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Yellow Fangs

September 3, 2009

Rimeinzu: Utsukushiki yuusha-tachi (Japan, 1990)

Sonny Chiba’s largely self financed directorial debut nearly destroyed his career. The film played for empty theaters. In order to compensate for the million loss Chiba was forced to sell his personal property as well as Japan Action Club – cold irony considering the film was dedicated to the 20th anniversary of JAC. It’s also a shame because Yellow Fangs is a stunning adventure film. It’s loosely based on real evens that took place in Hokkaido in 1915. A bear attacked and killed seven people in the village of Rokusen sawa. It dragged some of the female victims into the woods where it ate them or buried them in snow. It was believed that the bear was targeting women on purpose. The film takes some artistic freedom from the facts – spreading the events into larger area and longer time span – and also adds its own theories and fictional characters. The storyline follows 5 men trying to hunt down the bear. Chiba himself has stated it was his aim to create the ultimate action adventure. In some respects, he even succeeds in it. Rather than man versus bear the film is the ultimate battle between man and nature. The snowy mountains of Hokkaido provide breathtakingly beautiful yet merciless setting for the adventure. One can only imagine how difficult the shooting process must have been.

In many ways Yellow Fangs is a very masculine movie. It’s easy to see Chiba’s admiration for these strong men that survived in extreme conditions and made their living by hunting. But then, one of the strongest characters in the film is a young girl (Mika Muramatsu) who goes after the bear alone; living long periods of time in the mountains all by herself. The leading male roles are played by Bunta Sugawara (the leader of the hunting group) and Hiroyuki Sanada, who is one the main contributors to the film’s quality. Not only does he give a charismatic performance, but he’s also responsible for the film’s score. While some the music goes a bit over the top, most of it is magnificent. The film’s minor problems include a couple of less than believable bits, an unnecessary sequence related to gold mines (Chiba’s commentary on modernization) and in a few scenes the bear itself. While most scenes feature real animal, the opening and ending sequences rely on the good old man in suit method. This footage looks more like classic kaiju than National Geographic like the rest of the movie, although the good editing and cinematography lessen the problem and keep the beast outside the frame most of the time.

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