Directed by Shigehiro Ozawa, The Street Fighter brings the pain with Sonny Chiba and a whole lot of ball-damaging action. The film was among the first to receive a coveted X-rating for violence in the United States, thanks in large part to a bucket or two of especially red blood and some testicular harm.
Chiba packs a boatload of films to his credit, but The Street Fighter is widely touted as one of his best. It kicks off a series of pictures and is actually a sort of sequel to the 1973 Chiba vehicle Karate Kiba. There are two sequels to The Street Fighter and a spin-off with its own sequels, but the original 1974 martial arts flick is one of a kind in its absolute dedication to violence and viciousness.
Chiba stars as Takuma Tsurugi, also known as Terry, a mercenary for hire. He only cares about money and is blessed with dangerous martial arts skills, but his lack of heart serves as a bit of an impediment to his moral progress – not that he gives a damn. When we first meet Terry, he’s delivering an oxygen coma punch to a condemned murderer with designs on freeing him. But when Terry is given the task of kidnapping the daughter (Yutaka Nakajima), he refuses and faces the ire of the Yakuza.
With Ratnose (Goichi Yamada) as his sidekick, Terry is forced to face the Yakuza and defend the young woman, who is hiding out at a dojo run by Kendō Masaoka (Masafumi Suzuki). After facing Masaoka, Terry discovers his limits and agrees to work with them to protect the woman. The Yakuza mobilizes to take down Terry, enlisting the help of Junjo Shikenbaru (Masashi Ishibashi) and some Hong Kong allies.
Chiba has a somewhat embarrassed air about the Street Fighter pictures now and said that his performance was “not the sort of performance I am particularly proud of as an actor,” but there is little doubting his intensity as Terry Tsurugi. Chiba may have gone on to deconstruct the genre that initially buttered his bread, but there’s still a fondness and a wonder about these movies – especially as most modern actioners go the route of CGI and effects-driven drama.
With The Street Fighter, Chiba offers more than a B-movie superstar. He presents an unscrupulous anti-hero of epic proportions; he follows the money and will save his own end at almost all costs. When he does take principled stands, there are generally reasons for it that benefit his interests primarily. Even his fighting style, low to the ground and akin to a spider, seems to reflect his personality in tangible fashion.
There are a lot of tenacious fighting scenes in The Street Fighter, but a highpoint has to be the castration of a rapist. Some have said that that scene, along with the skull-cracking cuff to a henchman, is responsible for the X-rating. There’s an awful lot of blood and gore throughout and it should prove satisfying to most lovers of action violence. And there’s a euphoric quality to how the violence plays itself out in Ozawa’s picture that has to be seen to be believed.
Dubbed originally as “six-foot-six of half-breed fury and a man who keeps his word,” Sonny Chiba could out-Norris Chuck Norris. His penchant for eye-gouging, ball-ripping and skull-smashing is second to none and The Street Fighter may well be the most sublime example of his efforts. His Takuma Tsurugi is a mammoth of martial arts, a venomous bully who won’t stop unless you pay him enough – and even then he won’t hesitate to sell your mother to sexual slavery.