Saturday, March 7

The Challenge (1982)

Directed by John Frankenheimer
108 Minutes / CBS FOX Video / Cropped from 2.35: 1 to full screen

An American loner (Rick, Scott Glenn) is propositioned to secretly deliver a samurai sword to its purportedly rightful owner in Japan. If he succeeds a generous payment will come his way, but suddenly he's thrust into the middle of a centuries-old blood feud between two brothers after being discovered at the airport. Rick aligns himself with Toru (Toshirô Mifune), a frugal samurai master imparting his knowledge upon students. His brother, Hideo (Atsuo Nakamura), is the polar opposite being at the head of an enormous corporate empire. But when Rick betrays Toru's trust, the outsider's driving motivation is questioned. Will Rick ultimately rise to "the challenge"?

Middle-of-the-road effort that suffers from its genre's and primary funding country's trappings. The biggest being the character of Rick drunk with "bumbling yet ultimately "right" American in strange land" movie syndrome. We're treated to several comical sequences throughout of the bullish Rick trying to adjust to Japan's such "odd and off-kilter" culture. Mifune's character is also minimized in the conclusion merely to prop up Rick as the all-American badass he "rightfully" is and "should" be to the American audiences watching. Frankly, it smacks of condescension, especially considering Mifune's storied tough guy career.

Still, the climatic sword and bullet battle in Hideo's huge industrial complex goes a long way to make up for the clumsy cultural back-and-forth the feature wallows in. Mifune owns the screen during this portion. It's nearly impossible to describe the sheer excitement in seeing Mifune prone ready to strike in complementary office settings. It's clearly evident the man still had amazing agility and control. Without question Mifune is more of an asset to the film than Glenn. On the other hand, the wiry and lean Glenn has a frantically brutal bare-knuckle, office supply throwin' fight with Hideo that's a must-see but all-too-short. Check it out if you have the chance, just don't expect a lost action classic.

Film: 5/10
Beta Picture: 6/10
Beta Sound: 6/10

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