Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tokyo day 4 - Hisao Maki

I was going to call this entry "Interview with a Yakuza," but figured that saying something more factual was better. Still, this photo really gives it away.

The latest interview on this trip was with someone who's a bit of a legend: writer / producer / martial arts sensei / and reputed yakuza Hisao Maki. Maki is the star of a late 1970s martial arts movie produced by Shochiku called Karate Wars (aka Karate daisenso). It's little-known, even in Japan, but is an enjoyable film, following Maki as he goes to Hong Kong and Thailand to prove the superiority of Japanese martial arts, all the while being manipulated by his greedy promoters and their business partners back in Japan. Maki is stoic and not very expressive as an actor, but the martial arts in the film are terrific, and totally real. He fights other karate opponents, kung fu masters, and Thai boxing guys. Co-stars include the pretty Yoko Natsuki and perennial villain Nobuo Kaneko. BCI releases the disc some time next year, double-billed with a 1960s martial arts film called Judo Duel (aka Yawara senpu) that's even more rare.

Maki is also well-known in Japan because he's the younger brother of late sports manga writer Ikki Kajiwara, who created Karate Wars as a vehicle for his brother. He's also the writer of such renowned series as Karate baka ichidai, Tiger Mask, Bodyguard Kiba, Ashita no Joe, Waru and many more. The two brothers were students of even more legendary kyokushin karate founder Masutatsu Oyama, in whose name Maki runs his Roppongi-based dojo. Of course, Oyama is the subject of such films as Karate Bull Fighter and Karate for Life, which star Sonny Chiba and were directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, which brings this all full circle.

Maki was pleased to do the interview and was a treat. He growls his answers like a real yakuza, drank some kind of alcohol-tea mixture throughout, and wore dark sunglasses most of the time. When he shook my hand and slapped me on the back when we met, I really got the idea that he could have crushed my ribcage with one blow. After getting a look at his black belt (a real one, folks) with its six gold stripes on it, I was sure of it.

Maki talked about the making of the film, his background with Oyama and Kajiwara, his recent work writing and producing films for Takashi Miike, what he thinks of those Chiba movies about his sensei, and told us some funny stories about trying to survive in Thailand during the film shoot when money stopped coming in from the studio.

And yes, when it was released in Japan, it was originally double-billed with the Shaw Brothers production Mighty Peking Man.

One more interview to go, then it's homeward bound. Watch this space for updates.


Blogger SPM said...

I look forward to the Maki/Judo Duel flicks. He looks like an incredibly cool and egotistical fellow. must have been a fun interview.

4:43 AM  

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