Actor Sonny Chiba became an international sensation with the Japanese martial arts film, The Street Fighter, which saw him play Takuma (Terry for those watching the English dubs) Tsurugi, a man for hire that makes the impossible possible, usually at the request of criminals who inexplicably double cross him. Whereas Bruce Lee's fight scenes are graceful and Jackie Chan's are athletic, Chiba's are savage in the damage dished out. Tsurugi returned for two more films, Return of the Street Fighter and The Street Fighter's Last Revenge, and all three are part of Shout Factory's The Street Fighter Collection.
Presented in the Uncut Version, The Street Fighter's story has a lot of moving parts, which is good because the shifting alliances keep the viewer guessing what's to come. Tsurugi has a sidekick named Rakuda. They break Shikenbaru out of prison before his scheduled execution and ship him off to Hong Kong. Shikenbaru's siblings don't have the money they owe Tsurugi, resulting in a fight that leaves the brother dead and the sister sent into prostitution.
The Yazuka want to hire Tsurugi to kidnap a young woman who has inherited an oil business, but he passes. Angered that he turned down the job, they plan to kill him so he decides to disrupt their plans. First, he goes to the dojo of her uncle, Kendō Masaoka (Masafumi Suzuki), a Karate master whose skills match Tsurugi's. They work together to protect the young woman while the Yakuza enlist Shikenbaru to go after Tsurugi.
Tsurugi is an antihero criminal, made likable because he deals with people worse than he is, and when given the chance, he does the right thing. Although he'll stop a fight any way he can, from gouging out eyes and voice boxes to ripping off genitals. There's an absolutely crazy shot as the film cuts to an x-ray image of a man getting the top of his skull punched then back to see his head expel blood.
Presented in the Uncut Version, Return of the Street Fighter opens with Tsurugi finishing up a job. Otagura is raising charitable funds under the guise of building a martial arts center, but is embezzling the money and funneling some to the American mafia. He is using Masaoka's name to give himself credibility but and Masaoka wants him to stop. (Those that may have missed his fight with Tsurugi can see it in a black and white flashback, which goes on too long.)
Tsurugi has taken in a young, female sidekick he found on the streets, who wears her hair like Pippi Longstocking. Tsurugi is asked to kill Masoaka but refuses so the mob goes after him too. He fights on a mountaintop, in a spa, and most notably, against Tsurugi, who now speaks through an electronic device. While his goal is to defeat his adversaries, he doesn't mind if innocents get hurt, such as with a Mobil Gas tanker driver.
While the plot has some good twists, I would have liked a better understanding of how the mafia got a foothold in Japan. Was surprised that anyone followed Don Costello because he's a racist jerk towards the Japanese. No underling bats an eye or throws a punch when he uses slurs in front of them. The level of action and violence remains the same. Rivaling the x-ray image shot, Tsurugi hits a guy in the back of the head so hard his eyeballs pops out of his skull. Looks comical, but don't think it's intended.
The Street Fighter's Last Revenge is available in Japanese and U.S. cuts. The former finds Tsurgi hired to get Go Owada out of standoff with police and recover a mahjong case. After he completes the job, he gets paid him in newspaper strips, leading to a fight. Inside the case is a tape cassette that has proof of government officials making bribes, and Go's brother Seigan wants to blackmail them.
Not only does Tsurgi work to get his hands on the tape so does Kunigami, a prosecutor, whose unique fighting style befuddles Tsurgi, which leads to him to consult with a younger-looking Masaoka. Complicating matters is Seigan and Go's sister Aya, hires Mr. Black, an (allegedly Mexican) assassin for the Chicago mafia claims who allegedly has supernatural powers, to get the tape as well as her seductive skills.
Tsurgi is a bit different from the previous films. Last Revenge finds him wearing masks like a spy from Mission: Impossible and working solo. The story finds the characters shifting allegiances to get what they want. There is a scene that makes no sense as Tsurgi somehow escapes while surround in a tunnel.
Speaking of making no sense, the U.S. cut, which is four minutes shorter, changes the plot. The tape now has information to create synthetic heroin. Scenes have been moved around and others have been cut, excising some violence and nudity. Some characters are no longer included while others have had their identities changed. The Japanese version is superior.
The video for The Street Fighter and Return of The Street Fighter comes from two sources. comes from two sources. A new 2k scan of the color reversal internegative of the shorter English Language cut and an earlier HD master of the Japanese cut. Both sources were color-matched for a balanced presentation. The Street Fighter's Last Revenge comes from a 2k scan of the color reversal internegative of the shorter U.S. with four minutes of standard definition footage added to create the Japan cut. All films are displayed at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
Street Fighter has strong colors and inky blacks, which crush in dark scenes like on the boat at the end. There are black and white specks and a few scratches, red strong, blacks inky, crush in dark scenes like on the boat at the end. Return of The Street Fighter also has good colors. There are a few light scratches and white specks. Some sequences has footage that don't match between edits, such as looking darker. On the mountaintop, blacks crush and shadows swallow objects as they do during the fight with Junjo at night when Tsurgi's outfit blends into darkness at times. The slow motion diminishes the visual quality and makes objects harder to see. The Street Fighter's Last Revenge continues the trend of strong colors and inky blacks. Tsurgi has a Bondesque white tuxedo jacket that looks accurate. The image had fewer specks and scratches.
Audio for the three films comes in both English Dub and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio Mono and The Street Fighter also has a '90s Re-Release English Dub. The dialogue wasn't overwhelmed by the music or effects. The scores are compressed and gun shots are high-pitched when they ring out. There are a lot of fighting effects that could have used more bass. On Return, the sounds during the fight in the snow, are over exaggerated more than usual for the series.
With The Street Fighter, there's a new interview with actor Sonny Chiba (HD, 27 min), an interview with trailer editor/filmmaker Jack Sholder (HD, 13 min), who worked for New Line Cinema to cut trailers and edit content. He has great stories. There's a Still Gallery (HD, 7 min) and on all three discs, there are U.S. and Japanese Trailers.
The Street Fighter Collection is a thrilling action trilogy. Sonny Chiba's charismatic presence throughout helps make this character with questionable morals appealing. The stories (sans the Last Revenge U.S. cut) are interesting and thankfully don't always follow an obvious outcome. The fight scenes are engaging. Although too gruesome for some, that aspect adds a level of danger inherent in violence, though those with dark senses of humor will be amused. The Blu-rays offer satisfying video upgrades and satisfactory audio. Well worth adding to any martial-arts fan's collection.