Monster, gangsters, karate fighters, oh my! Top 5 Okinawa-related flicks to stream now

YouTube screenshot
YouTube screenshot

Monster, gangsters, karate fighters, oh my! Top 5 Okinawa-related flicks to stream now

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

Thanks to Mr. Miyagi, Okinawa probably holds a special place in pop culture, or at least has earned it some name-recognition abroad. Cobra Kai, a spinoff of the 80s classic, Karate Kid, is also bringing some more attention as it is expected to return to the island for Season 3.

And while the island with its picturesque, pristine beaches and scenic cliffs, is made for amazing location shots, Okinawa’s silver screen representation is hardly flawless. Okinawa Eiga, or Okinawan films in Japanese, are often the punching bag for critics and moviegoers as they usually tend to be superficial on the plotline due to the lack of understanding of local culture.

This does not mean all films within the Okinawa Eiga genre are without their charm. Who wouldn’t want to see a shisa lion-dog team up with Godzilla? Or, what about a gangster fight only featuring karate skills set in an attractive Okinawan location?

Below, five examples of flicks with some representation (or misrepresentation) of Okinawa. Whether for comedic relief or for a look at old Okinawa, these unique films are worth a gander. 

 

No. 5 - Mosura 2: Kaitei no daikessen / Rebirth of Mothra II (1997)

Mothra, the moth monster, made its debut in the 1961 horror/sci-fi flick of the same name. This monstrous moth belongs to Japanese film studio Toho which is known for the likes of Godzilla and Rodan.

In the 1997 film, Mothra appears off the coast of Ishigaki Island and fights Dagahra, a dragon-like monster, which has been awakened by environmental pollution. 

Mothra, a moth by nature, struggles in this battle at sea, however, a treasure of Nirai Kanai, a lost ancient civilization, comes to the rescue.

The plot of the movie seems flat and lacks ingenuity, but its surreal scenes of monsters battling it out and the pyramid emerging from under water near this remote Okinawa island make this a worthwhile watch.

The original 1961 movie also has a U.S. military tie, as it starts off with the young Mothra worm crawling from Yokota Air Base to downtown Tokyo. Once it evolves, it flies to New Kirk City in a country called Rolisica, which is supposed to be a fictional version of America.  

 

* Rebirth of Mothra II is available at (https://www.amazon.com/Rebirth-Mothra-II-III-Blu-ray/dp/B00LNBQ8SI)

Also on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UtXPBrm3lE

 

No. 4-- One Armed Boxer (1974)

An all-out war breaks out between two schools of kung fu. In a desperate attempt to win, one school enlists foreigners like Tibetan Buddhism boxers, Indian yoga fighters, a Korean taekwondo fighter, a Japanese judo expert, and Karate fighters from Okinawa. 

Among the variety of hatchet men, Nitani, an Okinawan karate master, turns out to be the fiercest enemy of the protagonist. Dressed in black kimono, with messy long hair, the villain from Okinawa looks like Mr. Miyagi fallen to the dark side. 

These foreign fighters don’t look authentic at all. And it is obvious that they are played by kung fu actors. However, the over-the-top fight sequences make this movie fun to watch. 

* One Armed Boxer is available at (https://www.amazon.com/One-Armed-Boxer-Jimmy-Wang-Yu/dp/B01MQVRX0M)

On YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpe-JcSU_GA

 

No. 3. Bakuto-Gaijin Butai / Sympathy for the Underdog (1971)

After losing its territory in Yokohama, Hamamura-gumi, a small family of yakuza gangsters flee to Okinawa trying to find a new home. Grabbing territory from a local yakuza group, the clan goes into war with the other yakuza families in Okinawa, who have a disdain of mainlanders. Later, when a major Yakuza gang arrives on the island trying to start their own battle for territory, Hamamura-guma, switch from foes to allies joining the fight on the side of the Okinawan yakuza members.

With many scenes filmed in Okinawa, this movie offers a glimpse into the old days before the island was reverted to Japan.

 

* Sympathy for the Underdog is available at (https://www.amazon.com/Sympathy-Underdog-Kôji-Tsuruta/dp/B0006Z2NBS)

On YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4M-dEYJxZNg

 

Note: This movie has some violence and nudity, which are probably not suitable for viewing with children.

 

No.2 - GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA / GODZILLA VS THE BIONIC MONSTER (1974)

Godzilla engages in a battle with MechaGodzilla, a mechanical copy of itself around Mt. Fuji. The battle leaves both of them injured. 

Their rematch takes place on Okinawa, where aliens have built a secret base to control the mechanical monster in a much larger scheme to conquer the world.

To beat the fierce enemy, King Caesar, a monster inspired by the Okinawan shisa lion-dog, joins Godzilla in the battle. 

It’s a lot of pulp film action and fun to see the aliens’ futuristic base set in Gyokusendo, a cave now part of Okinawa World or the shisa monster and Godzilla do some double-team maneuvers on their common enemy.     

 

* GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA is available at

(https://www.amazon.com/Godzilla-Vs-Mechagodzilla-Akihiko-Hirata/dp/B0002V7OE2)

On YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbuJ9FRm2zs

 

No.1 -- Karate baka ichidai / Karate for Life (1977)

Based on the life of a legendary karate master, Masutatsu Oyama, this movie depicts a karate fighter who was ostracized by Japan’s karate community. They ostracized him because they fared his great strength. In need of money, Oyama signs with a promoter to fight pro-wrestling matches in Okinawa. Soon, Oyama finds himself in trouble with the promoter and local yakuza as he is unable to resist his instinct to seriously engage in bouts seriously injuring his opponents in the ring.

This is a 70s flick so be prepared for some groovy, old Okinawa locations. Look out for

Nakagusku Castle Ruins, Maeda Point and even some spots near U.S. military installations with many Americans in the background. The opponents whom the protagonist faces in the squared circle are played by Rip Tyler and “Outlaw" Eddie Sullivan, who won IWA World Tag Team Championship, and others. 

Shinichi Chia or “Sonny Chiba,” who plays the protagonist, is an apprentice of Oyama in real life. In Kill Bill: Vol.1 (2003), Chiba played Hattori Hanzo, a legendary swordsmith, who makes a sword for the Bride (Uma Thurman) when she makes a stop at Okinawa before heading to Tokyo. 

 

* Karate for Life is available at (https://www.amazon.com/Karate-Life-Sonny-Chiba-Collection/dp/B00069FKKU)

On YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_y3vOS7PuM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkw7b5TYNT4

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