Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Killing Machine (1975)

The Killing Machine

Japan 1975 colour

aka Shôrinji Kenpô

Director Norifumi Suzuki Writer Takeshi Matsumoto

Cast Sonny Chiba (Mr. Soh), Yutaka Nakajima (Kiku), Asao Koike, Etsuko Shihomi (Miho)

Another film from the king of Japanese martial arts movies, Sonny Chiba. But rather than one of the myriad of Street Fighter clones like much of his Seventies output, The Killing Machine is a period film with a message: a rather cloying message of self-empowerment which gets a little much really quickly. Just stifle your gag reflex and let the skull-cracking begin.

The film opens in the closing days of World War 2. Chiba plays Soh, a Japanese soldier, killer and spy operating behind enemy lines in mainland China. Upon hearing his commander deliver the tragic news of Japan’s surrender, Soh shoots up his office with a machine gun, and yet the burning shame won’t go away. Cut to post-war Japan, and Soh is adrift in a society white-anted by American corruption: jazz clubs, youths in baseball jackets, black marketeers, and the omnipresent GIs as a reminder of the country’s ignoble defeat. The noble Soh, naturally, can’t keep his mouth shut, and cracks a few American skulls; his sympathetic jailer allows him to escape, and he heads to the countryside to start a Shaolin-style dojo, based on the techniques he learned as a spy in China.

Based on a real life Shaolin master who attempted to rebuild Japanese pride through Chinese martial arts, The Killing Machine is essentially a one-character study, thought the film touches on the two women in Sho’s life: Kiku, a young soiled innocent Soh tries to rescue from a life in the gutter, and Miho (played by Sue Sister Street Fighter Shihomi) who, along with her reluctant brother, is one of his dojo’s first pupils.

It’s always interesting to see World War 2 and the Occupation period from a Japanese point of view. But that point of view is hammered home with Chiba’s trademark ham fists and look of righteous indignation under furrowed brillo brows. I’m more interested to know how American audiences might have reacted to such pro-Japanese nationalistic fervour and glaring anti-US sentiment, and to the ever-present swastikas over their kung fu jackets (I know it’s a Eastern mystic symbol, but still…). If you’re longing for the blood and nihilism of the early Street Fighter films, you’re not alone, and that doesn’t make us bad people. Let’s just take a break from the blood and indulge Sonny at his most pompous. It’s time for Chiba Lite with the 1975 The Killing Machine. (Andrew Leavold)

No comments: