Sonny Chiba once again reprises his role of real life Karate master Masutatsu Oyama for the third (and final) time in Karate For Life, the fantastic third entry in the Masutatsu Oyama trilogy comprised of this film as well as Karate Bullfighter and Karate Bearfighter.
The film opens with a scene involving Oyama's arrival at a small Karate Dojo. He shows up to lay the smack down on the school's Sensai, as he feels that his style is closer to dancing, than to real Karate. After introducing himself as a 'Karate master extraordinaire' he proceeds to beat the crap out of one hundred and one of the Karate students despite their best efforts to stop him by covering the floor with oil. Once he's done with the small fries, he takes down the Sensai and pokes out his eye in true Sonny Chiba fashion.
After that amazing opening scene the film moves into story mode. Oyama once again finds himself involved with some Yakuza types, and a fight promoter decides that Oyama would make a great professional wrestler. He teams up with another of his Karate friends and the two hit the wrestling circuit in grand style. Problems arise though when Oyama refuses to follow the scripts and through the fights. This, according to the promoter, upsets the fans and will lose them money. Oyama doesn't care though, and he quits, as his honor is more important to him than any filthy lucre. The Yakuza are not very happy with his decision, but he stands by it anyway, because as we all know by now, Sonny Chiba is afraid of no one.
Once he's out of the world of wrestling, he heads back to civilization where a gang of kids steals his pack. He lays chase to them, and after a while saves a prostitute with a drinking problem from trying to kill her self. The two become pretty friendly pretty quickly but sadly, the prostitute's lifestyle hasn't been kind to her and she comes down with tuberculosis. The only thing that can save her is a shot of penicillin, which is going to cost $600.00. Oyama figures the only way he can pony up that kind of scratch fast enough is to get back into the ring and earn him self some coin. One thing leads to another, and without spoiling it, let me just say that Oyama once again pisses off the wrong people and in order to make things right in the world, he's going to have to use all of his bad ass Karate skills to rain down vengeance upon those who have wronged him and his hooker lady-friend and those little kids he always seems to hang out with. What's that mean, exactly? It means get ready for freeze frame and slow motion kicks to the head, an eye gouge or two, and a fantastic Karate show down, Chiba style.
Karate For Life is pure, unabashed martial arts fun. While the story is loosely strung together at best and the wrestling scenes, though quit amusing, feel like they've been ripped out of a Santo movie, I double dog dare you not to have a good time watching this one. Chiba chews through the scenery almost as fast as he does the unlucky students in the Dojo, breaking limbs and faces with such ease it's almost frightening. Once again, like in Killing Machine we find him hanging out with little kids and ladies of the evening, but it just goes to show that the bad man from Japan may not be such a bad guy after all – he's at least moderately interested in doing the right thing most of the time and if nothing else it's a decent plot device to move from one fight scene to another.
The film brings the Oyama trilogy to a close quite nicely, even if after it rips off Enter The Dragon in the final scene it does set itself up perfectly for a fourth entry (sadly, never filmed). Try to ignore the idiosyncrasies in the story and the characterizations and enjoy the film for what it is – a cheaply made exploitation movie with a lot of good bone breaking Karate action and a fantastic and savage performance from the man himself.
Like prior releases in the series, Karate For Life is presented in its original aspect ratio (2.35.1 in this case) and is enhanced for anamorphic monitors. Aside from a fine, very natural looking coat of film grain this is a very clean picture with only the odd speck showing up for print damage. Colors look great, nice and accurate and strong enough to look natural without bleeding into one another. Black levels remain strong and constant and don't break up or show any evidence of mpeg compression. There is some slight edge enhancement throughout the movie but it isn't overly distracting and overall this movie looks great on its first official home video release in North America. The only real problem with the transfer is some of the action looks a little bit blurry. This doesn't happen all of the time but in some of the fight scenes you probably will notice it.
Karate For Life, unlike earlier entries in Adness' Sonny Chiba Collection, comes only with the original Japanese mono mix, there is no Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound option.. Optional English subtitles are available that are free of any typographical errors and are clean looking and easy to read. There is some slight distortion in the higher end of the soundscape but it is very minor and you really have to strain to notice it. Dialogue is clean and clear for the most part and the background music and sound effects are balanced properly and don't even once over shadow the dialogue at all. Also worth noting is that Adness has improved the subs on some of the music and on the credits compared to the other releases in the series, which is a nice touch.
If the supplements on this release look familiar, it's with good reason. The only thing that has changed between this release and the earlier releases in this line are the liner notes from Patrick Macias, author of Tokyoscope. Macias once again does a great job of putting this film in perspective and lending some insight into where it stands in regards to accuracy and quality.
Adness has also once again included trailers for other releases in their Sonny Chiba Collection and promo spots can be found for not only Karate for Life, but for Killing Machine, Karate Bearfighter, >Karate Bullfighter, Karate for Life, G. I. Samurai, Shogun's Samurai (a. k. a. The Yagyu Conspiracy), Black Magic Wars, The Legend of The Eight Samurai, and Resurrection of Golden Wolf as well. It's a nice selection of trailers, and save for G. I. Samurai, they're all presented in widescreen.
As is becoming the norm with their Sonny Chiba Collection releases, Adness has done a nice job on the packaging for this release as well. The flipside of the cover art reproduces various versions of the films poster art as well as a few black and white still pictures.
Adness continues to do great work in the land of Chibadom. Karate For Life kicks even more ass than the first two films in the Oyama Masutatsu trilogy and the quality on this release is quite good despite the trails on the transfer. In short, if you're a fan of Chiba or martial arts films in general, run – don't walk, but run – down to your local video retailer and get it now. Highly Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.