Takashi Miike's first collaboration with manga artist Hisao Maki, Bodyguard Kiba, isn't classic material but fans of the director should enjoy the action and chaos that he manages to work into a few interesting scenes.
Not to be confused with Sonny Chiba's The Bodyguard (a fantastic seventies grindhouse classic), this film tells the tale of Junpei, a former boxing champion who has fallen on some pretty hard times now that his career has more or less fizzled out. He's taken a job with a local gang but when he finds himself in need of some cash he makes the foolish decision to steal five million yen from the Yakuza boss who has given him his job – bad move on his part. The Yakuza move in to find out where he's stashed the money but not before the cops nab him and toss him in jail for five years. It seems Jupei tried to kill someone not too long ago and the police don't look too kindly on that type of behavior.
After Junpei does his time he's released from the big house and back into the general population of Japan. He knows where he left the money he stole from his former gangster comrades and he intends to get it back but he knows that the Yakuza don't forget and that they're going to do everything in their power to kill him once he leads them to the cash. To help keep things under control, Junpei hires Naoto Kiba, a tough guy for hire and a master of karate. Kiba makes his living as, you guessed it, a bodyguard and he has plenty of experience in this type of thing. That being said, will one mane be able to stop a veritable army of armed gangsters from taking down their intended target? The cops figure Junpei will soon be up to his old tricks as well, so they're tailing him just like the Yakuza are. All Junpei wants is his money and his girlfriend – everyone else wants him dead.
The plot for Bodyguard Kiba isn't going to win any awards for originality any time soon. It's pretty standard stuff and it really only exists to move the film along from one action set piece to the next. There's very little in the way of anything more than minor character development and a lot of details are simply glossed over or swept under the rug in terms of motivation and logic. That being said, there's enough action in the film to make it worth a look if you don't go into this one expecting something even remotely intelligent. This isn't a smart film or a very unique film but it is an entertaining gangster movie with plenty of violence and some nicely executed martial arts sequences.
The biggest problem with the film, aside from the pedestrian script, is that the pacing is off. It's not a slow film all the time but there are enough spots that drag that it does hurt the movie more than it should. It takes a little too long to build at times and while if the characters were more interesting or the story more involving this would be okay, sadly they're not and it just serves to bore the viewer. Thankfully, the action scenes come faster towards the end of the movie and soon enough it's easy to overlook some of the slower spots and enjoy the generic mayhem – but this isn't likely a film that many fans will be coming back to. It lacks much of the imagination and technique that Miike would come to be known for and is instead nothing more than a marginally enjoyable b-movie.
Bodyguard Kiba is presented in a 1.85.1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer which appears to preserve the original aspect ratio of the film as there isn't any obvious cropping or matting issues to note. Quality on this transfer isn't bad. The image is pretty stable and while there is some moderate aliasing present and some mild debris noticeable in spots, color reproduction is decent and for the most part the picture is pretty clean. Black levels stay fairly strong and detail levels are average or slightly above average. Not a reference quality release, but good quality over all even if it would have been nice to see this presented as an anamorphic transfer.
The Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack is of reasonably decent quality and it does come complete with optional English language subtitles that are clean, clear, easy to read and free of any typographical errors. In terms of quality, this is about on par with the video transfer in that it's fine even if it isn't exceptional. Dialogue is clean, and there isn't any background hiss to note. Range is obviously limited by this gets the job done without any glaring problems.
Aside from menus and chapter stops, Media Blasters has included trailers for Fudoh, Visitor Q, Ichi The Killer, Deadly Outlaw Rekka, One Missed Call, Negotiator, Izo, The Way To Fight and The Great Yokai War - all fine Miike films themselves.
A decent, if unremarkable gangster-action movie hybrid, Bodyguard Kiba gets enough right to make it worth a look for fans of Takashi Miike or Yakuza films in general. It's a violent and melodramatic film that lacks a lot of Miike's personal touches that make his better films so memorable but which is still an entertaining movie in its own right. Rent it.
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.