It's with great pleasure that I present a review of this latest film from writer Fuyuhiko Nishi and starring the high kick girl herself ,the talented Rina Takeda.The film is directed by Yoshikatsu Kimura and also stars Karate Supremo Tatsuya Naka ( High Kick Girl & Kuro-Obi).
Having just viewed this film at the Terracotta Film Festival which took place in London between the 5th and 8th of May 2011.
What made the event special was that it was the international premier of the film which only opened in Japan in February. On top of that Rina Takeda would be appearing to open the movie .
Now unfortunately things did not go as smooth as the organisers hoped as when it was time to screen the film they had trouble getting a consistent picture during set up ,whilst the many fans who had gathered to see the movie waited patiently to be let in . 10 minutes passed as did 15 and 20 minutes ,the crowd still waiting without any trouble even though some had got themselves rather hot in the downstairs foyer as space was not something on hand at the Prince Charles in London.
After some 40 minutes the calm and placid crowd where let in ( I amongst them of Course) .Taking our seats Joey Leung (Terracotta Film ) came on stage to apologize for the delay but things where not resolved and we had two choices ,one was to cancel the screening and two was to view the movie in Black and White. So to a vote of hands ,watching in Black and White won. (No one raised there hands to cancel). With this the scene was set and he introduced our also patiently waiting guest Miss Rina Takeda to the stage.
Out from the side appears a young Japanese Girl in a Karate Gi , as she walks on the crowd applaud in a frenzy (Now I know I'm in for a good time ) As Rina greets us through the applause she instantly catches everyone attention . Speaking in English she says how pleased she is to be here and tells us about the film very briefly and you could see she was pleased to see we all stayed to view .
As she left the stage and the film started it was evident of the opening moments which featured Tatsuya Naka that we were about to witness Karate Heaven .
You see it's only in the last few years that Japan has been producing what I call real martial art films ( and not many either) , not since the days of the late 50's to the early 80's have Japan produced hard core fight action in the same vein as Hong Kong. It's the reason why Japanese stars like Yukari Oshima and Yusuaki Kurata ended up featuring in many great 80's and 90's Hong Kong films.
So after the Karate force that was ''Kuro-Obi '' and ''High Kick Girl'' would we see a film to challenge the Japan greats like ''Seven Samurai'' ''Karate Bullfighter'' or ''Lady SnowBlood'' .
Well read on and find out ,Now the plot of the film is not going to blind you with science it evolves around the Black Belt of Legendary Karate practitioner Sojiro Kurenai who now deceased still has as much power as when he was alive . The film opens with one Tatsuya Kurenai getting attacked within his own dojo as a rival fighters try and steal the sacred Black Belt of Sojiro Kurenai ,in a display of Karate you would have not seen since the likes of Sonny Chiba, he is overpowered (but not without causing some evasive damage to his opponents) and his daughters who are young and innocent are stunned and injured .
Escaping with what they believe to be the Sojiro Black Belt and having killed Tatsuya and his older daughter ''Ayaka'' and kidnapping the younger one ''Natsuki''.
Switching to some Ten years later and we witness a young girl working in a Cinema ,a commotion starts and a young woman cries that some one has snatched her bag. One of the staff at the cinema hears the screams and looks for the culprit ,the staff member a young girl intervenes the mugger with a display of martial arts that takes the waiting patrons by surprise, apprehending the suspect she is then greeted by a rapturous applause from the waiting cinema goers.
Rushing to her aid is fellow staff member Miki ,who says' you OK Ayaka' ,with a surprise look on her face she replies ,yes I;m OK ,you know I just reacted..
Ayaka is now a Hero as Cinema goers have posted a video of her and it has appeared on TV with reporters telling the public about one Ayaka Ikegami the Karate Girl who catches muggers ,it is this that will catch the eye of the ruthless gang who killed Tatsuya Kurenai years ago. They have discovered that the Belt they stole is not the Sojiro Black Belt .and that out there somewhere the real belt must still remain.
They send out people to find out about this heroic girl who bears the same first name as the daughter of Kurenai that they killed.
Now a local Karate club owner invites Ayaka Ikegami to his dojo to meet his students ,at first they are humble but after Ayaka gives them a talk on the disciplines of Karate they begin to question her ability and ask her to prove it. Not eager to show of her and her chaperone ''Miki'' (who she works with at the cinema) Miki says lets leave but after the Instructor begs her to show them something ,she agrees and without fighting demo's some kicking ability with the students who are impressed.
While this is going on two young kids walk in dressed in black ,one male ,one female. They start belittling everyone and say they will challenge anyone. In a flurry of kicks and jumps and hard core hits they work their way through the class of students till they reach the Instructor who looks on at his pupils laying on the floor .
But before they can get to him ,Ayaka steps in and proceeds to tell them that Karate is for protection not fighting ,looking on the kids just brush her of and launch in to her kicking Ayaka across the floor .
In a breath they one says to the other ,this can't be Ayaka Kurenai ,and with a look of horror Ayaka looks on and knows her past has caught up with her ( for she is the daughter of Tatsuya Kurenai ) . Now she must show the true power of Kurenai Karate .
Defeated the kids leave ,the young girl ''Sakura '' bewildered by the ordeal . Some time later Ayaka is training outside and Sakura appears and and asks her ''is Karate for Protection or fighting'' Ayaka and her face of and in a fleeting moment they both go in to stance ,the same stance ,the Kurenai stance .
Ayaka asks if she is Natsuki ,the girl looks on ,Ayaka says it's me Ayaka ,do you remember me. With this Sakura leeps at Ayaka kicking her and walking of not before telling her to be careful they be coming for the Sojiro Black Belt.
By this time watching the film I had come to the conclusion that this is the most powerful Martial arts film since the likes of ''Fist of Legend'' Fighter in the Wind'' or Drunken Master 2. I had a lump in my throat as I so wanted to see her get her revenge and free her sister.
After returning to the Gangs base the leader Shu Tagawa gets disciplinary with his disciples that have failed. The head Karate man in his organisation (played by British fighter Richard W Heselton) usually gives the students a good beating.
But Tagawa stops the proceedings only to tell Sakura that she is in deed Natsuki Kurenai and they had kidnapped her when she was young. Now they have a bargaining chip ,they hold Natsuki to ransom and Now Ayaka must bring the Sojiro black belt to save her sister and regain the honor of Kurenai Karate.
With films like these the outcome is pretty obvious ,but how it's done is the key here . The fighting in the film is done with NO wires,No Cgi,No fast cuts,what you see is what you get and you get is REAL KARATE.
Seeing Ayaka turn up at the Gangsters Lair ready for action in what appears to be a Traditional Japanese School Uniform ,which is unique and gives a very Manga feel to the proceedings .But of course the idea is show how pure and upstanding she is and how evil the gangsters are in there sombre outfits. Her sister who is being taken to detention gets the upper hand as her Kurenai spirit is unleashed within her.
The last part of the film (and it's a big Chunk) plays host to Natsuki and Ayaka battling the hordes of Fighters that the gangsters have trained and kidnapped over the years. The feats of footwork on show are blistering with Multiple mid air kicks being performed by both Girls with ease and these kicks are hitting home hard (you really feel the pain) The techniques are so pure to Karate that you can pick out techniques as and when they happen ,sometimes before. With great camera work Karate Girl is one of the awe inspiring fight flicks for a long time .
But that's not all the story is played out with flashbacks to the girls early years and the way the Kurenai system was instilled in them. The likes of Thailand may have Tony Jaa and Jeeja Yanin and great action men like Panna Rittikrai ,but there's a breed on the block in Japan and there bringing back Real fight films showcasing Karate as it should be and I for one can not wait for films like these to come around.
Karate is Back and it's hitting it's way through the CGI wire assisted fair we have been subject to for a long time.
As for Rina Takeda she will be huge I know ,her passion for the art shone through on stage in London as after the film she came back on (dressed in the films final outfit for her) ,She gave a impromptu demo with Nunchuck and showed some kicking on pads ,much to the amazement of the audience and the Hosts who did not know she was going to do this.
After this she sat down for a interview and Q&A .At the end we all new we had witnessed true Passion for the arts on screen and off.
But I must also comment on the performance of Hina Tobimatsu (Natsuki) , A 13 year old actress , I was so impressed by her ,she gave a brilliant performance as the long lost sister being held by Tagawa for there own evil doing. I'm sure and hope that we see her in many more films.
Another thumbs up for Richard Heselton who featured in the final battle ,i hope his head is OK .
And a big thumbs up for Terracotta Film Festival for bringing this film to the UK and having Rina appear in person to wow us.
But all I have to say now is
Score out of Ten = A Karate pounding 10
Review Date : 10-05-2011
(C) Image Copyright Toei Company 2011