[RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)]
There is no plot. Given. No love.
A darkened corner of cinema.
Haiku in reverse. Inversion of the form.
So we shall start in a roundabout way. Roundhouse. Pink Floyd. Hair. We owe Julian Cope immensely. Japrock. Like Krautrock.
It was a night when I wandered into a makeshift venue in Austin. I had hoped to see one of my favorite bands of all time (The Homosexuals), but was denied entry. Dejected, I drifted southwest. Perhaps it was destiny. Flower Travellin’ Band. What a show they put on! Really a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
I had read Cope’s book. Made quite an impression on me. Tracked down many gems: Speed, Glue & Shinki. No commas in tags. Les Rallizes Denudes. Feedback mayhem! Far East Family Band, J.A. Caesar, Masahiko Sato (Satoh), Far Out, Takehisa Kosugi, People, Blues Creation, Karuna Khyal, Kuni Kawachi, Brast Burn, Stomu Yamashta, Taj Mahal Travellers, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Kawabata Makoto, Yonin Bayashi…
I’m sure I left quite a few out. Lots of travelling…flower, Taj Mahal…
Why do I mention all of these Japanese hippie bands? Well, first of all they made great music! But it is pertinent because we get visual clues in this film which pull our minds to this little known Japanese subculture of the 1970s.
I am no expert on “Japrock”… I will leave that to Sir Cope. But I know to pay attention when a teardrop explodes.
When we first see Don Costello (Claude Gagnon), we are made to believe he is a mute hippie beggar…beaded and fringed (and most importantly, bearded like a Tenderloin tramp). If you want to see a short English-language Wikipedia entry, check out Monsieur Gagnon’s. It is so pithy that it begs for elaboration on this mysterious figure.
When I first saw Gagnon in this film, I immediately thought of that great Flower Travellin’ Band album cover for Anywhere (their debut album from 1970): a bunch of naked Japanese guys on motorcycles. What freedom that picture conveys! Who doesn’t want to have a group of wild friends with whom to take to the highway? Fuck everything! We’re free, goddamnit!!!
I was very fortunate to see FTB before their singer Joe Yamanaka died in 2011.
Return of the Street Fighter has some of that revolutionary spirit in it…even beyond Gagnon’s beard. Take for instance Yōko Ichiji. Her big Laurel Canyon sunglasses and bizarre schoolgirl hair never take her far from an 8-track player.
In fact, so much of Shigehiro Ozawa’s direction here has a psychedelic tilt to it such that one really sees martial arts in a whole new way. Ozawa’s Wikipedia entry in English is two sentences long.
So let’s talk about what we can: Sonny Chiba. To my eyes, he had improved his acting and fighting prowess considerably by 1974 (and he was already a bad-ass to start with). Chiba again portrays a character which might be best considered as the reverse of the Bruce Lee coin. Lee’s obverse presence is one of mischievous valor, while Chiba is just downright mean. But Sonny has a heroic side in these films. That’s the point. He’s a bad motherfucker, but you definitely want him on your side. You don’t want to have to face off against this guy!
In many ways, Ozawa makes this a more compelling film than the original installment. Two particularly artful and effective segments are the battle near the ski-lift and the detailing of weapons in the school (nunchaku, Okinawan sai, etc.).
In all this excitement I failed to mention Magical Power Mako (perhaps my favorite).
Now I am empty-handed and ready for karate.