Rina Takeda, the High Kick Girl returns with a vengeance in this exciting action film that marks a major improvement over her film debut. Despite a clichéd story, the filmmakers learned from their potentially fatal flaw on High Kick Girl and have truly made this film perhaps one of the best Japanese martial arts films of the millennium.
In Yokohama, Japan, young college student Ayaka Ikegami uses karate to dispatch two thieves who stole a woman’s purse. The media catches wind of the story and it attracts the attention of wheelchair-bound Momoru. Assembling a karate team of his own for an upcoming tournament, he begins to wonder if the young woman is in fact, Ayaka Kurenai, the elder daughter of Sensei Tatsuya Kurenai.
Ten years ago, Momoru had sent his men to kill Tatsuya and his daughters in hopes to gain the Kurenai Black Belt, which represents the art of Kurenai style Karate, founded by Tatsuya’s father Shiburo Kurenai. While he successfully has Tatsuya killed, he steals a worthless imitation of the black belt but in addition has kidnapped Tatsuya’s youngest daughter Natsuki, who is brainwashed and has become a champion fighter, Sakura, in her own right.
When Ayaka gives a demonstration of her karate skills for a class, Momoru sends Sakura and another of his fighters to confront her. Natsuki virtually takes out all of the karate class while her accomplice takes out the instructors. When the duo face Ayaka, she is forced to use techniques only used in Kurenai style Karate. It is revealed that Ayaka had changed her last name to avoid Momoru and her cover has been blown. When she realizes that Natsuki is not only alive, but is Sakura, she attempts to knock some sense into her little sister. When Sakura learns the truth about who she is, she is kidnapped and Ayaka must bring the real Kurenai Black Belt in exchange for her little sister.
In 2009, real-life martial artist Rina Takeda made a somewhat impressive debut with Fuyuhiko Nishi’s High Kick Girl. While Takeda impressed fans with his agile kicking skills, the problem lied with the filmmakers’ decision to use slow motion to a point where it got boring and tiring. However, while Nishi serves as producer and leaves the directing to Yoshikatsu Kimura, the filmmakers had learned from their mistake and did a great job this time around. It can be said that perhaps High Kick Girl was the experiment and this is the real film.
Fuyuhiko Nishi wrote the screenplay, perhaps being influenced by some of the classic Chinese kung fu films of the 1970’s. Some of the cliches of that genre are truly there, from young martial artist seeking revenge for father’s death to young martial artist’s sister kidnapped by villains and made to be brought up by villain only to learn her real identity. It is nothing new by any standards. However, it works out well here with the addition of a Macguffin, in this case, a black belt that represents one of the highest forms of karate.
Nishi not only wrote and produced, but he once again served as the film’s action director. Like High Kick Girl, he intended to show that there are no wires and no CGI. This was pure technique being used and while he proved it with the nauseating slow motion in High Kick Girl, he does it right here. Once again, Rina Takeda is great when it comes to the action. In her opening fight scene, she dispatches two thieves, giving the second thief a leg hold kick under his arm and twisting her leg to disarm the robber. Takeda even gets to pull off some nice Kata moves like the ones seen in High Kick Girl, all in part to the prologue where her father, played by karate champion Tatsuya Naka, uses the kata moves to dispatch opponents before dying.
While Takeda may be the titular star of the film, she nearly gets outshined by 13-year old martial arts champion Hina Tobimatsu. Tobimatsu plays Ayaka’s little sister, who was kidnapped after Momoru killed their father and is raised as Sakura, a powerful martial arts champion. Tobimatsu’s highlight fight comes in the thrashing of a local karate class at a gym. She truly possesses some of amazing and agile kicking, even using opponents as literally a “staircase”. Even her real battle with Takeda looks impressive as the two go toe-to-toe. If someone like Delon Tan or Hwang Jang-Lee were to see this, they may find themselves impressed with Tobimatsu’s kicking. From her fight scenes, Tobimatsu seems to favor the tornado kick as perhaps a trademark move and should she continue her action film career, may be using this one move a lot more.
While main villain Keisuke Horibe spends the film stuck in a wheelchair, he leaves the fighting to British-born Shotokan karateka Richard Heselton, who plays Momoru’s number one man, Kiss. Kiss is one of those guys who believes karate should be used to destroy opponents and to win at any cost. To Kiss, if one loses, they die. Using an American accent, Heselton plays it off nicely as Kiss, a hulk of man with the fighting skills to match. Even his climactic battle against Takeda makes him look impressive. While Takeda seems to be more of a technical fighter, Heselton’s power compliments the technical style in a way that makes the fight look quite well.
KG: Karate Girl may have some flaws mixed in. However, it is truly a film that any martial arts film fan should check out. Despite the cliches in the storyline, you will not have to worry about any nauseating slow motion overdosing. Another reason to see the film is to see Rina Takeda and 13-year old Hina Tobimatsu, who nearly steals the show as one of today’s impressive superkickers.
WFG RATING: A-
A Toei Video Company production in association with Laterna. Director: Yoshikatsu Kimura. Producers: Hideyuki Fukuhara, Hitoshi Kurauchi, Fuyuhiko Nishi, Katsuhiro Ogawa, Takehiko Shimazu, Yusuke Wakabayashi, and Tomomi Yoshimura. Writer: Fuyuhiko Nishi. Cinematography: Daisuke Sôma. Editing: Masaki Murakami.
Cast: Rina Takeda, Hina Tobimatsu, Tatsuya Naka, Kazutoshi Yokoyama, Keisuke Horibe, Richard Heselton, Noriko Iriyama, Tatsuya Mori, Fuyuhiko Nishi, Ichirô Sugisawa, Kazuma Takeda, Saori Takizawa.