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The Sonny Chiba Collection (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • The Sonny Chiba Collection (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: November 15th, 2022.
    Director: Ryuichi Takamori, Ikki Kajiwara, Buichi Saito, Kinji Fukasaku, Yasuo Furuhata
    Cast: Sonny Chiba, Ken Ogata, Koji Nanbara, Tsunehiko Watase, Kenji Sawada, Etsuko Shiomi
    Year: Various
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Sonny Chiba Collection – Movie Review:

    After their Street Fighter Collection Blu-ray release from a few years ago, Shout! Factory does right by fans of the bad man from Japan and once again digs into the Sonny Chiba filmography with this new seven film collection.

    Disc One:

    Yakuza Wolf 1 – Perform Murder:

    Directed by Ryuichi Takamori, 1972’s Yakuza Wolf 1 – Perform Murder stars Sonny Chiba as Gosuke Himuro who has returned to Japan after the death of his father to settle the score. Adding insult to injury, the same gangsters that killed his father also abducted his sister and sold her into prostitution. Himuro is, quite understandably, not happy about any of this.

    Himuro knows that the man behind all of this is the sinister Izumi (Kôji Nanbara) and he quietly goes about pitting various factions of the local gangs against one another, knowing that eventually this chaos will rise to the top. While all of this is going on, a prostitute named Saeko (Yayoi Watanabe) starts to fall for Himuro, and just maybe, he for her. Meanwhile, a cop named Detective Shimaoka who wants to put a permanent stop to Yakuza activity in the area gets wind of what Himuro is up to. Given that they both have the same goal in mind, he basically turns a blind eye to things and gives Himuro carte blanche to deal with things as ruthlessly as he wants.

    A fantastic blend of action, drama and base exploitation, the first Yakuza Wolf gives Chiba a role to really sink his teeth into. Very much inspired by the ‘Man With No Name’ style Spaghetti Westerns right down to the way that his character is dressed, Chiba’s Himuro may be a man of few words but he really works in the role. His character is vicious and unrelenting, very single-minded in his devotion to his mission, so much so that it proves damaging to his potential relationship with kindly Saeko. Thematically, the film is pretty grim, there aren’t a lot of good characters here and this isn’t a world where happy endings are common. The film was written by Fumio Konami, who penned the Female Convict Scorpion series, and it isn’t hard to draw parallels between this movie and those films in terms of tone and grim exploitation.

    The violence in the movie is as frequent as it is hard-hitting, Chiba literally kills four people in the first five minutes of the movie. Production values are strong and the movie is particularly well shot, making fantastic use of color which lends an impressively artsy style to even some of the more exploitative scenes (the stylish and colorful lighting in a brothel scene being a great example). The soundtrack is Spaghetti Western influenced in a big way and at times sounds like Morricone mixed with blaxpliotation elements. It’s also hard not to notice the influence of Django in the second half of the film, where Chiba’s character’s hands are damaged and he has to figure out how to take on the gangsters he’s been after this whole time.

    Overall, this one works really well. It’s stylish and brutal, well-paced and quite tense. More character development would have been welcome, but as it stands Yakuza Wolf 1 – Perform Murder really deserves to be just as well-known as established Chiba classics like the Street Fighter movies and The Executioner films.

    Yakuza Wolf 2 – Extend My Condolences:

    This sequel to the first movie, made the same year but this time by director Buichi Saito, Yakuza Wolf 2 – Extend My Condolences does not see Chiba reprise his role as Gosuke Himuro but instead stars him as a man named Ibuki. Recently released from prison after being betrayed by a gangster, he teams up with his old friend Goro Yuki (Tatsuya Fuji). Together, they decide to get back at the gangsters who sold Ibuki up the river by planning a complicated heist.

    As the two go about their plan, Ibuki has to deal with the complications that arise not just from their exploits, but from the presence of his pretty ex-girlfriend Mari (Reiko Ike).

    Much, much, much lighter in tone than the first movie, this is as much a buddy comedy film as it is anything else. To Saito’s credit, the film is quickly paced and it movies quite briskly. There are also some impressive stunts and action set pieces to keep things interesting. Those expecting the bleak revenge thriller that the first movie turned out to be might be taken aback by the drastic shift in tone here, as a lot more of the movie is played for laughs than you’d probably anticipate but it builds to a pretty solid final reel involving Chiba’s character pulling himself along the underside of a bridge over a huge ravine and then getting into a pretty solid martial arts battle to bring everything to a close.

    Overall, it’s a good showcase for Chiba’s physical abilities and a decent part for him. The role isn’t as intense as it is in the first movie, the script doesn’t give him as much to work with, but he and Tatsuya Fuji have an entertaining chemistry together. It’s also always great to see the lovely Reiko Ike show up in a movie like this. Her character really just sort of stands around and looks good, her part is very shallow, but she handles it well enough and does indeed look very good while standing around – she also sings in once scene, which is kind of fun. Mikio Narita is also really solid as Kembe, the main villain in the film.

    Disc Two:

    Bodyguard Kiba:

    When this movie, directed by Ryuichi Takamori in 1973, begins, a man named Kiba (Sony Chiba) is on a plane ride home to Japan. A half a dozen evil terrorists try to highjack the plane, so he takes it upon himself to waste the punks using nothing but his hands and his mad karate skills. Obviously, when the plane lands, he makes the news and he announces at a press conference that he's going to hire himself out as a bodyguard to those who can help him fight crime - specifically, take down a drug smuggling ring. Sonny's just not down with drugs at all and he makes this painfully clear by chopping a glass Coke bottle in half with his hand. Soon enough, the lovely Reko (Mari Atsumi) hires him on board. She's a little scared as her mafia boss boyfriend was just wasted by the local Yakuza and she's worried that she's next on their list based on what she knows about a dope deal gone bad.

    What Sonny doesn't know is that behind his back, Reko is trying to finish off the unresolved drug smuggling operation so that she can cash in on the dope and live happily ever after with her boy-toy, Takami (Ryohei Uchida). But, as cinematic drug deals tend do, this one goes sour fast and soon enough Sonny's trying to protect his client from the Yakuza and a few other interested parties.

    While the plot is, to be blunt, not especially deep, the film moves along at a reasonably good pace and features enough action, violence and wacky head scratching moments that it's way too much fun to simply discard. Chiba carries the film admirably, bringing more machismo to his lead role than any one man has a right to bring. Along the way arms are ripped off, eyes are poked out, heads are cut off and many bones are broken, the film's excess highlighted by the unexpectedly artsy scene where Sonny's younger sister is laid naked in the form of a cross by some hoods who carve a warning to him into her flesh.

    It should be noted that this version of The Bodyguard is the original Japanese cut of the movie, not the recut U.S. version which is quite different, so it doesn’t have the ‘Viva Chiba’ opening scene that was added to the picture when Aquarius Releasing brought it to North American theaters.

    Bodyguard Kiba 2:

    This sequel, made the same year as the original and once again directed by Ryuichi Takamori, opens with Kiba engaged in mortal combat with an opponent (Masashi Ishibashi) as a torrential rain pours down on them. This isn't just a random fight though, this is a rematch with Kiba showing down with a man who lost an official tournament to him some time ago. It's also a fight to the death. When the students of Kiba's opponent mess with his sister, Maki (Etsuko Shiomi) during the right, he takes matters into his own hands and winds up doing some time in jail for it.

    Once Kiba is released from the pen, he takes a job as a bodyguard for a nightclub owner who has been having some trouble with a local Yakuza gang while Maki is still in the hospital. Around the same time, he meets a beautiful chanteuse named Mari Arakaki (Maki Mizuhara), but their relationship, maybe not so surprisingly, is doomed to fail once the Yakuza get involved. Kiba's friend, Takashi Nanjo (Tsunehiko Watase), is also released from prison around this time and he takes a job working for Kiba's rivals. As Kiba winds up on the wrong side of a whole bunch of gangsters, he winds up getting blinded, which is going to make dishing out bloody justice a whole lot trickier.

    Inferior to the first Bodyguard Kiba movie but still plenty entertaining, Bodyguard Kiba 2 starts and finishes very strongly with some really impressive and intense martial art set pieces. What happens in between these set pieces isn’t always going to have you glued to the edge of your set, but there are a few interesting plot twists thrown in along the way and a couple of solid fight sequences as well, so it’s hardly a waste of time.

    Alongside Chiba’s inimitable screen presence, the movie also benefits from having a young Etsuko ‘Sue’ Shiomi in a decent role and her first major on screen appearance with Chiba (she had a small role in the first movie). They go on to work together plenty of times in the future and she’d obviously go on star in the Sister Street Fighter films and become a pretty big star in her own right. On top of that, Masashi Ishibashi shows up here in that fantastic opening scene and proves to be a fantastic opponent for Sonny to throw down with.

    Disc Three:

    Shogun’s Shadow:

    Shogun’s Shadow, the 1989 film from Yasuo Furohata with action direction chores handled by Sonny Chiba, doesn’t attempt to break any new ground of surprise anyone with clever plot twists. Instead, it sticks to a tried and true formula and keeps the action coming fast and steady resulting in a rather brainless but thoroughly enjoyable period samurai film that feels very much like a comic book come to life.

    The film begins when we find out that the current reining Shogun is more or less nuts. He hates his eldest son, Tachehiyo, because he doesn’t bear a physical resemblance to him and so he wants his second son to be the heir to his throne. To make this happen, he decides to orchestrate a plan to have his Samurai pal Iba Shoemon (Sonny Chiba) and his army of spear wielding ninja warriors kill him off.

    Unfortunately for Iba and the Shogun, but very fortunately for Tachehiyo, Igo Gyobu (Ken Ogata) is on the job and along with his rag tag band of Samurai (one or two of whom look to have walked out of a Manowar video) and assorted martial artist types, has pledged his life to protecting the honor of the tradition and saving the young lord’s life no matter what the cost.

    Iba and his men chase Igo and Tachehiyo on a path across the country, hoping to catch them before they can make it to Edo where the boy will hope to find refuge with some other, saner, relatives who know just how wonky dear old dad really is.

    Samurai sword duels, flying ninjas with spears and arrows aplenty, an annoying child actor, gratuitous horse tripping that looks really painful and a completely unnecessary but wholly welcome cameo from Tetsuro Tamba – add all this together and throw in a bad eighties metal soundtrack and a few dismemberments for good measure and you’ve got yourself a movie, boss.

    Chiba, while he only has limited screen time in this one is plays more of a supporting role than a lead despite the top billing, is excellent as the heavy. Seeing him play the sinister assassin out to take a young boy’s life is interesting as it’s an atypical role for someone who normally plays the good guy, or the anti-hero, not necessarily the actual villain. He handles the role very well, and the climactic showdown with Ken Ogata (you know it’s coming from about ten minutes into the movie so this isn’t really a spoiler… quit whining) is excellent in both its scope and its execution.

    The film has also got some excellent period sets. While many of these get trashed as the film plays out, it’s obvious that the set designer had somewhat of an eye for detail, the same can be said for the costumes, all of which are very ornate. The stunt work is excellent with some exciting high dives, some amazing horseback combat, and a few tense sequences that take place over top of a deep ravine (just try not to notice the obvious blue screen effects).

    Samurai Reincarnation:

    Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, who co-wrote the script with Tatsuo Nogami from a novel by Fûtarô Yamada, 1981's Samurai Reincarnation is a period film set in the 17th century during feudal times where the Shogun ruled the land with an iron fist, having outlawed Christianity in any form. Because of this, the local Christian population revolted and tens of thousands of them slaughtered by the Shogun's forces.

    One such convert, a samurai Shiro Amakusa (Kenji Sawada), feels, in the spirit life, that he has been abandoned by God and makes a pact with sinister supernatural forces and Satan himself to give him the power he needs to get proper revenge. To do this, he raises an army of undead warriors, even bringing Miyamoto Musashi (Ken Ogata), the Saint Of Swords, into the mix. Satan has given Shiro the ability to turn many of the undead warriors into demonic fighting machines, which does not bode well for the Shogun.

    The infamous Yagyu Jubei (Sonny Chiba) learns of the threat, unaware, at least initially, that his father, Lord Yagyu, has been resurrected by Shiro to join his ranks. When he learns this, he recruits a master swordmaker named Muramasa to forge for him a sword powerful enough to allow him to slay the demon warriors before they unleash a literal Hell on Earth.

    One of those amazing Fukasaku films that throws in a little bit of everything, Samurai Reincarnation is a fiery and intense mix of action, horror, drama and palace intrigue with plenty of twists and turns and loads of crazy, color style. Fukasaku keeps things moving at an almost impossibly rapid pace and there’s nary a dull moment in the film. Samurai Reincarnation is also a fairly epic production with great makeup, costuming and sets on display, all of which adds to the film’s already seriously high entertainment factor. There’s fantastic use of color and light on display throughout the picture and some really impressive cinematography from Kiyoshi Hasegawa to go along with it, all complimented by a rousing and appropriately epic score from Hozan Yamamoto.

    The cast all bring their A-game. Kenji Sawada is great as the film’s heavy, bringing a palpable sense of anger to his performance. Ken Ogata does strong work in his supporting role as well. Chiba, sporting an eyepatch and looking pretty intense, delivers a strong, brooding performance in the lead. Tetsurô Tanba and Hiroyuki Sanada also both have decent supporting role in the picture.

    Disc Four:

    Swords Of Vengeance:

    Look at the cast and crew for this one and you'll understand why Japanese cinema fans get a boner over this movie – and rightfully so! With Sonny Chiba, Toshiro Mifune, and the omnipresent Tetsuro Tamba all get in front of the camera for this one, lensed by the late, great Kinji Fukasaku – all household names for those in the know. But does Swords Of Vengeance (better known as The Fall Of Ako Castle and at one point released on the grey market under that very same title) live up to its potential? Well… yes and no.

    One of numerous big screen adaptations of a Japanese folk story known as The Forty-Seven Ronins, the film begins the night before the fifth Shogun, Tsuna Yoshi, is to take power. A nobleman named Lord Kira gets into an argument with another nobleman named Lord Anaso and when Asano is insulted, attacks Kira cutting his chest and face but not killing him outright. Asano and Kira are taken before the Shogun to be judged, and Asano is sentenced to death by Hari Kiri while Kira, who is equally responsible for the fight in the first place, is let go. To add insult to injury, the Shogun also declares that Ako Castle, the home base of Asano's clan, be dismantled and that the clan be shut down. The Shogun, of course, will be only too happy to usurp the clan's wealth and property – after all, he is the Shogun.

    Obviously, Asano's Clan, the Ako warriors, is none too pleased by this turn of events and they don't do a very good job at all of hiding their anger. They feel, justly so, that the Shogun is being unfair in his judgments and that his punishments are far too severe. Rather than take his judgment laying down like most people would, they decide to take up arms and Asano's loyal assistant, Oishi, leads a small army of forty seven masterless Samurai against the Shogun in order to set things right.

    More often than not, when Sonny Chiba himself is choreographing the swordplay and action sequences, you know you're in for a treat at least in terms of the moments where combat is the focus of the film. Swords Of Vengeance is no exception to that rule of thumb, and there are a few stand out moments in this film where the fight choreography and swordplay is absolutely gorgeous (watch for the large scale attack set outdoors against the pure white backdrop of freshly fallen snow as a highlight).

    Fans of the assembly of talent on hand for this film will likely have already seen The Yagyu Conspiracy, another historical samurai epic using many of the same key actors also directed by Fukasaku and comparisons to that film are inevitable and it's those same comparisons that hurt this film. Let me state, for the record, that Swords Of Vengeance is a very good film. The action scenes, the widescreen cinematography, the killer tough guy performances and the sets are all top-notch and really show what these guys were capable of in their prime. However, Swords Of Vengeance is not The Yagyu Conspiracy and it's not as good as The Yagyu Conspiracy and with so many similar elements between the two films it becomes very difficult not to compare them to one another and in turn find this one to be the lesser of the two films. It's almost a shame that this film isn't appreciated more than it is, as it will probably forever be resting in The Yagyu Conspiracy's shadow, but the pacing just isn't as solid, the fight scenes not quite as good, and the story not quite as intense.

    With that out of the way, Swords Of Vengeance still has loads to offer Samurai film fans so let's focus a little more on the positive aspects of which there are plenty. Toshiro Mifune turns in an amazing performance as the Shogun's loyal lap dog and when he's on screen, as is the norm for his roles, all eyes are on Mifune. His commanding presence is as strong as always and even in this, a later era film (his body of work stretches all the way back to the late 1940s), he's an intimidating presence. Despite the fact that Adness hasn't labeled this release as part of their Sonny Chiba Collection, the bad man from Japan has a supporting role in the form of Kazuemon Fuwa, an ostracized member of Anaso's clan. Although his role isn't a large one in terms of screen time, it's an important one in terms of plot devices and Chiba once again proves more than capable in front of the camera. The late Kinnosuke Nakamura makes for an enthusiastic and likeable lead hero, and it stands up nicely against the many other performances he's turned in for the numerous Samurai films he made in the sixties and seventies.

    As always, Fukasaku's direction is solid and dependable and the cinematography is excellent and on par with the rest of the film. Had The Yagyu Conspiracy never existed in the first place this one would likely be looked towards more frequently – as it stands that's not the way things turned out. However, what we're left with are two similar films, both of excellent quality.

    The Sonny Chiba Collection – Blu-ray Review:

    Shout! Factory brings The Sonny Chiba Collection to region A Blu-ray on four 50GB discs with each film properly and framed its original widescreen aspect ratio in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Shogun’s Shadow and Samurai Reincarnation are framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and the rest of the movies are framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. By and large, the transfers here are very nice. While it’s unlikely that any of the seven films have been newly remastered for this release, the elements used were in good shape and detail, depth and texture all rise considerably above what previous DVD editions of these movies were able to provide (when available – a few of the two Yakuza Wolf movies and Bodyguard Kiba 2 never received domestic DVD editions). Colors typically look very good, skin tones appear lifelike and accurate and black levels usually look solid, if occasionally closer to dark grey than true black. There aren’t any noticeable compression issues to discuss nor are there any problems with noise reduction or edge enhancement. New 4k remasters would have yielded better results, sure, but what Shout! was given to work with here was pretty strong and overall, the picture quality here is quite good.

    Each film in this set is presented in its original Japanese language in a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, save for Shogun’s Shadow which is in Stereo, with optional subtitles available in English only. No problems to note with the audio quality here. There’s good depth and range to each track and the levels are always properly balanced. Hiss and distortion are never a problem and the subtitles are always clean, clear and easy to read.

    As far as extras go, the first four discs in the set each include trailers for their respective features. Carried over from Shout! Factory’s Street Fighter Collection boxed set and included on the fourth disc in this set is Street Fighting Man, a twenty-seven minute interview with the bad man from Japan himself, Mr. Sonny China. Here he speaks quite openly and candidly about the situations surrounding the movies in this set. He discusses his martial arts training and explains why Terry 'breaths' the way he does during the fight scenes. He also talks about his co-stars, crediting Waichi Yamada with what he feels is some important comic relief, and talking about his relationship with Etsuko Shiomi. He also discusses how he came to be 'Sonny' Chiba in the states and is quite vocal about his distaste for violent and cruel martial arts films, noting that he really only got involved with films like this because the producers pressured him to do it. He also discusses his relationship with Quentin Tarantino and a few other details. It's a good piece. Chiba's an interesting guy and this interview helps his English-speaking fans get to know him a little better.

    The Sonny Chiba Collection - The Final Word:

    Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release of The Sonny Chiba Collection brings seven really solid pictures starring the late, great man himself to Blu-ray in very nice condition. While it would have been nice to see more in the way of extra features here, the movie’s themselves are all really solid and quite a few of them genuinely excellent. Overall, this is an excellent set and one that should bring Chiba fans no small amount of joy. Highly recommended, now bring on a second volume!


    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized The Sonny Chiba Collection Blu-ray screen caps!

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      Ian Jane
      Administrator
      by Ian Jane


      Released by: The Criterion Collection
      Released on: July 26th, 2005.
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      Purchase From Amazon

      Gate Of Flesh – Movie Reviews:

      A lot of Seijun Suzuki's better work focuses on the dregs of Japanese society. Whether it's the Yakuza of films like Tokyo Drifter or Branded To Kill or the comfort women of Story Of A Prostitute or the old fashioned street whores
      ...
      12-01-2022, 06:55 PM
    • Story Of A Prostitute (The Criterion Collection) DVD Review
      Ian Jane
      Administrator
      by Ian Jane


      Released by: The Criterion Collection
      Released on: July 26th, 2005.
      Director: Seijun Suzuki
      Cast: Yumiko Nagawa, Isao Tamagawa, Tamio Kawachi
      Year: 1965
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      Story Of A Prostitute – Movie Reviews:

      The simply titled Story Of A Prostitute is just that – the film follows a group of 'comfort women' (hookers employed by the Japanese military to service the soldiers) who are sent to Northern China during the height
      ...
      12-01-2022, 06:52 PM
    • Blood & Diamonds (88 Films) Blu-ray Review
      Ian Jane
      Administrator
      by Ian Jane


      Released by: 88 Films
      Released on: December 13th, 2022.
      Director: Fernando Di Leo
      Cast: Martin Balsam, Claudio Cassinelli, Pier Paolo Capponi, Barbara Bouchet
      Year: 1977
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      Blood & Diamonds – Movie Review:

      In Fernando Di Leo’s 1977 crime picture, Blood & Diamonds, Claudio Cassinelli plays Guido Mauri, a thief who has spent the last half a decade behind bars after getting busted for his part in a high
      ...
      11-30-2022, 03:39 PM
    • Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (VCI Entertainment) UHD/Blu-ray Review
      Ian Jane
      Administrator
      by Ian Jane


      Released by: VCI Entertainment
      Released on: December 6th, 2022.
      Director: Bob Clark
      Cast: Alan Ormsby, Valerie Mamches, Jeff Gillen, Anya Ormsby, Paul Cronin, Jane Daly
      Year: 1972
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      Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things – Movie Review:

      In Bob Clark’s Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Alan Ormsby (who also wrote and starred in Clark’s Deathdream) plays Alan, a stage director who is obsessed with
      ...
      11-30-2022, 01:10 PM
    • Four Flies On Grey Velvet (Severin Films) UHD/Blu-ray Review
      Ian Jane
      Administrator
      by Ian Jane


      Released by: Severin Films
      Released on: November 25th, 2022.
      Director: Dario Argento
      Cast: Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Aldo Bufi Landi, Bud Spencer
      Year: 1971
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      Four Flies On Grey Velvet - Movie Review:

      The third feature from writer/director Dario Argento, co-written by Luigi Cozzi, and the final film in his so-called ‘Animal Trilogy’ (made up of this picture as well as The Bird
      ...
      11-24-2022, 12:37 PM
    • The Dogs (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review
      Ian Jane
      Administrator
      by Ian Jane


      Released by: Severin Films
      Released on: November 25th, 2022.
      Director: Alain Jessua
      Cast: Gérard Depardieu, Victor Lanoux, Nicole Calfan, Fanny Ardant
      Year: 1979
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      The Dogs – Movie Review:

      Writer/director Alain Jessua, the same man who gave us 1973’s Shock Treatment, was behind this 1979 picture that takes place in an affluent suburb located just outside of Paris, France. Here, a beautiful young woman named
      ...
      11-24-2022, 12:34 PM
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