Karate Bear Fighter(1975)
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Ace karate master Masutatso Oyama (Sonny Chiba, as fearsome and ferocious as ever) earns the resentment of his peers in the martial arts community after he wins a major tournament using his unorthodox style. After meeting and befriending a lonely little boy named Rinato, Oyama agrees to fight a bear in order to raise the money to take care of Rinato's injured father.Director Kazuhiko Yamaguzhi relates the engrossing story at a snappy pace and maintains a stark serious tone throughout. Naturally, Chiba lays on his trademark no-holds-barred savagery something fierce as he takes out opponents with a single lethal blow and more than holds his own against multiple attackers. The scenes between Chiba and the little boy are quite moving while the big match between Chiba and the bear (some guy in a pretty decent suit) rates as a real corker. Yumi Takigawa lends able support as Oyama's loyal and long-suffering girlfriend Chiyako. The lovely Yutaka Nakujima has a regrettably smallish role as the sweet Sumiko. Yoshio Nakajima's vibrant cinematography makes neat use of zooms and whiplash pans. Recommended viewing for Chiba fans.
This movie definitely improved after I'd seen the movie AND read about the film on IMDb. That's because the plot seems very rambling and in places stupid (a guy fighting a bear?) BUT it turns out this is actually based on the life of a real person and real incidents!!!! I guess that means this fool really did fight and beat a bear using karate!!!!! So of course having this plot element not only must be forgiven, but it must be included in the film as well since it is part of a three part biography of the master of Sonny Chiba (the star of the film). The only problem, then, is that you couldn't in 1977 actually have Chiba fight a bear--not only would it have been dangerous but animal rights people would have understandably gone nuts!! So, they were forced to use someone in a bear costume. Now it isn't the cheesiest of costumes, but it still just didn't look right. Now, with great CG technology, this could be done well--at the time it just wasn't possible.Despite this complaint, this only makes up a small part of the film. The rest is a seemingly pointless existence at times for the lead character. Sometimes, he lives honorably and soberly, while at others he's a pathetic drunk. However, even in both cases, his deep sense of justice guides his life. So, like the lead character in the Zatoichi films, this guy is out to right wrongs and look out for the little guy. And as this type of film, it succeeds very well, though some of the camera work during fight was very poor and the bad guys did tend to attack Chiba one at a time--a cliché that makes many martial arts films seem a tad silly.By the way, a similar type of biographical film about the creator of a martial art in Japan are the two judo films Akria Kurosawa made in the 1940s (Sugata Sanshiro and Zoku Sugata Sanshiro). However, for Kurosawa fans, these films are very disappointing--especially the second one since it was essentially an anti-American propaganda film. A new treatment of the life of the founder of Judo would be greatly appreciated and if anyone knows of such a film, let me know.By the way, I really appreciate that this film is subtitled and not dubbed like so many of the 70s kung fu movies. Seeing it in its original form is a definite plus.