Thursday, February 29, 2024

Street Law - 88 Films (Blu-ray)

Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1974
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Writers: Massimo De Rita, Arduino Maiuri
Cast: Franco Nero, Giancarlo Prete, Barbara Bach, Renzo Palmer

Release Date: February 26th, 2024
Approximate running time: 101 Minutes 46 Seconds
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono Italian, LPCM Mono English
Subtitles: English
Region Coding: Region B
Retail Price: £16.99 (UK)

"After Carlo is mugged by thugs he goes to the police, but when they drop the case, he loses faith in the justice system and decides to take on the hoods himself. Teaming up with a young robber, he goes on a mission of vengeance." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Video: 5/5

Here’s the information provided about this release's transfer, "2K Restoration From the Original Camera Negative."

Street Law comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 46.5 GB

Feature: 29.8 GB (102 Minute Version), 5.9 GB (U.S. Theatrical Version)

The source used for this transfer looks excellent. Flesh tones look healthy, colors are nicely saturated, image clarity, black levels, and compression are solid, and the image always looks organic.

Audio: 5/5 (LPCM Mono Italian, LPCM Mono English)

This release comes with two audio options, an LPCM mono mix in Italian and an LPCM mono mix in English. Both audio tracks are in great shape; there are no issues with distortion or background noise, the dialog comes through clearly, and everything sounds balanced. Range-wise, the score and action set pieces sound robust. Included are removable English subtitles for the Italian language track and a second removable English subtitle track for Italian text when watching the English language track.

Extras:

Extras for this release include a TV spot (32 seconds, Dolby Digital mono English, no subtitles), a theatrical trailer (3 minutes 23 seconds, Dolby Digital mono English, no subtitles), an Interview with actor and stuntman Massimo Vanni titled Street Stunts (14 minutes 51 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo Italian with removable English subtitles), an Interview with composer’s Guido and Maurizio De Angelis titled Oliver Onions (41 minutes 40 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo Italian with removable English subtitles), an Interview with director Enzo G. Castellari titled Enzo’s Law (25 minutes 19 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo Italian with removable English subtitles), a featurette by Mike Malloy titled Sniff Around and Find Out (10 minutes 5 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an audio commentary with Italian cinema experts Eugenio Ercolani, Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thomson, shorter U.S. “Grindhouse” cut of Street Law (76 minutes 20 seconds, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Dolby Digital mono English, no subtitles), reversible cover art, a limited edition reverse-board matte O-ring (limited to the first pressing), a poster (limited to the first pressing), and a 8-page booklet (limited to the first pressing) with an essay titled Action and Reaction: Thrills, People and Politics in Enzo G. Castellari’s Street Law written by Francesco Massaccesi.  

Summary:

When one thinks of action cinema in Italy, Enzo G. Castellari instantly springs to mind because of his operas of violence, which are most known for their use of slow-motion camera work. And nowhere is this clearer than in the scene in Street Law, where a thug uses a car to chase and run Carlo down. The use of slow-motion photography that culminates with a shot of Carlo swinging a shovel through the windshield and hitting his purser dead in the face is a beautifully realized moment of action.

Enzo G. Castellari approaches the Italian crime genre the same way he approaches the western genre. With the law versus the outlaws in a modern setting instead of the old west, The fast-paced action set pieces are well executed, the stunts are impressive, and Street Law’s depiction of violence is in your face. Street Law’s most memorable action set piece is saved for a shootout that takes place in a warehouse.

Franco Nero is cast in a role that is the polar opposite of the character he is most known for portraying. He does a superb job of portraying a character who initially has no backbone. Another reason this performance is so strong is how effortlessly Franco Nero transforms from a character with no backbone into a prototype bad-ass character.

Besides Franco Nero, there is a solid supporting cast who are all very good in their roles, especially Giancarlo Prete (Confessions of a Police Captain) in the role of Tommy, a small-time thief who reluctantly helps Carlo track down the four men who beat him. Another performance of note is Barbara Bach's (Short Night of Glass Dolls) in the role of Carlo’s girlfriend.

In the 1970s, there was an influx of vigilante justice-themed films. Though Italian cinema is known for taking elements from popular films, calling Street Law a Death Wish knockoff since Street Law had already begun production before Death Wish was released in Italy. So, any similarities seem to be coincidental. That said, it is interesting just how much things haven’t changed over the years, and Street Law’s plot has many instances where the police treat victims worse than the criminals who committed the crimes.

Street Law gets an exceptional release from 88 Films that comes with a solid audio/video presentation, two versions of the film, and a wealth of insightful extras. Highly recommended.








Written by Michael Den Boer

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Bodyguard Kiba 1 and 2 – Eureka Video (Blu-ray)

Theatrical Release Dates: Japan, 1973 (Bodyguard Kiba, Bodyguard Kiba 2)
Director: Ryûichi Takamori (Both Films)
Cast: Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Jirô Chiba, Mari Atsumi, Kinji Takinami, Yayoi Watanabe, Eiji Gô, Ryôhei Uchida (Bodyguard Kiba), Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba, Tsunehiko Watase, Maki Mizuhara, Akiyoshi Fukae, Hideo Murota, Rokkô Toura, Eiji Gô, Etsuko Shihomi (Bodyguard Kiba 2)

Release Date: March 18th, 2024
Approximate running times: 87 Minutes 36 Seconds (Bodyguard Kiba), 88 Minutes 33 Seconds (Bodyguard Kiba 2)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Both Films)
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono Japanese (Both Films)
Subtitles: English (Both Films)
Region Coding: Region B
Retail Price: £25.99 (UK)

"Based upon the manga by celebrated writer Ikki Kajiwara, Bodyguard Kiba follows the eponymous karate master and professional bodyguard (Chiba) as he is hired to protect the mysterious Reiko (Mari Atsumi), a woman embroiled in the world of organized crime. Kiba’s involvement with Reiko brings him into conflict with the yakuza, leading to a final bloody showdown. Then, in Bodyguard Kiba 2, Kiba is released from prison after taking revenge on the rival martial artists who blinded his sister Maki (Etsuko Shihomi). Back on the streets, he takes a job working for shady nightclub owner Akamatsu (Shoki Fukae), once again forcing him to take on Japan’s criminal underworld." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Video: 4.25/5 (Bodyguard Kiba, Bodyguard Kiba 2)

Here’s the information given about the transfers, "from new restorations of the original film elements by Toei".

Bodyguard Kiba comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 44.7 GB

Feature: 20.7 GB (Bodyguard Kiba), 20.1 GB (The Bodyguard)

Bodyguard Kiba 2 comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 31.1 GB

Feature: 25.8 GB

The sources used are in great shape and, in most ways, look comparable to Shout Factory’s Region A Blu-ray releases. Flesh tones and colors look correct, image clarity is strong, black levels fare well, and compression is very good. Also, when compared to Shout Factory’s Blu-ray releases, this release's encodes are stronger.

Audio: 4.25/5 (Bodyguard Kiba, Bodyguard Kiba 2)

Both films come with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in Japanese, and both films come with removable English subtitles. Both audio tracks sound clean, clear, balanced, and robust when they should.

Extras:

Extras for Bodyguard Kiba include a theatrical trailer (2 minutes 43 seconds, LPCM mono Japanese with removable English subtitles), an interview with action choreographer and director Kenji Tanigaki titled Talking Chiba (27 minutes 51 seconds, LPCM stereo English, no subtitles), an audio commentary with action cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema for Bodyguard Kiba, and an alternate U.S. version of Bodyguard Kiba titled The Bodyguard (87 minutes 54 seconds, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, LPCM mono English, no subtitles).

The source used for the U.S. version is in very good shape, and source debris is minimal. That said, the moments that are exclusive to the U.S. version do not look as strong as the rest of the transfer, which is comparable to the source used for Bodyguard Kiba. Also, the audio has some minor, albeit persistent, hiss, and it lacks the depth that the two Bodyguard Kiba audio tracks have. That said, the dialog comes across as clear enough to follow.

Extras for Bodyguard Kiba 2 include a theatrical trailer (2 minutes 39 seconds, LPCM mono Japanese with removable English subtitles), an interview with Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp titled Kiba or Chiba (35 minutes 18 seconds, LPCM stereo English, no subtitles), and an audio commentary with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema.

Other extras include reversible cover art, an O-card slipcase (limited to 2,000 copies), and a booklet (limited to 2,000 copies) with cast & crew information for both films, an essay written by Jasper Sharp, and information about the transfer titled Notes on Viewing.

Summary:

Bodyguard Kiba (The Bodyguard): Despite appearing in over one hundred films, a large number of Shin’ichi "Sonny" Chiba’s were never released theatrically in America. That said, Bodyguard Kiba was released in America under the title The Bodyguard.

The main difference between the U.S. and Japanese versions is the U.S. version's inclusion of fight scenes with Aaron Banks, Bill Louie, and Judy Lee. These scenes make up less than ten minutes of the film, and they do not further the narrative. You could remove them, and the narrative would not suffer from their loss. Also, the U.S. opening credits feature Shin’ichi "Sonny" Chiba’s mentor Masutatsu Oyama and other martial artists performing while they chant "Viva Chiba!"

Also, the U.S. version of The Bodyguard opens with the narration, "The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the iniquity of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper, and the father of lost children. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am Chiba the Bodyguard when I shall lay my vengeance upon them!" - Ezekiel 25:17 This same text would be later used in Pulp Fiction when one of its characters, Jules Winnfield, a hitman, recites it before killing a man.

Having the opportunity to see the Japanese version of Bodyguard Kiba elevates the stature of this film. From its opening moments, Bodyguard Kiba establishes a relentless tone that is reinforced by memorable set pieces. Notably, a woman lies naked and the only thing covering her is the shadow of a cross, and there is a scene where Kiba breaks a coke bottle with his bare hands. Also, bad guys enter the room in the most unusual ways as they hide themselves in furniture, and during one fight scene, Kiba rips an arm off his opponent and uses it as a weapon. That said, the fight scenes are brutal and just as memorable as the ones in Street Fighter, which came out a year after Bodyguard Kiba.

During this era of Shin’ichi "Sonny" Chiba’s career, there's no denying that he was the main attraction and everyone else's performances were overshadowed. Despite some gruesome fight scenes, the overall tone of Shin’ichi "Sonny" Chiba’s performance is one of his more subdued ones from this same time period. That said, the supporting cast more than fulfilled their roles. Jirô Chiba (Karate Bullfighter) and Etsuko Shihomi (Sister Streetfighter), both members of the Japan action club and Shin'ichi "Sonny" Chiba film regulars, have brief cameos in Bodyguard Kiba.

Toshiaki Tsushima, who also composed the scores for the three Streetfighter films, composed the score for Bodyguard Kiba. Though some may prefer the American version of The Bodyguard, it pales in comparison to the Japanese version, Bodyguard Kiba. Ultimately, Bodyguard Kiba is a solid mix of bone-crunching action and exploitation that ranks right up there with Shin’ichi "Sonny" Chiba’s best films, like the Street Fighter series.

Bodyguard Kiba 2 (Karate Killer): Shin’ichi "Sonny" Chiba reprises his role for this sequel to Bodyguard Kiba. And though Bodyguard Kiba 2 carries over all the elements from its predecessor, it has one significant difference: this time around, Kiba is not a hero; he has fallen from grace. That said, Bodyguard Kiba 2 is a tale about redemption.

From its opening moments, Bodyguard Kiba 2 quickly grips you with a dual sequence between Kiba and a character named Kazuki Samejima, who is portrayed by Masashi Ishibashi, who is most remembered for portraying Tateki Shikenbaru aka Junjo from the first two Streetfighter films. Their duel is over whose fighting style is better. And during the duel, Kiba’s opponent blinds her sister by impaling her eyes with his fingers.

The cast is solid, and they all deliver strong performances, especially Shin’ichi "Sonny" Chiba in the role of Kiba. He further expands on the character he previously portrayed in Bodyguard Kiba. Though this character lacks depth, he more than makes up for it with his psychic performance in the fight scenes. Another performance of note is Eiji Go (The Executioner) in the role of Ryuzuka, a psychopath yakuza henchman who, in one scene, kills a dog for no reason.

From a production standpoint, Bodyguard Kiba 2 maximizes its resources. The narrative does a great job building momentum by giving key moments an ample amount of time to resonate and a sensational ending where an outnumbered Kiba gets his redemption. Also, though the fight scenes are not memorable, they are well executed and get the job done. Ultimately, Bodyguard Kiba 2 is a good film that brings nothing new to the table.

Eureka Video gives Bodyguard Kiba 1 and 2 their best home video releases to date, highly recommended.



























Written by Michael Den Boer

Monday, February 26, 2024

Classic Tokusatsu Collection – Shout! Factory (Blu-ray)

Theatrical Release Dates: Japan, 1959 (Prince of Space), Japan, 1961 (Invasion of the Neptune Men), Japan, 1966 (Watari the Ninja Boy, Golden Ninja, Dragon Showdown, Terror Beneath the Sea), Japan, 1969 (Ninja Scope)|
Directors: Eijirô Wakabayashi (Prince of Space), Kôji Ohta (Invasion of the Neptune Men), Sadao Funatoko (Watari the Ninja Boy), Hajime Satô (Golden Ninja, Terror Beneath the Sea), Tetsuya Yamanouchi (Dragon Showdow, Ninja Scopen), Junji Kurata (Ninja Scope),
Cast: Tatsuo Umemiya, Hiroko Mine, Takashi Kanda, Ushio Akashi, Ken Hasebe, Junji Masuda, Jôji Oka (Prince of Space), Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba, Ryûko Minakami, Mitsue Komiya, Seiichirô Kameishi, Rin'ichi Yamamoto, Kappei Matsumoto, Takashi Kanda, Shirô Okamoto, Junji Masuda, Hidemichi Ishikawa, Shinjirô Ebara (Invasion of the Neptune Men), Yoshinobu Kaneko, Chiyoko Honma, Fuyukichi Maki, Kunio Murai, Asao Uchida, Minoru Ôki, Ryûtarô Ôtomo (Watari the Ninja Boy), Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba, Osamu Kobayashi, Wataru Yamagawa, Hisako Tsukuba, Emily Takami, Andrew Hughes, Hirohisa Nakata, Kôsaku Okano, Kôji Sekiyama, Yôichi Numata, Keiichi Kitagawa, Keiko Kuni (Golden Ninja), Hiroki Matsukata, Tomoko Ogawa, Ryûtarô Ôtomo, Bin Amatsu, Nobuo Kaneko, Izumi Hara, Kensaku Hara, Masataka Iwao (Dragon Showdown), Yûzaburô Sakaguchi, Yoshinobu Kaneko, Fuyukichi Maki, Kôtarô Satomi (Ninja Scope), Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba, Peggy Neal, Franz Gruber, Gunter Braun, Andrew Hughes, Erik Neilson, Beverly Kahler, Hajime Satô, Mike Danning, Hideo Murota, Kôji Miemachi, Hans Horneff, John Kleine (Terror Beneath the Sea)

Release Date: February 27th, 2024
Approximate running times: 57 Minutes 19 Seconds (Prince of Space), 74 Minutes 13 Seconds (Invasion of the Neptune Men), 86 Minutes 29 Seconds (Watari the Ninja Boy), 72 Minutes 57 Seconds (Golden Ninja), 85 Minutes 31 Seconds (Dragon Showdown), 51 Minutes 51 Seconds (Ninja Scope), 79 Minutes 9 Seconds (Terror Beneath the Sea)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Ninja Scope), 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Prince of Space, Invasion of the Neptune Men, Watari the Ninja Boy, Golden Ninja, Dragon Showdown), 1.78:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Terror Beneath the Sea)
Rating: NR
Sound: DTS-HD Mono Japanese (Prince of Space, Invasion of the Neptune Men, Watari the Ninja Boy, Golden Ninja, Dragon Showdown, Ninja Scope), DTS-HD Mono English (Terror Beneath the Sea)
Subtitles: English (Prince of Space, Invasion of the Neptune Men, Watari the Ninja Boy, Golden Ninja, Dragon Showdown, Ninja Scope), English SDH (Terror Beneath the Sea)
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $69.98

Prince of Space: "A mysterious hero must intervene when a nefarious presence from outer space arrives to steal a powerful new rocket fuel." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Invasion of the Neptune Men: "Sonny Chiba stars in this fantastical adventure about repelling invaders arriving from a distant planet to attack Tokyo." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Watari the Ninja Boy: "When the evil leaders of two ninja clans con their members into a relentless war, only a young ninja boy can save the day." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat): "An evil alien threatens Earth, and a group of scientists travel to Atlantis to awaken a superhuman mummy defender in this thriller starring Sonny Chiba!" - synopsis provided by the distributor

Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent): "A young prince must summon all his powers to take back a throne stolen from his family by a treacherous murderer!" - synopsis provided by the distributor

Ninja Scope: "Powerful ninjas and otherworldly creatures inhabit this adventure of Watari, a young ninja boy in feudal Japan." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Terror Beneath the Sea: "Sonny Chiba stars in this tale about a group of surface dwellers who happen upon an underwater city ruled by a mad scientist and his amphibious servants." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Video: 4/5 (Watari the Ninja Boy, Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat), Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent), 3.75/5 (Prince of Space, Invasion of the Neptune Men, Ninja Scope), 3.5/5 (Terror Beneath the Sea)

Prince of Space and Invasion of the Neptune Men come on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 35.4 GB

Feature: 15 GB (Prince of Space), 19.4 GB (Invasion of the Neptune Men)

Watari the Ninja Boy and Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat) come on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 43.6 GB

Feature: 19 GB (Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat), 22.6 GB (Watari the Ninja Boy)

Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent) and Ninja Scope come on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 37.8 GB

Feature: 22.3 GB (Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent), 13.5 GB (Ninja Scope)

Terror Beneath the Sea comes on a 25 GB single layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 20.8 GB

Feature: 20.7 GB

The sources for these films, Prince of Space, Invasion of the Neptune Men, Watari the Ninja Boy, Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat), Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent), and Ninja Scope, are comparable. They all have minor print debris that crops up throughout their presentations. Image clarity is strong, black levels generally look very good, compression is very good, and there does not appear to be any digital noise reduction. When it comes to these films that are color Watari the Ninja Boy, Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent), and Ninja Scope, there are a few moments where colors fluctuate; fortunately, colors look great for the most part. It is not surprising that Terror Beneath the Sea has the worst-looking transfer; it has source debris like the other films; there are a few moments where colors fluctuate; and image clarity is not as convincing as it should be. Also, the 1.78:1 aspect ratio has never felt right, and there are many shots where things look too tight.

Audio: 3.75/5 (Prince of Space, Invasion of the Neptune Men, Watari the Ninja Boy, Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat), Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent), Ninja Scope), 3.5/5 (Terror Beneath the Sea)

Prince of Space, Invasion of the Neptune Men, Watari the Ninja Boy, Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat), Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent), and Ninja Scope each come with one audio option, a DTS-HD mono mix in Japanese. All of these films also come with removable English subtitles. Terror Beneath the Sea comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD mono mix in English with removable English SDH. All of these audio tracks are in good shape. Dialog comes through clearly; everything sounds balanced, and range-wise, they are at times limited. That said, Terror Beneath the Sea has the weakest audio track quality when compared to the other audio tracks.

Extras:

Extras for disc one include a theatrical trailer for Invasion of the Neptune Men (2 minutes 22 seconds, DTS-HD mono Japanese with removable English subtitles).

Extras for disc two include a theatrical trailer for Watari the Ninja Boy (3 minutes 20 seconds, DTS-HD mono Japanese with removable English subtitles), and a theatrical trailer for Golden Ninja (2 minutes 21 seconds, DTS-HD mono Japanese with removable English subtitles).

Extras on disc three include a theatrical trailer for Dragon Showdown (3 minutes 17 seconds, DTS-HD mono Japanese with removable English subtitles), and a theatrical trailer for Ninja Scope (2 minutes 7 seconds, DTS-HD mono Japanese with removable English subtitles).

There are no extras on disc four.

Other extras include a slipcase.

Summary:

Prince of Space: A professor has created a powerful rocket fuel that can make space travel over long distances even more plausible. Ambassador Phantom is the leader of a spaceship carrying aliens from the planet Krankor, and they have come to earth to obtain the professors’ rocket fuel formula. The planet Krankor has become barren, and they must now find a new world to inhabit. Ambassador Phantom's plans are quickly stopped by a masked superhero known as the Planet Prince. Ambassador Maboroshi and his henchmen don’t give up that easily, and they have come up with a new scheme to secure the professors’ formula. Will the Planet Prince foil Ambassador Phantom's plans once again?

Prince Planet was originally a TV series that ran for 49 episodes. Also, when discussing Prince of Space, one must acknowledge its two versions. For its original theatrical release, it was originally released as two separate films, Planet Prince and Planet Prince - The Terrifying Spaceship. In 1965, these two films were compiled into an 85-minute version for American TV titled Prince of Space, although this version omits about 36 minutes of footage. In 2006, the American TV version was released by Dark Sky Films. For this release, Shout Factory has only included Planet Prince under the title Prince of Space.

One thing that can be said about 1950s sci-fi films is that they have not aged well when it comes to special effects. And though special effects looked primitive by today's standards, miniature effects are one area where these films actually hold up well, especially when discussing Japanese sci-fi films from this era. Another area where many 1950s sci-fi films hold up well is how they exploit one's fear of the unknown.

There are two questions that lingered in my mind after watching Planet Prince. How come the Phantom and his henchmen continue to fight the Planet Prince when he always ends up beating them time and again? The other and more obvious plot hole is: How did the Planet Prince end up with the most powerful weapons in the whole galaxy?

The Krankors’ are badly dressed villains with hook noises that, if you look closely, look like they might fall off at any time. And the Planet Prince character spends too much time toying around with the Krankors’ instead of delivering a knockout to get rid of them once and for all. These are just two things that make it easy to see how Prince of Space was one of the most popular episodes of Mystery Science Theater.

Outside of the aforementioned use of miniatures, there really are not any other areas where Planet Prince excels. Planet Prince was directed by Eijirô Wakabayashi, a filmmaker who only made nine films. His direction is best described as serviceable, and the visuals don’t have any standout moments. And though the acting is not going to win any awards, it is hard to blame since the entire cast delivers an enthusiastic performance. That said, Planet Prince plays out much better in Japanese than it did in its truncated English-language version, Prince of Space.

Invasion of the Neptune Men: Aliens from the planet Neptune plan to invade Earth but are thwarted by a masked hero named Iron Sharp. The Neptune men regroup, and they launch a full-scale attack as they demolish everything that gets in their way. Is Earth on the verge of destruction, or will Iron Sharp save the day once again?

When released in America a lot of sci-fi Japanese films from the 1950s and 1960s were altered. The American version of Invasion of the Neptune Men is about five minutes shorter than the original Japanese version. Dark Sky Films released the American version in 2006.

Invasion of the Neptune Men is one of those films that never really establishes’ any direction as each scene just unfolds into the next. Besides having no plot development, there is absolutely no time devoted to character development. And though it is only 74 minutes in length, it feels longer than its actual running time.

Invasion of the Neptune Men’s main draw is Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba (The Street Fighter) in one of his early roles as an actor. He is cast in the dual roles of a scientist named Shinichi Tachibana and Iron Sharp, the hero. Even at this early stage in his career, he gets to show off his fighting skills. That said, the rest of the performances are serviceable.

From a production standpoint, Invasion of the Neptune Men is a film that is working with a shoestring budget. Besides using World War II stock and newsreel footage, the cheap-looking sets are just a few glaring areas where the limited budget shows. Fortunately, when it comes to the use of miniatures, this is one area where Invasion of the Neptune Men actually succeeds. Also, it should not come as a surprise that Invasion of the Neptune Men was an episode of Mystery Science Theater. Ultimately, Invasion of the Neptune Men is a film that is so bad, it's good that fans of cheesy 1960s sci-fi cinema are the target audience.

Watari the Ninja Boy: A ninja boy named Watari stands in the way of two rival ninja’s clans.

Watari the Ninja Boy is off and running with a solid pre-credits opening sequence, which perfectly sets the tone for the story that follows. In this sequence, Ninja’s attacking Ninja's, resulting in a high body count. From there, there is a series of double crosses as characters try to obtain a secret that a man was carrying in that pre-credit scene.

Though the ninjas are bound by a code of honor that one has come to expect from a ninja, These are not stereotyping ninjas; there are animal and child ninjas. Another thing that stands out about these ninjas is their wide array of weaponry.

It is interesting to see a Japanese film where a kid is the lead. And Yoshinobu Kaneko in the role of Watari is delightful to watch. He delivers a pitch-perfect performance that captures Watari’s mischievous side. Also, when it comes to the action sequences, he more than holds his own. Performance-wise, the rest of the cast is very good, especially those in the roles of villains.

From a production standpoint, Watari the Ninja Boy scores high marks in every area, but the special effects have not aged well. Fortunately, they work well enough within the story at hand. Also, the action sequences are well executed, and the narrative does a great job building momentum.

Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat): The only thing standing in the way of alien invaders is a group of UN scientists. Looking for a way to stop Icarus, a planet on collision course with Earth, the scientists resurrect a superhuman mummy named Golden Bat, who helps them against the alien invaders.

Directed by Hajime Satô, who in the same year directed Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat), he also directed Terror Beneath the Sea. Though he only directed nine theatrical films, some of his other notable films are House of Terrors and Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell.

Though for many, the main draw of Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat) will be Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba, who once again delivers a strong performance that his fans will thoroughly enjoy. Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat) is more of an ensemble cast, and he does not have to carry the film. Performance-wise, the rest of the cast ranges from adequate to good. The other standout performance is by Osamu Kobayashi, who provides the voice for Golden Bat.

Another draw of Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat) and far too many sci-fi films from the 1950s and 1960s are absurd villains who are deliriously over the top. In the case of Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat), there is also a cast of colorful villains who are led by Nazō, a character who looks like a man in a teddy bear suit with an iron claw for a hand. Nazō is your typical megalomaniac villain who sees himself as the ruler of the universe.

The narrative moves along with good momentum, and at 73 minutes in length, it is a film that never overstays its welcome. Though the special effects have not aged well, fortunately, in the end, they do not harm Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat), with most people who are interested in this film being drawn to it for nostalgic reasons. Ultimately, Golden Ninja (aka The Golden Bat) is a highly entertaining film that is easily the best sci-fi/fantasy film that Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba appeared in the 1960s.

Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent): When a benevolent lord and his wife are assassinated by an evil man whose cruelty and sadism have no bounds. Though he took control of the land, he still worries about the murdered lord’s son, who narrowly escaped that night.

Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent) quickly draws you in with an exceptional pre-credit scene. In this sequence, a lord, his wife, and his followers are all massacred, and everything culminates with a dragon attacking people fleeing in a boat. From there, the narrative does a phenomenal job of building momentum towards a finale that perfectly brings the events that preceded to a conclusion.

Content-wise, Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent) is a very satisfying mix of fantasy elements and Chanbara action. That said, Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent) is at its strongest during fantasy moments. Also, there is a wide array of characters: samurais, ninjas, wizards, giant monsters, a dragon, and a frog.

When it comes to the performances, the cast is all very good, especially Hiroki Matsukata (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) in the role of Ikazuchi-Maru, whose father was betrayed and murdered by someone he trusted. He is very good at the role of the hero, and he more than holds his own when it comes to action sequences. Another strength of Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent) is its colorful array of villains.

From a production standpoint, Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent) excels in just about every area. Special effects are one area where things are not as strong; they look dated and often call attention to themselves. Fortunately, the story that unfolds is strong enough that these imperfections are easy to look past. Ultimately, Dragon Showdown (aka The Magic Serpent) is a solid revenge-themed fantasy film that fans of Tokusatsu films should thoroughly enjoy. Ultimately, Watari the Ninja Boy is a solid mix of fantasy and action, making it a must-see film if you're a fan of Tokusatsu films.

Ninja Scope: A masked hero named Akakage takes on the Golden Eye God cult, which is spreading its evil ways across the country.

A TV series titled Kamen no ninja Aka-Kage (Masked Ninja Red Shadow) predated Ninja Scope. The TV series lasted one season and consisted of 50 episodes. In both the TV series and Ninja Scope, the protagonist was portrayed by Yûzaburô Sakaguchi.

Going into Ninja Scope knowing nothing about the characters or TV series was an unusual experience. To make matters worse, Ninja Scope was a 3-D film, and since this release does not present it for 3-D viewing, it makes the moments that were intended for 3-D all the more glaring.

At just over 50 minutes, there is no time devoted to backstory, and the narrative feels like a series of random moments, most of which are action-related. Fortunately, the narrative moves at a brisk pace. That said, Ninja Scope is a film that most viewers are going to have trouble enjoying.

Terror Beneath the Sea: During a torpedo demonstration at a press conference, a human-like image crosses the screen after the explosions. Not believing the military excuse for what they had just seen, Japanese reporter Ken Abe and his American girlfriend Jennie (Peggy Neal), who also happens to be a reporter, decided to start their own investigation. When the military refuses to believe them and what they saw, they then return to the same location where they saw the monster with the intention of bringing the evidence back with them. This time things don’t go as planned as they are lured into the monster's lair and captured. When Ken and Jenny wake up after being subdued, they are introduced to Dr. Rufus Moore, who is in charge of this vast underwater city. They soon find out Dr. Moore’s sinister plan to make an army of slaves out of men who he has turned into cyborgs. Will Ken and Jenny be able to stop this mad scientist before he unleashes his army upon the rest of the world, or will they become another one of his cyborgs?

Released at the height of the Kaiju Eiga genre craze in Japan in the 1960s Terror Beneath the Sea is also one of a handful of international Kaiju Eiga co-productions from Japan, the USA, and Italy. It was only released theatrically in Japan, and in America, it went directly to TV. Also, the Japanese version runs at least four minutes longer than the U.S. version, which also has different opening credits. Reportedly, there is more on-screen carnage in the Japanese version.

Terror Beneath the Sea is best described as The Island of Dr. Moreau meets Creature from the Black Lagoon. Content-wise, it is by the numbers monster films that bring absolutely nothing new to the table. The water cyborg creature’s are poorly designed men in a rubber suit costume. Also, when it comes to special effects in general, they are some of the worst-looking that I have seen in a Japanese sci-fi movie.

When it comes to performances, most of the cast is serviceable. The standout performance is Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba (The Executioner) in the role of Ken Abe, a reporter who stumbles upon a hidden city underneath the sea where a mad scientist has created water cyborgs. Despite his role being limited to mostly comforting his co-worker, a photographer named Jenny Gleason, he delivers another strong performance in which his onscreen charisma is fully intact.

No matter how silly the situation, Shin'ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba takes everything in stride and never lets on that he is starring in a low-grade B film. One of Terror Beneath the Sea's more entertaining moments is when Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba’s character fights four water cyborgs who surround him and his lady. This scene borders on comical as the men in plastic suits soundly beat up Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba’s character just by failing their arms. While one might say Terror Beneath the Sea falls into the so bad it's good category, I would tend to disagree since Terror Beneath the Sea is just too tedious and hokey to ever be anything more than a bad B film. I enjoyed just about every Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba film that I have seen to date, but this one is just awful. Maybe one day I will be able to re-evaluate this film when it is properly released in Japanese with English subtitles.

This collection of films has some odd omissions, notably Planet Prince: The Terrifying Spaceship and the Japanese version of Terror Beneath the Sea. Since all of the films included in this collection are owned by Toei, these two omissions are odd, especially in the case of Terror Beneath the Sea since every other film comes with its original Japanese language track. 

Despite the lack of extras and aforementioned omissions, Classic Tokusatsu Collection is a good release from Shout! Factory that comes with strong audio/video presentations, recommended.

































































Written by Michael Den Boer

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