Film | Shane “Crazybrains” Hnetka | Sept. 9, 2021

Studios got back to releasing movies in theatres again this summer. Whee! While the box office numbers aren’t close to what they were before the stupid pandemic, it’s nice to be able to see stuff on the big screen again.

Eulogy For A Street Fighter

Actor Sonny Chiba has sadly passed away at age 82 from Covid. For those unfamiliar, Chiba was a Japanese actor and martial artist, and a big action star in the 1970s.

Born Sadaho Maeda, he changed his name to Chiba Shinichi when he started acting. When his films came to North America his name was Americanized to Sonny Chiba. And a legend was born.

Chiba started acting in the 1960s starring mostly in gangster films. In 1970, he started his own martial arts school for stuntmen. He didn’t do his first martial arts movie — Karate Kiba — until 1973, however. In 1974 the movie Street Fighter elevated Chiba to international stardom. It was the first movie in the United States to receive an X-rating for violence. Two sequels followed, along with a spinoff — Sister Street Fighter — that Chiba co-starred in.

Chiba would make a ton of action films over a long career, including 1974’s excellent The Bullet Train about terrorists taking over a train that’s rigged to blow if it slows down below 80 km/hour (say that idea sounds familiar). Other Chiba films include Doberman Cop, G.I. Samurai and so, so many more than I can list here.

Quentin Tarantino paid homage to Chiba in his script for True Romance, with a scene wherefugitive couple Clarence and Alabama go to a Street Fighter movie marathon. More memorably, Tarantino cast Chiba himself as legendary swordsmith Hattori Hanzō in Kill Bill.

Sonny Chiba was fun to watch and a heck of an actor. He will be missed. 

Georges Méliès’ Shorts

I’ve watching some of French director Georges Méliès’ films lately. Méliès (1861–1938) made his famous shorts at the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th, inventing filmmaking techniques like storyboards and special effects along the way. Méliès’ most famous is his 1902 short, A Trip to the Moon. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve probably seen the famous still of a rocket shot into an annoyed-looking Man in the Moon’s eyeball. Classic.

The Criterion Channel had a selection of his work this past summer, pulled from a cache of hand-painted prints found in 1993, and restored and released in 2011. These shorts are all fantastical stories with titles like The Pillar of Fire (1899), The Infernal Cauldron (1903), The Impossible Voyage (1904), The Inventor Crazybrains and His Wonderful Airship (1905), The Merry Frolics of Satan (1906), The Diabolic Tenant (1909) and many more. The Kingdom of Fairies (1903)in particular is very entertaining. But all the films’ sets, costumes and effects are fantastic.

The fact that Méliès’ films are over 100 years old blows my mind. Then again, at a time when special effects can do seemingly anything except surprise us, maybe it takes short films from the dawn of cinema to rekindle our sense of wonder.

Shane Hnetka is a made-in-Saskatchewan film and comic book nerd.