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Starring: Akihito Yagi, Tatsuya Naka, Yuji Suzuki
The movie tagline: "Real Fight, Real Karate, Real Japan" just says it all. The story takes place in the 30's and Japan is about to go to war. A military troop arrives at a dojo where three karate-ka practice with their old master. The soldiers are ordered to take the building but end-up conscripting the karate-ka after a brutal challenge where they demonstrate their prowess.
The old master soon dies and leaves the Black Belt - representing the dojo - behind so that the most worthy of them can get it. But they have a lot to learn. Giryu (Akihito Yagi) is very naive, while Taikan (Tatsuya Naka) is the opposite of him, so they take different routes. The story, the acting, the movie itself could stand on it's own without any fights. The scenery is beautiful, the drama, the characters are well built, the directing is very simple, yet powerful and honest. The music is also worth mentioning, it was composed by Naoki Sato.
So, what's so special about this movie? That it's real, and it has it all. Great fighters and actors, a meaningful story, a nice movie with a respectful message and representation of karate. The style which - compared to hundreds of movies about flying swordsmen or vengeful kung fu masters - is just not so popular on screen. Maybe that's because it's not about showing off, so it doesn't look that cool at first. Don't expect any wire-work, stuntmen falling ten meters or special effects to exaggerate anything. There is nothing to exaggerate here, because even the simplest, shortest moves look so perfect and powerful that it needs no explanation.
This movie makes a lot of things more clear about karate, and gives meaning to it. Reading about the movie on the net I found several karate forums where people praised the actors for being great masters and also nice, humble people after knowing them. The fact that the movie was also advertised in these circles made it clear that it's not an average action flick. Naka Sensei, who plays Taikan in the movie is an instructor (ranked 6th dan) of the Japan Karate Association and Akihito Yagi (5th dan) is also an instructor and the president of IMGKA (International Meibukan Gojyu-Ryu Karate Association). I hope it wasn't the last movie they appeared in, their charm and talent would be a great addition to Japanese cinema and could further exhibit the true power and meaning of karate traditions.