Black Belt (Aka. Kuro Obi) - Proving that martial arts can be more than a summer blockbuster.
Jun 14, 2011
Taking place during Japans military period in 1932, the Imperial Army attempts to conquer a karate dojo named Shibahara Dojo. The dojo is headed by Eiken Shibahara(Yosuke Natsuki) and his three well trained students Taiken(Tatsuya Naka), Giryu(Akihito Yagi), and Choei(Yuji Suzuki). When Choei is injured by the unit captain, Taiken is angered and he challenges the soldiers inside the dojo.
After the soldiers are defeated, Eiken becomes ill and relinquishes his cherished black belt to Choei instructing him to find a worthy successor. By order of the military commander, the soldiers return to take the three students back to their headquarters to train the military. Due to a certain event, Giryu parts ways with the other two. While Giryu tries to follow his master's teachings which is not to use his skill for violence. Taiken however, chooses to follow his own ambition.-summary
I sometimes use to wonder would the art of Karate ever be taken completely serious in the world of film, and what I mean by this is: Would the art form ever become anything more than a high octane spectacle, that's full of wire work, shoot outs, nonsensical events, and just completely be removed form the world of over the top fantasy altogether? Has anyone else ever felt like this? Well, unless you never practiced in the art form, and actually took it serious, then maybe not. However, to those out there who may have thought of it once or twice, and only thought of it as wishful thinking can finally rejoice. Here's a film that manages to go the character driven route and deliver an epic tale on the respected art form. The only film that I can think of which delivered on a certain level, would be the 1989 film Best of the Best directed by Robert Radler, but I don't think it quite measures up to this.
This is the way Karate should be portrayed, and to myself, along with many others, this is a true martial arts film. You will quite possibly hear everywhere you see a review on Black Belt aka Kuro Obi, directed by Shunichi Nagasaki, being constantly referred to as: "the thinking man's martial art film.", and the film lives up to the claim in my view. I haven't witnessed too many martial art films crafted with such beauty. Everything meshes together with near perfection. One of the flaws I can think of, happens to be that those who actually trained in Karate will appreciate this film the absolute most. However, almost anyone can enjoy this film because I believe it to be that good.
Black Belt is not your average martial arts film. The action scenes are not exactly what sells it. This is a character driven film that examines the essence of Karate. Giryu chooses to follow his master's teachings to the point where it appears to be a way of life for him, very similar to a religion. His master taught them not to use their art form for violence. Taiken on the other hand has a very different view, and he fights to win.
The direction of the film is simply brilliant. The character development is in the fight scenes. Through these battles, the characters actually find themselves and begin to grow whether it's through victory or defeat. Since, the essence of Karate is based on ones self expression, Nagasaki brought his vision to life and surprised me with his brilliance, by cleverly weaving his themes through symbolism and the characters actions. His points were clearly made, and I never once felt as if I was being clobbered by his themes. The direction to the film is astounding, and the film itself is excellent in almost every possible aspect of film making. I am very interested in seeing more of his works.
I did mention that the fight scenes are pretty much not the bread and butter of the film. However, they are exciting to watch. You will see real martial arts at work in all its finesse. No wild stunts, no over exaggerations, or wire-fu for that matter. The fights that get the proper amount of screen time, are blanketed with round house, crescent, and hook kicks with perfect form. The blows are so sharp that the matches seem incredibly real. This is most noted during the showdown with Taiken and another expert by the name of Togou(Fuyuhiko Nishi). I have seen many karate and kung fu films, but after watching Black Belt, I can honestly say that I will never watch another martials art film the same again. It's been well over a year already and I haven't since. Simply because the fights feel so real.
Another highlight to the film is the symbolism. Several Japanese films but mainly anime utilize the symbolism involving red balloons. To understand what is being said here is to understand the meaning of the color red and its relationship to the balloon. Plus, numerous elements leading to the act. The color red has several meanings, most notably for this film are: courage, sacrifice, passion, memories & loyalty. I believe in this case, it truly helped develop Giryu's character. The final scene was also well assembled. I can better explain it, but I don't see the point in proving that I even somewhat fully get the film. However, I will mention that the red roses were the cherry on the sundae for me.
Black Belt to me is a great film but not quite perfect. I feel the plot is too linear and predictable. Anyone can predict the outcome after the first five to ten minutes or so, but this effected my enjoyment very little. I also feel the second plot element wasn't properly tied up. You have to see it to understand what I mean. At one point, I did wish the fight scenes were longer, but then I realized that the film would have lost its realism. I now only wish there were more fights. I especially enjoyed seeing Taiken in action.
The acting is very solid, but what makes it truly great, is that these are real martial art experts at work. The fight scenes and the forms in the katas couldn't have been pulled off by just anyone. It is clear to see, these men are very good at what they do. The cinemotography is beautiful consisting of waterfalls and open fields, but I've seen far better. One Armed Swordsman which is a 1967 film directed by Chang Cheh, clearly trumps this film as far as beautiful set pieces are concerned.
Black Belt doesn't contain very graphic and gory death, or sex scenes, so those who are driven by those elements, and need that in their films will be disappointed in that area. In addtion, this film will definitely not appeal to the die hard action, or summer blockbuster fan either. This is not a film to turn off your brain. Take very serious of the claim that this film makes,"This is a thinking man's martial art film." One thing I have to point out which may be a heart breaker for some. The film is ONLY in Japanese language with sub titles. Major bummer for some I know.
Overall, Black Belt is something that I'm happy to have finally seen, but I have to make it clear this film is not for everyone. If you come into this film expecting an over the top fight festival shades of Fatal Contact, and end up hating it after reading this review. Then it's your fault. The film is 95 minutes.
Pros: -Great characterization -Symbolism and direction -Realistic fights
Cons: -Too linear -Side plot tied up weak -Not for everybody
Whether it be Karate, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do or Jiu-Jitsu; ALL forms of Martial Arts is a way of Self Expression. The fantastic Japanese Martial Arts melodrama, "BLACK BELT" (aka. Kuro Obi, 2007) explores the character of Karate itself and is loosely based on a true story. The film effectively balances the YIN and the YANG using the tumultuous military period in a 1930s Japan as its backdrop. It delves into the face of violent confrontation and the reflection on moral responsibility. … more
Before World War II, three disciples, Taikan, Choei, and Giryu, were taught by karate master Eiken Shibara in a remote mountain dojo. When the Japanese military police attempt to seize the training hall, the three disciples resist and soundly defeat them, though Choei receives a crippling injury. Afterwards, on his deathbed, their master bids his pupils to focus their skills inward and decide who is worthy of being his successor and inheriting his black belt. Taikan and Giryu, as the only two viable candidates, follow different paths on their journey to discovering the meaning behind their master's last words.