RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER (which, it’s important to note, is “filmed in Actionscope”) has the same director as THE STREET FIGHTER (Shigehiro Ozawa) and came out in the same year (1974). And I’m sure that was possible partly because it’s only 80 minutes long and padded with black and white flashbacks to two of the first movie’s fights, as well as the same childhood flashback, and it has a pretty long section that’s just the people from different karate schools demonstrating different weapons and techniques that will be used against evil-code-of-conduct-following anti-hero Takuma Tsurugi (Sonny Chiba) – punching through stacks of rock plates, or swinging “NUNCHAKU CLUB” or “SAI DAGGERS” or whatever the on screen text calls them in the American release. Somehow it’s still a great fuckin movie.
And you know that pretty quick into the opening with Tsurugi getting paid 40 million yen by the Yakuza to silence two accountants who got them into trouble. The highest priority is the one currently being interrogated by the police – so it cuts to Tsurugi driving fast on a motorcycle, being chased by cops, skidding out, jumping off and doing a flip over the gate to the embassy, where he starts beating the shit out of the security guards. As he opens the gate to be taken into custody we get an OUT FOR JUSTICE style badass freeze frame title credit.
So they arrest him and as they’re taking him past the interrogation rooms he kicks his way into #8 and don’t worry, he doesn’t kill the guy – he just pokes his fingers right into his vocal cords so he can’t talk.
(When I excitedly recapped this scene to a friend he asked why the guy can’t just rat them out in writing. I hadn’t thought of that.)
During that incursion, Tsurugi faces Sergeant Yamagami (Naoki Shima) and notes that his style is Seibukan School. Yamagami is so shamed by his failure to protect the witness that he sort of quits to pursue an investigation on his own. He goes back to the aforementioned school and his teacher Kendo Masaoka (Masafumi Suzuki), the master who fought Tsurugi and then hired him in part 1. They’re suspicious of Isamu Otaguro (Hiroshi Tanaka, THE SWORD OF DOOM, LONE WOLF AND CUB: BABY CART IN PERIL), who has been raising money to build a massive martial arts center. We the viewers already know he’s crooked because he hired Tsurugi to retrieve a priceless stolen golden Buddha that he says is to help fund the center.
Tsurugi still wears the cool black outfit, but this time we get a few variations. When he goes to the gym he wears navy blue sweat pants and t-shirt, but the same leather shoes. When he goes on a ski lift he wears the black outfit, but adds a snow hat and gloves. It’s like if they made a Snow Action Tsurugi action figure and didn’t want to bother repainting the regular version.
He already has a new helper, Boke (Yoko Ichiji, Mirrorman), an orphan he saved from the streets of Okinawa. I don’t know enough about 1974 Japanese fashion to know for sure, but I think she’s a hipster. She wears pigtails sticking straight out like Pippi Longstocking, a red, black, green and yellow rasta hat, giant glasses and a shiny collar with English newspaper text printed on it. She’s nostalgic for her childhood and likes to listen to traditional Okinawan songs on 8-track. She’s also secretly taking money from the mafia to get Tsurugi to do their bidding.
But it’s not just a rehash of part 1. One way it takes advantage of being a sequel is by building on the established respect between Tsurugi and Masaoka. When the master confronts Otaguro with proof of his wrongdoing – even though he’s cool enough to say he’s not going to the cops, and keeping this between martial artists – Otaguro demands to have Masaoka killed. But Tsurugi flat out refuses to do it, telling Boke that “I’m also a human being. Masaoka is the only man who understands me.”
The other sequel business is when he’s in the rain at night and sonofabitch wouldn’t you know it, fuckin Shikenbaru (Masashi Ishibashi) steps out of the shadows. Yes, that’s the guy whose throat Tsurugi tore out, but he explains in a scratchy robot voice that “I survived so that I could kill you” and that medical advances ensure if you have enough money and determination you can survive anything these days. Even get artificial vocal cords. (I thought this was foreshadowing of the witness he attacked still being able to talk, but that does not come up.)
There’s quite a bit of fighting, often against a whole fuckload of guys. In one scene Tsurugi punches a guy so hard in the back of his head that the guy’s eyeballs pop out just like when Jason squeezed that head in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3D. In another he fires a gun until it’s out of bullets and then uses it to a stab through a guy’s belly. There’s a really funny scene at a spa where some dude (Shingo Yamashiro, LONE WOLF AND CUB: BABY CART IN THE LAND OF DEMONS), who doesn’t know who he is, randomly starts bragging to him about being a 4th dan, doing moves and babbling about all kinds of stuff. Of course when the shit goes down that guy immediately gets beat up.
Because Masaoka brings together a coalition of martial arts organizations from around the world, the cast includes fighters from a bunch of different countries and even a gwilo (Claude Gagnon, later a writer-director).
Boke is kind of to Tsurugi as Scud is to Blade in BLADE II, in that she’s betraying him and when she confesses it turns out he knew all along. But she’s different in that she tries to redeem herself. After he’s nearly killed she keeps an eye on him for days and then feeds him a banana when he wakes up. Unfortunately, Tsurugi’s helpers have a life expectancy similar to Paul Kersey’s loved ones.
I can’t deny that there are shortcuts taken in this one to make it feature length, but it’s still a solid knuckle sandwich of a movie, lurid and colorful and awesome at all turns. And these are movies that are in the public domain, so many of us have only seen them in shitty transfers, often dubbed. No more. Shout!’s transfers are beautiful, just the right amount of color and grain, not too clean, but likely better than any print ever was. I’m loving this trilogy so far.