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Author Topic: KAGE NO GUNDAN 2 & its star: SONNY CHIBA  (Read 3106 times)
Arizona Colt
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« on: December 21, 2006, 03:36:17 PM »

This is an exciting and involving Sonny Chiba show from the early 1980s. The plot combines elements from the classic Japanese film THE YAGYU CLAN CONSPIRACY (based on true events) from 1978 which itself was spun off into a tv series, the even better YAGYYU CONSPIRACY-THE SERIES which ran for 39 episodes. KNG deals with a plot to assassinate the heir to the Shogunate.

At the outset of the first episode, Sonny Chiba comes across a wounded man being chased by some villains. The man gives Chiba a scroll before dying. The scroll is written in Dutch and contains 26 handprints within it. Chiba plays Tsuge Shinpachi, the leader of the Iga ninjas whose lands were confiscated by the government and they now live in solitude, poor but happy. The soon to be revealed villain of the show seeks Shinpachi's help in gaining the position of Shogunate.

Shinpachi refuses and the heir is ultimately killed and the Iga clan framed for the murder. The Igas' are hunted down and killed, young and old except for a few others who escape to find Shinpachi who is unaware of the massacre. The villain, whose brother was to be Shogun, is now dead allowing him to take his place thus becoming the "Dark Shogun", as he is referred throughout the course of the show.

The few remaining Iga escape to a small town and take up residence running a restaurant which also doubles as a bathhouse. The older lady that runs the bathhouse becomes infatuated with Shinpachi and provides the comic relief for the show. The Dark Shogun also enlists the help of the Koga, another ninja clan that in real life became the sworn enemies of the Iga.

The scroll, it's found out when Doctor Gennai, the Q of the show, translates it. The 26 handprints are that of the 26 conspirators that made a secret pact to partake in the assassination. During the shows finale, Shinpachi confronts one of the 26 loyalists and dishes out "An old Iga revenge". The villain will die in half a day from a broken rib lodged into his intestine. Shinpachi delivers a great speech to the fallen conspirator- "I will kill the Dark Shogun's 26 followers! Cut away his limbs, eyes and ears until I am at the throat of the Dark Shogun himself! Tell him to expect me!"

There are 26 episodes in this series, one for each of the villains. Television shows in Japan are different than our shows. There are no seasons. There are usually a set amount of episodes for a certain series and if it is popular, than another series featuring the same actors in an entirely different storyline is commissioned. There are five series' of KAGE NO GUNDAN running from 1980 to 1985. It's also notable what can be shown on Japanese TV in terms of violence and nudity as there is an abundance of it here. Famous Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku did the first episode. So far I'm 17 episodes in and it gets better and better. Anyone that appreciates good storytelling should check it out and the even more dramatic YAGYU CONSPIRACY series.

Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba has been in films since the late 60s. One of his first appearances was in UCHU KAISOKU-SEN, A b/w sci-fi feature released here as INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN. He also starred in the forgettable TERROR BENEATH THE SEA, another early sci-fi adventure. He became an overnight sensation, however, from the KEY HUNTER TV series. This led to countless movies and television shows. Some of the more popular both here and in Japan are the STREETFIGHTER films the first being the first motion picture in the US to be rated X for violence alone. THE EXECUTIONER 1 & 2 soon followed. Director Teruo Ishii, one of the quirkiest directors in Japan, who also directed a movie that is still banned in Japan today, HORROR OF THE MALFORMED MEN (1968), was not a fan of the Karate genre but was pushed into it by Toei Studios. With THE EXECUTIONER, director Ishii tried to make the craziest action film he could come up with in hopes Toei would not ask him to do another. The film was so popular Toei commissioned him to do a sequel within a couple of months. Undaunted, Ishii made the looniest, the zaniest Chiba film ever figuring that Toei would surely never ask him to do more Karate films. The film ended up being the most loved Chiba film in Japan!

The character Chiba plays in STREETFIGHTER is probably his most popular. He's not a hero nor a villain. He doesn't just hurt you, he makes you pay. There are many scenes where he maims and mutilates the various villains-eyes are gouged out, disembowlements and castration not to mention when he breaks bones, he doesn't just break an arm but breaks it several times. It's also the first film that shows, when Chiba strikes a man, you see an x-ray of the bone being crushed which has been utilized in other action films today. STREETFIGHTER or SUDDEN DEATH! THE KILLING FIST is probably Chiba's most enduring film and character as well as the one he will most be associated with.

NOTE: An interesting bit of trivia about the US release of THE STREETFIGHTER. Originally this was the title of the Charles Bronson film HARD TIMES but a couple of weeks before that films release, the distributors saw the Chiba film on a marquee and had to change the title.

Chiba, the most popular actor in Japan at the time, created the Japan Action Club, or JAC as it came to be known. A school for budding action stars and stuntmen. More films and TV shows followed like THE BODYGUARD films, THE ASSASSIN, GOLGO 13, DETECTIVE DOBERMAN, WOLF GUY: THE FLAMING LYCANTHROPE, KARATE WARRIORS, THE KILLING MACHINE and even a trilogy of films based on his martial arts teacher- Matsutatsu Oyama who was famous worldwide for killing bulls with his bare hands. He was a martial arts instructor for numerous american celebrities. He had been featured in Time Magazine about his amazing skills. There was even a comic book based on him. The three films Chiba starred in playing his teacher are KARATE BULL FIGHTER (released here as CHAMPION OF DEATH),KARATE BEAR FIGHTER and KARATE FOR LIFE.

One of the oddest films Chiba starred in was TIMESLIP (SENJOKU JIETAI) from 1979. It's about a military unit on maneuvers that along with a tank, helicopter and other military equipment are transported back to feudal Japan during the 1500s. In between trying to get back to there own time, Chiba befriends one of the Samurai military leaders fighting to be ruler of Japan. They join forces to wipe out the opposing Samurai forces. Once Chiba's friend has become ruler his advisors tell him to kill off the modern day soldiers as they may pose a threat to him in the future. Chiba's character who by now has no intentions of going back now as he enjoys being "uncivilized", living in an untamed world must now pit his modern weapons against thousands of samurai in a thirty minute large scale battle. Released here as GI SAMURAI shorn of 45 minutes. A similar film in conception, THE FINAL COUNTDOWN starring Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen came out in the US in 1980.

Another film Chiba featured in among many other famous Japanese stars was BULLET TRAIN, a film about a mad bomber who plants explosives aboard a train which will detonate if the train falls below a certain speed. Care to guess the American film that lifted this idea? Some others are VIRUS (1980) which also starred Lorne Greene among others, directed by Kinji Fukasaku. HUNTER IN THE DARK, YAGYU CLAN CONSPIRACY where Chiba played real life samurai Jubei Yagyu, LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI, BLACK MAGIC WARS, SAMURAI REINCARNATION aka MAKAI TENSHO (1980), MESSAGE FROM SPACE (with Vic Morrow!) the US productions IRON EAGLE 3 and IMMORTAL COMBAT with Roddy Piper. HAndfuls of dialog spoken in KILL BILL are lifted or rearranged from Chiba's movies as well as many other US exploitation films. Chiba was actually slated to play the main villain in the last Bond film but opted for KILL BILL instead. I don't think no matter how they scripted it, there is no plausible way Bond could have defeated the STREETFIGHTER!

As the 80s approached, Chiba decided to let some of his students take center stage and chiba would do cameos or play supporting roles whilst also doing the action choreography. His first protege was the beautiful Etsuko Shiomi. She got her own series- SISTER STREETFIGHTER which got 2 official sequels and 1 unofficial. Chiba co-starred in the first to lend support to Etsuko. She also starred in DRAGON PRINCESS which featured Chiba as her teacher. She featured in some capacity in nearly every production Chiba was involved in. She retired from cinema in the mid eighties when she married. She also put out an album and is currently a marathon runner.

Chiba's most famous protege is Hiroyuki "Henry" Sanada who still is active in movies. He starred in SHOGUN'S NINJA (1981), LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI (at one time the biggest Japanese film of all time also featured Chiba and based on the famous Japanese fable SATOMI HAKKENDEN, also the japanese title ofthe film) ROARING FIRE (a solo vehicle) and the original RING movie among many credits. He also featured in the Tom Cruise film THE LAST SAMURAI (not to be confused with the final film by Kenji Misumi of the same name). Sanada also did a HK film with Michelle Yeoh, ROYAL WARRIORS aka IN THE LINE OF DUTY 3.

Chiba hit hard times in 1989 however when he put millions of his own money (11 million if I'm not mistaken) into a film called REMAINS a period film about villagers battling the elements and a hungry bear. The film was a failure in Japan and Chiba was bankrupt. He had to sell all his assets and close the once thriving JAC. To make matters worse, his wife divorced him. He received redemption when he appeared as the main villain in the wildly popular HK film THE STORM RIDERS (1996) the then biggest HK film of all time which featured Hollywood style effects sequences. Chiba is enjoying a new career so to speak after being on top for roughly 2 and a half decades.

« Last Edit: December 31, 2006, 02:16:51 PM by Arizona Colt » Logged

Arizona Colt
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« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2006, 03:20:11 PM »

Wow, I figured the samurai guys here would have been interested at least Grin

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« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2006, 05:02:18 AM »

Wow, my compliment to your extensive knowledge of Fukasaku's jidaigeki and the career of Chiba-chan (his nickname in Japan).

Yes Chiba-chan has a very long career as an actor. His career started from super hero TV series like "Nanairo Kamen (multi-faced mask)" and "A Messenger of Allah" (a strange title for a Japanese super hero). Since then, his clean hero image haunted him for decades.

This is his debut TV series, "Nanairo Kamen" (1960).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orKAQNsWt9o&mode=related&search=

And "A Messenger of Allah" (1960)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sewQUtQpj6Y

Fukasaku and Chiba had a long working relationship. In fact, Chiba starred in Fukasaku's directorial debut film "Funky Hat".

What should be noted is that it was Fukasaku who turned the publc image of Chiba upside down in the second installment of Fukasaku's legendary series "The Yakusa Papers". Chiba-chan played a hotblooded ferocious yakuza in "The Yakuza Papers Part 2: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima" (1973). This was quite shocking to Japanese audience. An actor with a clean heroic image played a young Hiroshima yakuza like a mad dog. And he did so well. It became a turning point in his career.

Shin-ichi Chiba in "The Yakuza Papers Part 2: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima"


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Arizona Colt
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« Reply #3 on: December 23, 2006, 02:49:09 PM »

Thank you Sanjuro for your response. I have heard of the Chiba Yakuza film. My friend who runs Fareastflix told me about it. I wanted to include more in the post (the japanese titles for instance) but I have to type the info off the top of my head as I don't have much time to look in my reference books. I stay pretty busy most of the time.

I have about 20 Japanese samurai titles I have yet to view. When I get the chance I'll post them and I'd appreciate your thoughts on them as I am sure you've seen some of them.

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« Reply #4 on: December 23, 2006, 06:01:38 PM »

Thank you Sanjuro for your response. I have heard of the Chiba Yakuza film. My friend who runs Fareastflix told me about it. I wanted to include more in the post (the japanese titles for instance) but I have to type the info off the top of my head as I don't have much time to look in my reference books. I stay pretty busy most of the time.

I have about 20 Japanese samurai titles I have yet to view. When I get the chance I'll post them and I'd appreciate your thoughts on them as I am sure you've seen some of them.

Anytime, Arizona, anytime.

The original title of "Yakuza Papers" is "Jingi naki tatakai (battle without honor)".

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« Reply #5 on: December 23, 2006, 08:07:14 PM »

"Shadow Warriors" played in San Fran (or was it the whole of Calif?) during the 80's right? Probably cut.



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« Reply #6 on: December 24, 2006, 02:35:10 PM »

"Shadow Warriors" played in San Fran (or was it the whole of Calif?) during the 80's right? Probably cut.

They played on television in Hawaii not sure about anywhere else.


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« Reply #7 on: December 24, 2006, 02:37:09 PM »

QT must have seen the shows in Calif since he references them in interviews.

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