The Sonny Chiba Collection brings seven underseen films from the action star’s career in a mix of sleazy exploitation actioners, yakuza crime thrillers, and samurai epics. Fans will love to finally see Shogun’s Shadow and Bodyguard Kiba 2 make their home video debut in America among other hits from Sonny Chiba. Shout! Factory brings the collection to Blu-ray with a solid A/V package for each film though special features are limited. For fans of the ultimate badass Sonny Chiba this is a no-brainer. Highly Recommended.
The first film in the collection is the grim revenge flick Yakuza Wolf: I Perform Murder putting Chiba in the “Man With No Name” role complete spaghetti western trappings and nonstop bloody violence. Chiba plays Gosuke Himuro whose father was killed by the same gangsters who forced his sister into prostitution. It’s a stylish effort that mixes the grandiose themes of Sergio Leone with blaxploitation elements and bloody Italian westerns. As an entry point into the collection, this is a great start for those who may only know Chiba from The Street Fighter.
A sequel in name only, Yakuza Wolf 2: Extend My Condolences sees Chiba play a released convict named Ibuki who seeks revenge against a crime boss. Discovering that his love interest Mari (Reiko Ike, Sex & Fury) is now a sex slave in the crime organization kick-starts Ibuki’s path of vengeance. Lighter in tone than the previous film, this features a badass performance from Chiba, some excellent weapon fighting, and just enough sleaze. The bloody violence is maintained but not over the top. A memorable cliffside shootout offers an excellent stunt centerpiece for the film giving a real high-stakes element to the otherwise standard crime boss flick.
The third entry in this boxset is the well-known film Bodyguard Kiba aka The Bodyguard. The film was brought back from obscurity years ago by Quentin Tarantino who lifted the Eziekel 25:17 Bible verse from its script for his film Pulp Fiction. However, this is the original Japanese cut that axes that verse and most of the 42nd street-friendly aspects known to American audiences.
The film starts strong with Chiba playing a karate master who after thwarting a group of terrorists advertises his services as a bodyguard. The sultry Reiko (Mari Atsumi, The Hot Little Girl) hires Kiba but keeps her drug smuggling takeover intentions concealed until the yakuza go after his sister Maki (Yayoi Watanabe, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion). Narratively the flick is a mess but the action features enough eyeball-ripping action and twisted religious imagery to make it all an interesting effort. Unfortunately, the fight scenes are cut together poorly making the feature a bit of a letdown for die-hard action fans. Superfans should hold onto their American cut DVD release.
Bodyguard Kiba 2 sees Kiba jailed for dueling a karate school whose students blinded his sister Maki (Etsuko Shiomi, Sister Street Fighter). When released he gets a job thanks to the help of a kind prostitute who eventually betrays him leaving Kiba blinded and seeking bloody revenge. Fight sequences are respectable, offering an impressive display from both Chiba and Shiomi. It’s an excellent follow-up but lacks the required sizzle to push this one over the top.
Disc Three of this set is where the weirdness begins with Shogun’s Shadow and Samurai Reincarnation. In Shadow Chiba plays an aged Samurai warrior named Iba who is tasked with killing off an undesirable heir to the Shogun throne. Set during the Edo period of Japanese rule this sprawling epic from 1989 features plenty of plot twists, crazy wirework fight scenes, and a tonal shift complete with an 80’s hair metal soundtrack. While Chiba’s supporting role gives him less screen time than expected he more than makes up for it with the most destructive fight scene I’ve ever witnessed.
The bonkers 1981 supernatural epic Samurai Reincarnation may be the most sought-after film in this collection. Fans will no doubt love seeing the on-screen pairing of Ken Ogata (The Ballad of Narayama) and Sonny Chiba. When Christianity is outlawed in feudal Japan, the shogun murders thousands of believers in a violent massacre. One survivor, Shiro Amakusa (Kenji Sawada, The Happiness of the Katakuris) makes a deal with Satan and God(?) to raise the dead Christians and turn them into demon warriors. Those familiar with the basic tenets of Christianity will find some egregious missteps in the film but just roll with it, okay? Chiba plays disgraced samurai Yagyu whose father was resurrected by Shiro. Yagyu seeks out a sword maker to fashion him a blade strong enough to kill the demons. Filled with intense religious imagery, sleaze, and dynamic set pieces this is the most entertaining film in the collection by a long shot.
Lastly, this set winds down with Swords of Vengeance aka The Fall of Ako Castle which is an adaptation of the classic folktale The Forty-Seven Ronins. When the Shogun orders the removal of the Asano clan and its castle under selfish judgments, a group of 47 Samurai seek revenge for his actions. Starring Chiba and Toshiro Mifune, this epic is a politically charged slow-burn drama culminating in a fantastic 20-minute battle scene as the Ako warriors take over their castle. Its intricate plotting is paired with a lush visual language instead of dynamic theatrics offering an emotional and critical look at Japanese political themes.
The Sonny Chiba Collection is an excellent mix of the iconic action star’s career. While most may stop at the exploitative yakuza flicks, sticking around to savor the epic samurai tales and bizarre supernatural drama will be a rewarding avenue of discovery. Fans of Japanese action cinema and Chiba devotees will enjoy the hours of entertainment provided by this Blu-ray boxset.
Vital Disc Stats - The Blu-ray
The Sonny Chiba Collection arrives on Region A Blu-ray thanks to Shout! Factory’s Shout Select line. Loading each disc presents the Shout! logo before landing on Feature Select screen then on to the static Main Menu screen. Housed in a standard keepcase with slipcover, there are two double-sided trays to accommodate the discs. Artwork is double-sided featuring original poster art and film descriptions.
Each film in The Sonny Chiba Collection is shown in its original widescreen format in an AVC-encoded 1080p presentation. The aspect ratio for Samurai Reincarnation and Shogun’s Shadow is 1.85:1 with the reminder supplied at 2.35:1. Overall each transfer offers lifelike colors, solid black levels, and film-like grain fields. DNR and edge enhancement aren’t a problem at all, thankfully. While no remastering was advertised for these flicks it should be said that all source materials used in this collection are in great shape with minimal dirt and specks evident. Check out my notes on each feature below to get a sense of what each film brings to the table. For some, this is their first release on digital home video in North America. Amazing!
Yakuza Wolf: I Perform Murder is presented with a pleasing HD image that retains film-like grain, inky black levels, some flickering evident. Specks and dirt appear but don’t detract from the presentation. Fine detail in closeups and costuming. Nighttime scenes offer detail within shadow though a softness pervades the image. Contrast is low keeping the proceedings dark and lacking vibrancy. Reds, yellows, and blues are prominent. Skin tones are even especially during the numerous sweaty sex scenes.
Yakuza Wolf 2: Extend My Condolences is presented with a solid HD Image that retains fine film grain, inky black levels, and moderate detail levels reveal facial features. Flickering is evident. Exteriors are a bit overexposed while interiors offer adequate detail and color saturation. Primaries are bright with blues and reds taking the lead. Detail in shadow is limited.
Bodyguard Kiba is presented with an HD image that offers an agreeable grain field and moderate detail levels in closeup. Bright primaries with reds and blues strong within blood spurts and costuming. Blacks are inky without noise or pixelation. Often the action scenes are so dark it's hard to read the image which can be frustrating. Specks and slight dirt are apparent. Image stabilization is questionable in some exterior shots.
Bodyguard Kiba 2 is presented with a solid HD image with fine film grain and an uptick in brightness compared to the previous film. Focus issues and a soft lensing are frequent but never detract from the presentation. Primaries are strong with reds and blues dominating the swinging 60’s color palette. Detail levels are moderate even in closeups and medium shots. Black levels hold strong.
Shogun’s Shadow makes the leap into contemporary filmmaking standards which allows this HD image to appear greatly improved with brighter colors, and increased depth. Fine detail is apparent throughout the film in closeups and medium shots. Outdoor scenes are lush with earth tones against the warrior’s dark armor.
Samurai Reincarnation is presented with a dynamic HD presentation offering a powerful color palette presenting the operatic set pieces with vivid reds, yellows, and blues. Black levels hold steady through the nighttime scenes and darkened interiors. Fine detail is evident throughout the feature with Intricate set details and costuming looking spectacular.
Swords of Vengeance makes the leap to Blu-ray with an HD image worthy of the film itself. The grandiose political drama is presented with adequate depth and color though flickering is persistent. A solid grain field and even skin tones elevate this samurai epic. Specks and dirt are apparent but don’t detract from the presentation.
The Sonny Chiba Collection roars to life with excellent DTS-HD 2.0 Mono Japanese audio tracks for all features except for Shogun’s Shadow which has an equally good DTS-HD Stereo track. Dialogue exchanges throughout the features are all presented clearly without hiss or pop detected. Jazzy musical sequences and pop numbers are bright and expressive in the early exploitation films with only minor instances of topping the levels. Depth and balance are nicely produced with scoring elements, effects, and dialogue rendered nicely. English subtitles are available for all features in the set.
Shout! Factory lets the films speak for themselves in this collection. A few trailers offer some exciting moments between the flicks but the lone element of bonus content is an extended interview with Chiba which is worth checking out.
The Sonny Chiba Collection brings together seven underseen gems from the iconic actor's career in one excellent package. For those hoping to explore beyond The Street Fighter franchise you’ll be rewarded with this mix of diverse features that are all extremely entertaining. Shout! Factory is lean on the special features but provides a solid A/V package for each film giving this release a rating of Highly Recommended.