Sonny Chiba Collection, The (1979)

The Sonny Chiba Collection

Found for $5 in a bargain bin. It's a good value, even though from Mill Creek, known for cheap economy packs. Anamorphic widescreen, Japanese audio tracks with optional English subtitles. (The tags on the DVDs are wrong: some say English audio and Japanese subtitles, but that's backwards. The Amazon listing says 1.33:1, also incorrect).

Enough sex and violence for an R rating on each.

G.I. Samurai (1979), directed by Kôsei Saitô.

Aka Sengoku jieitai.

A group of modern soldiers are mysteriously transported back to medieval Japan. The film wastes no time explaining how; it's just a weird unexpected phenomenon. They have an assortment of vehicles including a tank, a helicopter and a patrol boat.

A local warlord immediately likes what he sees and proposes a partnership. Lt Iba resists for a while, then goes all in. His excuse is that if they do everything they can to change history, the God of Time will expel them back to the future, but it seems more likely that he just wants to rule the country.

First he has to take care of some his own men who have gone excessively medieval, enjoying the rape and pillage part of the job way too much.

It's a bit better than it sounds. Whoever operates the camera knows how to take pictures. The last hour has a vast amount of mayhem with a big cast for the battles. You might think pre-modern armies are out-gunned by future technology, but it is a fair fight. The samurai are smart, adaptable, skilled at what they do, and are not going to lay down just because the invaders have a flying steel box. Gas and ammo don't last forever.

The musical selections are painfully light and inappropriate pop tunes.

With different editing and better music it could have been a superior action/adventure fantasy. As it is: guilty pleasure.

Ninja Wars (1982), directed by Kôsei Saitô.

Aka Death of a Ninja and Iga ninpôchô. Chiba was the stunt coordinator; he's barely in it otherwise. The image is inset within a black frame.

A sorcerer aids a noblemen to (a) get the woman he wants, and (b) become absolute ruler. It's magicians vs ninja and we're cheering for the ninja. Throw in some warrior monks and mysterious masked samurai for good measure.

Abundant magical stunts and fighting but not enough coherent story to make it interesting.

Did you know that if two women swap heads, the sense of identity goes with the body and not the head?

Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983), directed by Kinji Fukasaku.

Aka Satomi hakken-den.

A princess on the run, the last of her family and with revenge on her mind, is assisted by magical warriors. It's a complicated multi-generational curse story, but they were born for the job and want to get to it. Her enemies are demonic powers so it won't be easy. The princess is willing to pick up a sword and wave it around, but is too girly to make a satisfying heroine.

The magic and creature effects are pretty weak this time and the synthesizer score is terrible, surpassed only by the pop music love ballad in English. But there are good fight scenes, particularly when the Eight, against fearful odds, storm the demon castle to rescue their princess. The warriors don't expect to survive and seven don't.

Chiba is leader of the Eight. Is he supposed to be a leper? He keeps wrapped up and says he has only a month to live.

The video is not very good on this one. Another narrow black frame. 136 minutes.

The Resurrection of the Golden Wolf (1979), directed by Toru Murakawa.

Aka Yomigaeru kinrô.

A meek office clerk by day is a capable tough guy at night, doing bank robbery, murder, drug deals and all sorts of nastiness. This is an intriguing setup and the beginning is strong. But it soon turns into Bond-like silliness. He has a cunning plan I did not follow very well and he eventually muscles his way into corporate management. We have time for an overblown tragic finish.

He is able to use his nerdish cover as a weapon; unfortunately neither alter ego has a good haircut -- both are pretty comical, which detracts from the action sequences. Some car stunts and a burning man.

A few nudity and passion scenes. Soft image and washed out color. Chiba is a side character.