Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Executioner (Chokugeki! Jigoku-ken!, 1974)

Hai!Karate roars back again with another flick for your viewing pleasure. This time we take it to Tokyo, Japan with a flick from 1974, The Executioner! This film from Toei stars the brawling legend himself, Sonny Chiba! Also in the cast are Eiji Go, Yutaka Nakajima, Makoto Sato and Yasuaki Kurata. Teruo Ishii is in the director's chair.

The Executionerstarts out with the former police commissioner of Tokyo, Mr. Arashiyama(Ryo Ikebe) and his niece, Emi (Nakajima)set out to create a team to fight crime. A team of highly skilled criminals. The trio is comprised of Ryuichi Koga(Chiba),a ninja turned private eye and enforcer for hire, Takeshi Hayabusa(Sato), a former police detective turned assassin and Ichiro Sakura(Go), a karate expert and top-notch pervert supreme. These three are then tasked to take down a Yakuza big by the name of Mario Mizuhara who is set to enlarge his drug empire outside of Japan. Pretty simple, yes? But that's the only simple thing about this flick. As the three meet after Koga breaks Sakura out of a prison death row, it turns out Arashiyama resigned due to a botched bust of a drug mule for Mizuhara that left six cops dead. And their supervisor, Hayabusa, fired. All together, the three are in this job until the end, with a little help from Kurata.

The entire picture is a barrel of utter batshit comedy, violence and action. I'll say it again: BATSHIT. Because in some instances that just fits. The first time I saw this flick I was thrown for a loop 10 minutes in. To start with, Ryuichi's ninja training and then his rebellion against his grandfather over joint dislocation? An ill sequence due in no small part to Chiba's excellent skill, being a 4th dan master of ninjutsu. It gets into the violent very quickly with Hayabusa's first appearance though. First off, dude enters a bedroom and interrupts a crime boss basically deep in a game of hide-the-salami with a young lady. After the boss pays him six million yen NOT to kill him, three more than his original contract, Hayabusa murders him anyway. And then proceeds to smash the dead guy's woman RIGHT NEXT TO HIS BODY. He's also got this crazy, Richard Widmark laugh that makes you laugh with him and then stop because you realize how wild he really is. As for Sakura, he's basically the perverted comedy relief. His facial expressions alone make him look like he'd be the type to get thrown out of a women's dressing room with a mirror in his hand. The chemistry is a solid one, and that's what keeps you interested in the midst of all the violence. And it wouldn't be a Sonny Chiba flick without it. There are a couple of moments where it is not for the squeamish. And one or two moments where it just gets out of control. (Look at how the trio go after the Yakuza henchmen IN THEIR BEDROOMS.) There's also a great deal of sex and nudity. This is the time where Japanese cinema wasn't just crossing the line as far as that went, but literally tearing it to shreds. The "pinky' era was firmly built from the mid 1970's.

Teruo Ishii played a hand in this matter. It's been said that Ishii hated working on martial arts movies, preferring to work on films with dark themes and a bit of erotica involved as well. Some refer to him as the father of the ero-guro style, or 'erotic-grotesque' in Japanese cinema during this time period. There are flashes of that in The Executioner but nothing on par with his other films. The action is frantic but magnetic. It's a plus to see ninjutsu and karate at work on the same side in this film. A lot of the fight scene choreography is due in part to Chiba and the Japan Action Club which he founded in 1970 for stunt actors. (A lil bit of trivia for you - the younger Ryuichi Koga we see in the beginning of the flick? None other than Hiroyuki Sanada. This was his first motion picture role.) Yasuaki Kurata also got to do some of the choreography, which made for another good change of pace as far as style was involved; he involved more of a back and forth whereas with Chiba there was sheer force and brutal conclusions. All in all, the film makes for some good entertainment even if there's moments that make you go 'WTF'??(Like the one scene with the lone brother and his lady - they didn't have to do him like that.)It got enough success to have a sequel quickly filmed and released so that says something. If you want some real knockdown drag out martial arts action Chiba style one afternoon, check out The Executioner. And mind the splatter.

Rating: 4 Dragon Punches out of 5

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