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Case Number 18680

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Sonny Chiba Collection

G.I. Samurai
1979 // 139 Minutes // Not Rated
Resurrection Of Golden Wolf
1979 // 131 Minutes // Not Rated
Ninja Wars
1982 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Legend Of The Eight Samurai
1984 // 136 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Mill Creek Entertainment
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // April 7th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Adam Arseneau has a regularly reoccurring dream of four Sonny Chibas.

Editor's Note

Our review of The Samurai Collection Featuring Sonny Chiba, published January 11th, 2007, is also available.

The Charge

Four times the Chiba! Four times the fun!

Opening Statement

A box set featuring four Sonny Chiba films that have little to do with each other, Sonny Chiba Collection…hey, wait a minute. This sounds really familiar. Haven't I reviewed this already?

Facts of the Case

Here are the four movies:

Legend of the Eight Samurai (Satomi Hakkenden) (1984)
The Satomi clan has been enjoying over a hundred years of prosperity and peace since defeating the evil Hikita clan a century ago. Suddenly, the Hikita clan re-emerges to launch a devastating attack upon the Satomi clan, capturing the castle and beheading everyone in their path—everyone except Princess Shizu, who escapes. Enchanted by dark magic, the Hikita revel in their success and hunt the Princess down mercilessly. As the last living descendant of the Satomi clan, she is empowered to recruit eight samurai warriors imbued with magical glowing crystals.

Ninja Wars (Iga Ninpo-cho, aka Black Magic Wars) (1982)
Kashin Koji, an evil magician feared throughout the land, suddenly appears at the residence of Lord Donjo with a prophecy: whoever marries the beautiful princess Ukio is destined to become the ruler of the world! Koji sends five of his deadly magical monks into the service of Donjo, who invade a ninja village and capture a young woman named Kagura Ibi—the estranged twin sister of Ukio—and bring her back to Lord Donjo. Through vile magic, they will use her body to concoct the potion and poison the princess with it. Unfortunately for Donjo, Kagura Ibi has a young ninja lover named Jotaro…

G.I. Samurai (Sengoku Jietai, aka Time Slip) (1979)
During a routine training operation, a squadron of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) is hurtled backwards in time in what suspiciously looks like an acid flashback. They find themselves in the Warring States period in Japanese history—almost 400 years ago Stumbling into the middle of a feud between two rival armies, Lt. Iba (Chiba) and his soldiers find themselves almost immediately under attack by an army of samurai who have automatically assumed these new arrivals to the battlefield are their enemies. In defending themselves, the soldiers find themselves unintentionally allied with an ambitious samurai named Kagatori. Kagatori is curious about their noisy guns and steel horses, and being a mite cleverer than the average man, immediately appreciative of the strangers' weaponry. Kagatori wishes to be Shogun one day, and Iba may be his chance to pull it off…

Resurrection of Golden Wolf (Yomigaeru Kinrô)(1979)
Mild-mannered accountant Asakura (Yusaku Matsuda) by day works for an oil company, but by night makes his living in a more devious manner: bank-robbing assassin! You can't tell it's him, because he curls his afro hair up and takes his glasses off. His latest heist has been foiled; a handsome 100 million yen rendered useless by the discovery that all the bills he stole were marked. He decides to exchange the useless money for an equal value of heroin in order to make a profit.

Asakura seems hell-bent on bringing his corporation down from the outside, and finds he's not the only one. Another criminal Sakurai (Sonny Chiba) has been blackmailing the top officials from the corporation. As loyalties are tested and relationships are double-crossed, Asakura soon finds himself in a deadly and dangerous battle with the mafia.

The Evidence

Aha, I wasn't imagining things. Mill Creek's Sonny Chiba Collection is 75 percent identical to a previous BCI Eclipse release, The Samurai Collection Featuring Sonny Chiba, and with good reason. Previous Sonny Chiba action sets—and we've reviewed like six of them—were put out by BCI Eclipse, which unfortunately was not able to weather the economic recession and was restructured out of business by parent distributor Navarre in late 2008. Mill Creek stepped in and bought up the films for a song. Alas, for smaller distributors, this kind of buying and selling and folding and consolidating comes with the territory.

G.I. Samurai, Ninja Wars, and Legend of the Eight Samurai we've seen before; these are near-identical copies of the previous BCI release, repackaged in a new box set. The new film in the bunch—and the one that makes even less conceptual sense in a quartet—is Resurrection of Golden Wolf, a relatively unknown B-grade seventies cop drama. Where it fits into the hierarchy of samurai warriors, zombie and vampire demons, time travelling, and tanks, I have no idea. Actually, forget I said that. There's nothing logical about any of this. Random pairings aside, these are all great films; weird, esoteric, and not always full of the aforementioned Sonny Chiba, but still worthy films for any collector to snatch up.

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku (Battle Royale, Tora! Tora! Tora!), Legend of the Eight Samurai is an over-the-top fantastic romp through Japanese folklore full of rubber centipedes and snakes, demonic plots, and kidnapping of princesses, a classic in the genre if for no other reason than to how ridiculously campy it is. Every line is delivered with panache and excessive inflection, every villainous character wears deep eye shadow and spends a good ten minutes laughing menacingly between sentences. It is a glorious mess of a film, full of excess and angry spirits, blood sacrifices, and outrageous costume designs, all cumulating in a throwdown battle sequence with rubber snakes and flying paper towel rolls. It has to be seen to be believed.

Ninja Wars also stays in the supernatural subject matter area, offering up reanimated corpses, blade-like laser hands, and acid-spitting monks. Lacking the theatrical opulence of the previous film, Ninja Wars is ponderous and excessive, full of disturbing imagery and violence that alternates between being unintentionally camp and hilarious and just plain upsetting. Set amidst a backdrop of corpses, gnarled stumps, and fog, the whole production has an ethereal, nightmarish quality about it, its storyline rapidly descending from bad to worse as everyone and their mother gets decapitated, acid spa, or laser spliced. It makes an interesting companion piece to Legend of the Eight Samurai if only to illustrate how different the two films are in contrast: one camp and operatic, the other downright disturbing.

G.I. Samurai has the kind of premise that movies were invented for: what happens if you take a modern-day army unit, complete with tanks, and transport them back in time? Being Japanese men of a certain level of military proficiency, they do what the Japanese have done for centuries—loot, pillage, and ruin everyone else's good time. You've been transported back into feudal Japan with machine guns. Might as well make the best of it, right? Chiba gets the most screen time here as Iba, an angry and corrupt leader who runs afoul of his own ego, thrilled to be transported back in time where proud Japanese warrior men can fight battles to their heart's content. As social satire goes, G.I. Samurai has got a lot to say about the male Japanese psyche in the seventies, but most people won't pay much mind to the film's subtle undertones. I mean, come on: samurai warriors versus tanks! Put down the textbooks and just revel in it. It's gloriously absurd.

Departing entirely from the samurai theme, Resurrection of Golden Wolf certainly sounds like a period piece, but quickly revels itself to be a grimy seventies crime drama, of all things. Hard-hitting, grimy, and unapologetically dated, there's something so trashy and gloriously unfashionable about Resurrection: a leather pant-suit afro-sporting hit man running wild with a James Bond-like recklessness towards women and a disregard for the impossibly high body count left behind. Played marvelously by Yusaku Matsuda, Asakura is an over-the-top supervillain come to life—an accountant by day, a Lamborghini-driving rapscallion by night, he is totally without scruples and leaves an endless stream of broken women and dead bodies in his wake. The plot is endlessly twisting and double-crossing to the point of being nonsensical, but you don't really need to be too concerned about the details. This is the kind of movie where if you close your eyes for five minutes and open them again, no matter what point in the narrative you are in, you'll see one of two things: Asakura having sex with a woman violently, or Asakura killing a whole bunch of people violently. Some of the most distressing sequences involve one, then the other—or both. A particularly nasty example of Japanese cinema in the seventies, Resurrection of Golden Wolf is as morally bankrupt as they come, an endless and excessive string of manipulations, violence and rape of women, knife fights, and gun battles. In most measurable ways, this is kind of a deplorable film, but the soundtrack alone, a slap bass and saxophone power ballad, is worth the price of admission.

All four films are presented in their original aspect ratios, spread across three discs. Yes, you read that right. I am a bit concerned about this, frankly; two films vying for real estate on the same DVD. The only saving grace—if you can call it that—is that Mill Creek has opted for an extremely bare-boned treatment. We get the film. You can select chapters. All three films ported from the BCI Eclipse library look exactly as before: clean, soft, and dated, with some print damage and washed-out black levels, but nothing unforgivable considering the age of the source material. The new addition, Resurrection of Golden Wolf actually looks the worst of the bunch, excessively hazy and soft with a muted color tone, but in line with its grimy seventies vibe. Audio is Japanese 2.0 Stereo throughout, and subtitles are (ugh) hard coded on the screen. With no space devoted to extra supplements, alternate mixes, or frills, it's conceivable that there exists enough bit space to accommodate two feature films on a single DVD, theoretically, but boy, it makes me nervous.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Regurgitating another iteration of (basically) the same releases that got BCI into financial trouble is an interesting tactic by Mill Creek. A cruel observer would wryly note that BCI went out of business selling Sonny Chiba box sets—or, more to the point, not selling enough of them to stay in business. It seems strange for another company to think they can do it better.

Well, actually, maybe they can. This set has got one thing going for it. The MSRP is astonishingly low, a mere fifteen dollars for four excellent films. It's hard to beat that kind of value.

Closing Statement

Sonny Chiba box sets are a dime a dozen, but Sonny Chiba Collection is an easy recommendation due to its astonishingly low price point. On sale, you can get this set for twelve bucks. It might be a barebones release with burned-on subtitles, but at this price point, you'd be crazy to pass it up.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Genres

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Scales of Justice, G.I. Samurai

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 0
Acting: 78
Story: 83
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, G.I. Samurai

Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 139 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, G.I. Samurai

• None

Scales of Justice, Resurrection Of Golden Wolf

Video: 75
Audio: 75
Extras: 0
Acting: 75
Story: 73
Judgment: 76

Perp Profile, Resurrection Of Golden Wolf

Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Resurrection Of Golden Wolf

• None

Scales of Justice, Ninja Wars

Video: 86
Audio: 85
Extras: 0
Acting: 72
Story: 70
Judgment: 78

Perp Profile, Ninja Wars

Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.00:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Ninja Wars

• None

Scales of Justice, Legend Of The Eight Samurai

Video: 86
Audio: 83
Extras: 0
Acting: 72
Story: 70
Judgment: 79

Perp Profile, Legend Of The Eight Samurai

Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.00:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Legend Of The Eight Samurai

• None








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