Karate Wars (Karate daisenso) (1978)
One of the few Japanese karate films made by some other studio than Toei, in this case, Shochiku. The film’s production background is actually more interesting than the movie itself. The film was produced by Ikki Kajiwara, the author of the comic books Karate Kiba and Karate for Life, which Toei had made into feature films with Sonny Chiba. It was intended as a starring project for Kajiwara’s brother Hisao Maki, who was a student of Masutatsu Oyama. The film failed to make Maki a star (for very obvious reasons) but he would later contribute to cinema as a screenwriter and novelist (e.g. Takashi Miike’s Big Bang Love, Juvenile A)
The film was shot in Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand, utilizing many local martial artists. It’s also spoken in various languages, including Japanese, English, Chinese and Thai. Unfortunately it’s a pretty poor film with an unremarkable storyline about a Japanese martial artist (Maki) who convinced to travel to Hong Kong and Thailand where he fights local fighters. It takes about half an hour before anything happens, but once the film moves to foreign locations it picks up some pace and remains watchable enough thanks to a steady delivery of action. Most of the fights happen when Maki is ambushed time after another on the streets.
Maki is amusingly wooden in the lead role, especially as an actor. His fights suffer from the (modern) Steven Seagal syndrome where he barely needs to do anything but walk around and the opponents drop dead. Although there is certain realism to the fight moves, he looks surprisingly slow compared to the likes of Sonny Chiba. While martial arts aficionados may get something out of it, the film is solely lacking in the fun department.
The film was set for a R1 DVD release a decade ago but the company went bankrupt before the disc came out. Shochiku released the film on DVD in Japan (without subs) a few years ago. The original trailer on the disc calls the movie “The 3rd film in the Chijo saikyo no karate (The Strongest Karate) series”. That’s a little confusing since the first two are documentary films, and this is a work of fiction. Also, the title of Karate Wars (Karate daisenso) makes no reference to the Chijo saikyo no karate series. I think the ad team probably came up with that connection just to sell the film. I don’t think anyone actually considers it a part of the series.