune. This is The Street Fighter meets The Seven Samauri except in a very classy production directed by Kinji Fukasaku. He made the legendary Battles Without Honor Or Humanity film series and Battle Royale. This movie was his take on the legendary 47 Ronin. A Shogun Lord strips 48 Samurai of their titles, property and wealth. Then to rub salt in the wounds, he invites them over to his castle to witness him receiving an Imperial Sword. During the ceremony, one ex-Samurai can’t take it and draws his own sword. He doesn’t attack the Shogun, but the gesture is too much. He is ordered to commit ritual suicide in front of the others. The moment marks how the other 47 join together to get their revenge for all the Shogun has done to them and their fellow ex-samurai. Swords of Vengeance is the film that you’d see at your local arthouse instead of the drive-in. This was also released as The Fall of Ako Castle.

During True Romance, the main character takes in a triple feature of Sonny Chiba’s Street Fighter movies. At the time, that might have been seen as excessive by viewers. After you watch The Sonny Chiba Collection, you’ll want to know why the theater didn’t run even more Sonny Chiba films. Where were the Yakuza Wolf and Bodyguard Kiba movies? How can there be no day of Samurai action? The Sonny Chiba Collection gives us both the over-the-top action Chiba and an actor who can give a nuanced performance in a period piece. No matter the role or the era, Sonny remains a badass on the screen.

The video is 2.35:1 on all the films except Shogun’s Shadow and Samurai Reincarnation that are 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfers bring out the grit, sweat and blood when Chiba is in full effect. The audio on all the films is Japanese DTS-HD MA Mono except Shogun’s Shadow that’s in Japanese DTS-HD MA Stereo. The levels are fine for the bone crunching and sword slashing. The movies are subtitled in English.

Interview with Actor Sonny Chiba (26:51) is the interview that was done when Shout! Factory put out the boxset of The Street Fighter movies. The interview covers his career, so it works well here too. Sonny Chiba passed away in 2021.

Japanese Trailer for Yakuza Wolf: I Perform Murder (2:35) opens up with a killing. They wanted you to know this film is intense.

Japanese Trailer for Yakuza Wolf 2: Extend My Condolences (2:44) opens with Sonny yanking off a mask and unleashing mad moves on other mobsters.

Japanese Trailer for Bodyguard Kiba (2:42) opens with an airplane being highjacked. Sonny doesn’t cooperate with terrorists.

Japanese Trailer for Shogun’s Shadow (3:14) opens with the line “are you trying to kill me father?” The samurai swords fly across the screen.

Japanese Trailer for Samurai Reincarnation (3:02) goes straight to the supernatural nature of the film.

Shout! Factory presents The Sonny Chiba Collection. Starring Sonny Chiba, Ken Ogato, Rinichi Yamamoto, Masutatsu Ōyama, Ryōhei Uchida and Toshirō Mifune. Rating: Unrated. Boxset Contents: 7 movies on 4 Blu-ray Discs. Release Date: November 15, 2022.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.