When I was a kid there were only two types of movies I wanted to see. What came to be known as Blaxploitation films (Superfly, Shaft, Buck & the Preacher, Uptown saturday Night, Let’s do it again, etc etc etc) and martial arts movies, or rather Karate flicks. Bruce Lee was of course the biggest and most famous of the martial artist of that time, and he was indeed my favorite. But, number two would be Sonny Chiba.
I remember the first time I saw “The Street Fighter.” It was playing at a rinky-dink movie theatre in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn, on Fulton Street, called The Banco. The theatre was one good huff and a puff from being condemned as you can see in the natsukashi (fondly remembered) picture I was able to find on the net (God I love the net!)
It wasn’t much to look at but it was in the neighborhood and cheap and a good way for my Moms to get me and brothers out of her hair for the day. The theatre had rats so there were cats on patrol and occasionally while you’re watching a film you’d feel a cat brush by your leg or even hop in your lap if it were a slow day and it was feeling friendly.
A dollar or so (can’t remember the price well) would get you in to see two or three movies. One was the main attraction and the other two would be throw ins. These were the kind of movies that influenced Quentin Tarantino’s career. Car chases, motorcycle chase, B-movies that probably don’t even have a surviving print let alone be found on DVD.
In “The Street Fighter” Sonny Chiba burst on the scene and immediately kicked ass. He had incredible charisma and a round house kick that would send the opposition flying in all directions. While Bruce Lee usually played good guys on revenge kicks, Sonny was just a mean motherfucker and his movies were much gorier than Lee’s. On the strength of the success of “Street Fighter” two sequels came later: “Return of Street Fighter” and “The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge,” as well as a spinoff: “Sister Street Fighter.” (Gotta love the 70s. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.)
Chiba-san was born in Fukuoka and studied Kyokushin Karate in university. He later became a huge Television star here in Japan. (I’d love to see some of those old Japanese TV shows starring him. If anyone knows where I can pick them up, don’t be shy.)
Recently he was in Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” though not as a fighter. He reprised the role he played in “Kage no kundan” or “Shadow Warriors” where he played the famous true life samurai Hattori Hanzo.
I hear Chiba-san lives in Yokohama now. Man would I love to run into him at a café.
Here are the original trailers from Street Fighter and The return of the Street Fighter…
PS: I know I already made a post for the January Matsuri. This was just an afterthought…a good one!