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The Executioner Collection (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • The Executioner Collection (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: January 10th, 2023.
    Director: Teruo Ishii
    Cast: Sonny Chiba, Eiji Gi, Yutaka Nakajima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Yutaka Nakajima, Etsuko Shiomi, Ryi Ikebe
    Year: 1975
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Executioner Collection – Movie Review:

    Arrow Video offers up a high definition double dose of the bad man from Japan, the legendary Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba!

    The Executioner:

    Our first film was directed by Teruo Ishii in 1975 and stars Sonny Chiba (The Street Fighter, Kill Bill) with Yasuaki Kurata (Fist Of Legend) in a classic banger of an action movie. The plot is pretty basic - the Japanese police just haven't been able to take down an international drug smuggling ring, led by a mobster named Mario Mizuhara (Masahiko Tsugawa of The Tattooed Hitman), that’s been running about and causing trouble in Tokyo. To counter this influx of illegal drugs, a former narcotics agent takes it upon himself to bring together a group of ex-cons to put a stop to their menacing ways.

    Chiba's character, Ryuichi Koga, is a trained ninja and a master of hand to hand combat and stealth techniques (in fact, in Japan the film is known as Direct Hit! Hell Fist!, referring to the Hell Fist technique that he uses on his opponents). He's only in it for the money, and doesn't care about anyone other than himself. The lovely Emi, the only female of the bunch, (played Yutaka Nakajima, who also showed up The Street Fighter as well as numerous other Chiba films of the time) helps organize the group and keep the guys in check.

    One by one, the group assassinates key members of the smuggling ring until it comes down to the final showdown, a thirty minute brawl that takes us from the bad guys' secret hide out in the mountains and climaxes on the cliffs near the Pacific Ocean. This scene somehow manages to combine a car chase, a cliff climbing scene, and an out-and-out street brawl with some great martial arts set pieces. Statues are thrown over heads, street signs are torn out of the ground and used as clubs, and grappling hooks are thrown into body parts as Chiba and what's left of his crew punch, kick, and maim their way through the bad guys.

    Full of odd costumes, insanely violent fight scenes, car chases and pointless nudity, The Executioner is everything that you'd expect from a prime Chiba film. Not surprisingly, the plot really is secondary in this picture, and it's pretty much an excuse for Chiba to beat his way across the screen for an hour and a half (and he does a phenomenal job at it). Teruo Ishii dials everything all the way up, and while the whole thing may feel fairly ridiculous at times, it’s never less than a complete blast to watch.

    Part of Chiba's appeal lies in his fighting style. Most movie fans are accustomed to seeing various, more graceful, forms of Kung-Fu on the big screen thanks to the likes of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, but Chiba's fighting style, a form of Karate infused with his own insane enthusiasm for combat, is much more savage and brutal. It's well demonstrated in this movie. Throughout the ninety minute running time we witness him ripping out pieces of rib cages and punching eyes out of sockets, while still managing to find time with a lady or two (in a stand out scene, Chiba shows up to beat down a drug thug, kicks his ass, then hops on top of his woman for a ride!).

    Granted, the movie is pretty dated in certain areas, especially the fashions and the soundtrack, but that's part of its charm – it just oozes seventies style and seventies cool. Yet Chiba remains the composite bad ass, even when decked out in a white leisure suit with a mesh holster underneath. Not too many leading men can pull that off. Ishii directs with his usual amount of sleazy flair, leering over the women and accentuating the more violent set pieces of the film. Throughout all of the exploitation and carnage, however, is a really fun sense of humor. The interplay between the characters is clever and amusing, with Emi leading a few of them on in a few spots and with the three men bickering amongst each other at every opportunity.

    The Executioner II: Karate Inferno:

    Picking up shortly after where the first film left off, this sequel, also directed by Teruo Ishii in 1975, finds all the main performers back in their roles once more for a film that tones down the explicitness of the violence and ups the goofiness of the comedy.

    Since the end of the first film, Ryuichi Koga has joined the Japanese military and is working as a paratrooper. He's approached at the base by Emi, who had no trouble tracking him down, and it's explained to him that he's needed for another mission. He joins up with the rest of the crew from the first movie and they're off to steal one of the largest diamonds in the world. Unfortunately, someone has beaten them to it and they're now off to steal the stolen diamond for themselves. They end up embattled against a crime ring that proves to be a lot tougher than they'd originally anticipated and it once again all leads up to a climactic showdown in which Chiba is forced to beat the living crap out of everyone who gets in his way.

    With the heavy emphasis on juvenile comedy, this is definitely a weaker film than its predecessor, but not one without its moments. The finale is excellent, with Chiba taking on the thugs surrounded by fire and explosions and the intensity of skillful fight choreography of this scene make the movie completely worthwhile. Be forewarned, however, that most of the comedy that takes place leading up to the last half hour of the film (and which in turn makes up the bulk of the film) is pretty stupid. Chiba flakes his dandruff into one of his teammates drinks, who in turns puts snot into Chiba's drink. Scaling a wall leads him to find a naked woman hanging her massive funbags out the window for now apparent reason at all. Chiba puts out his teammate, who catches on fire, by pissing on the poor guy, and there are a lot of strange fart jokes in here as well. If your tolerance for toilet humor is low, you're going to have issues with this one.

    Ultimately, however, the good outweighs the bad. Ishii's direction is very good, the cinematography makes great use of some interesting locations and there are a few stand out action scenes including, aside from the finale, a nice piece where Chiba's hanging from a rope and a couple of really great hand to hand combat scenes.

    The Executioner Collection – Blu-ray Review:

    Both films in The Executioner Collection are presented on a 50GB disc, framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Picture quality is quite nice here. There’s good detail and depth to the image and the colors look excellent throughout. There aren’t any noticeable problems with noise reduction, edge enhancement, compression artifacts or digital sharpening and the picture always looks properly film-like. You’ll be hard pressed to find much in the way of print damage at all, the transfers are both very clean and obviously taken from elements that were in very nice condition.

    Both films on the disc get 24-bit LPCM Mono options in the original Japanese language and the first film also gets a dubbed English option, with subtitles offered up in English only. Audio quality is fine, the tracks are clean, clear and properly balanced. The first film plays better in Japanese but it’s nice to have the English dub included here for nostalgia’s sake.

    The first film gets a new audio commentary by Chris Poggiali and Marc Walkow that opens with some fun facts about the iconic Toei logo before getting into the nitty-gritty of The Executioner. From there, they go on to detail the score and its composer, details on the different cast and crew members that worked on the film, Chiba's work with the Japan Action Club, the influecne of Chiba's work in the Japanese film industry, the film's specific 'ninja choreographer' and his career, Teruo Ishii's career and specific work on this picture (and how he was in some ways the Japanese Ken Russell), the director's penchant for stunt casting, Chiba's wardrobe in the movie and plenty of biographical details of the man, the film's box office success, where locations are used versus sets and lots more. It's a really interesting talk, packed with information and delivered in a very listenable style.

    The disc also includes a thirty minute featurette titled Sonny Chiba, Karate King, made up of interviews with Grady Hendrix, Tom Mes, Chris Poggiali, Marco Joachim and Seiji Anno (from Guitar Wolf!), standing behind an awesome record collection. They cover what made Chiba unique in both the Japanese and North American markets, what set him apart from other leading Japanese actors of his day, his shift from a matinee idol of the sixties to a down and dirty tough guy in the seventies and how he was posited as the next Bruce Lee. Along the way, biographical details are discussed including his hopes to make it as an Olympic athlete, how he won a talent search contest for Toei and got into acting, his work on TV in Key Hunter, how he did his own stunts and his acting style. They also cover some of the directors that he worked with and the importance of Kinji Fukasaku to his career, his popularity during the kung fu movie boom, how he came to be dubbed 'Sonny,' his work with Teruo Ishii, the accidental success of The Executioner and the impact and influence of his work.

    Finishing up the extras on the disc are original English and Japanese trailers for the first film, a Japanese trailer for the second film, a filmography for director Teruo Ishii and separate still galleries for each film as well as menus and chapter selection options.

    Note that as this review is based off of a test disc we can’t comment on packaging or inserts or confirm that it will match finished, retail product. Should finished product be made available, we’ll update this review accordingly.

    The Executioner Collection - The Final Word:

    The Executioner Collection offers up two of Sonny Chiba’s wildest efforts from the seventies in very nice presentations. The commentary and featurette are also both very strong and do a great job of not only exploring the history of the two movies in this collection, but their iconic leading man as well. Highly recommended!

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

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