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Black Belt
Black Belt
Actor: Akihito Yagi
Director: Shunichi Nagasaki
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama
UR     2008     1hr 35min

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 disciple...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Akihito Yagi
Director: Shunichi Nagasaki
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Martial Arts, Indie & Art House, Drama
Format: DVD - Color - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 11/18/2008
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 1hr 35min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: Japanese
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Woopak | Where Dark Asian Knights Dwell | 10/08/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"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.

At an isolated dojo headed by Sensei Eiken Shibahara (Shinya Ohwada), three students: Giryu (Akihito Yagi), Taikan (Tatsuya Naka) and Choie (Yuji Suzuki) train relentlessly under their master's instructions. One day, when the Kenpeitai (Japanese military) threaten to ousts them from their own school, the encounter leaves Choie badly wounded with Taikan and Giryu taking up the challenge. Giryu defeats the commanding officer without throwing a single punch that led the officer to commit Seppuku.
After their master's death, the trio was hired to train military soldiers since the two both displayed impressive prowess. But fate interferes when Giryu becomes wounded by the officer's vengeful children and he becomes separated from the group. Taikan becomes influenced by the ways of the world while Giryu befriends a kindly family. Fate has played them in opposing hands and an inevitable showdown is poised to bring the traditional Giryu against the corrupted Taikan--just who is truly deserving of the KURO OBI?

"Black Belt" is a thinking man's martial arts film. The screenplay by George Ilda is a lush impressive breeding ground for melodrama and with Shinichi Nagasaki's (A Tender Place) direction taking a more somber, novelistic approach to its story; the film explores the tensions of Karate. The film is an expression of the spirit of Karate, and Director Nagasaki has opted for a more character-driven approach in place of dazzling and unrealistic martial arts displays, for which he is to be commended. I am in total awe when a director instead goes for the spirit of a concept rather than just show how cool fight sequences can look.

The cast, Tatsuya Naka and Akihito Yagi are Black Belt holders themselves and they look very natural. Now, don't mistake my earlier comment that the film is lacking in the number of fight sequences; there are quite a great number of fight scenes that display the beauty of Karate. Although the film focuses more on its characters and while the film's plot is a bit simple, the action and fights are nicely placed to keep us entertained. The fight sequences themselves are a form of character development. As I've said, martial arts is a form of self-expression and so the film capitalizes on this idea. The action is there to build the characters` credibility, and it feels necessary to get to the film's resolution. Unlike most martial arts films that have the story revolving on the action scenes, in this film, the action revolves in its plot.

The fight sequences by Fuyuhiko Nishi are smooth and VERY realistic. Most martial arts fans always see the choreography of the fights as a film's major selling point, and this film delivers; the fights are AWESOME to see and more impressive as it avoided the use of wires and extravagant stunt work. I have never witnessed such well-choreographed fights since I saw real live competition. The camera work stays at a distance so you can see the movement between the fighters. The fights are hard-hitting and looks quite real, they aren`t overly long and excellently paced. These characters are supposed to be lethal weapons but no one said they were emotionless. The fighters in this film feel very human, you see their concentration in their eyes and they can feel pain. The magic is that they manage to overcome the pain.

From the film's opening act, you see the depths of Giryu, Taikan and Choei's soul. Taikan is a young man who revels in competition and violent encounter to find the art's meaning. Choei is the weakest student, but he is level-headed and truthful to himself which is why he was chosen to pick their master's successor after his death. Giryu is very traditional, Shibahara's teachings are similar to a religion to him and he would rather die than to stray from his teachings. "Karate is not to throw a punch or a kick, never attack, instead defend against an opponent's attack--parry and stave off the opponent. This way you can reach perfection" as quoted by Sensei Shibahara.

While the film is quite predictable, the direction is very solid and the script is sharp. I called this film a Martial Arts melodrama because it focuses on its characters but let me once again make it clear that action fans won't be disappointed. The absence of CGI and wirework in its fights are the film's biggest strength and simplicity is its expression. The final encounter is shot in black and white perhaps to emphasize the clash between the Yin and the Yang, or to remind us that Karate is an ancient art that existed for hundreds of years.

"KURO OBI" is a beautiful film, it is definitely a thinking man's film. The film set out to express the soul of Karate and director Nagasaki has achieved what he wanted to do by carefully measuring his approach. The film's simple plot may be its Achilles' heel but as with Karate, simplicity is often the most effective approach. After all, throwing too many punches can hurt a fighter himself, as can pitching too many ideas can hurt a film. "Black Belt" is solid, and nicely executed.

What is really worth fighting for? The goal is not for competition but the battle for enlightenment. Black can never look dirty, and a fighter must be pure. The Belt represents willpower.
"From Strength will come compassion, from compassion, strength will emerge"

Highly Recommended!! [4 ½ Stars]

Frederick T. Simpson | Los Angeles, CA | 12/20/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"As a student of traditional JKA Shotokan karate for many years and an avid martial arts movie fan I have to say that I was stunned by this movie - in all my years this is the first time that I have seen a movie about traditional karate. I was overwhelmed by the characters depiction of traditional karate and when I did my research on the two principle characters and found out that they are 6th degree (JKA) and 5th degree (Goju) karate masters I was VERY impressed.

I will not try and give a review of the film (that has already been done) - I will just say if you are a traditional karate student - see this movie - if not see it anyway.

Note: When Sensei Naka performs the kata's Nijushiho and Meikyo I felt a sense of pride in knowing that the general public was finally getting a chance to see actual traditional style karate (no offense to the Goju kata (smile)).

Purchase this movie - maybe more will be made.

Frederick Simpson
Superb movie with a superb message
. | California | 01/10/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"These days with MMA, cage fighters and a plethora of action flicks ~ one would believe the purpose of Karate is to beat up people and be a great fighter. Many believe to achieve "black belt" is the goal. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The true spirit of karate is respect and discipline ~ and those of us who have been trained in a real Dojo already know this.

This exceptional movie shows the paths of two practitioners. One who believes being the best fighter is all that matters. The other chooses to follow the true path where one disciplines their spirit, their body, and realize it is their constant when all else has failed, passed on, or changed.

The actors did an exceptional job in their presentation of Goju-Ryu Karate Kata's and a glimpse of the training it entails. The filming was well done in beautiful settings and the story line was very good (not great ~ but very good).

It was such a departure from the typical films where the actor beats everyone up, gets revenge, and every fight scene consists of four hundred strikes, kicks and flying leaps which is all myth and far from reality.

Again, the message was key to my personal enjoyment of this film. One who strives to achieve black belt, or already has ~ will enjoy this film as it embodies the true spirit of Karate."
Real Karate in a great karate movie
Mathew C. Matson | Texas United States | 12/20/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Kuro Obi (Black Belt) takes place in 1930's Japan, during a time of political turmoil. In this movie the military is taking over dojo to set up training facilities for the expansion of the army for the up coming war. The central conflict is between the 2 top students of Eiken Shibahara. After their Sensei dies a wounded student named Choei, played by Yuji Suzuki, a shodan in karate, is in charge of determining who shall inherit Sensei' kuro obi (black Belt) and the style. 1 Student Giryu, played by Akihito Yaji a 5th in Goju Ryu, wants to follow his Sensei instructions to the letter and not fight anyone. The other student Taikan, plaied by Tatsuya Naka a 6th dan JKA, wants to fight everyone to prove his worth and in the process kills them so they avoid the humiliation of suffering a loss. The movie asks the question if karate is only for defense and one cannot attack then why train punches and kicks at all? And if there is a time, when is the right time to stand up and use those punches and kicks. In the end both men come to the conclusion that their path was flawed and somewhere in the middle would have been a better choice for both of them. There is a lot of story in this film and the fight scenes are short but exhilarating. The fight scenes are not fancy, flashy, or too unrealistic like most kung fu movies. There are some similarities to a few of the Kihon Gumite, Sanbon Gumite and Tanto Dori of Wado ryu in the movie. Also they perform recognizable kata. The karate in this movie is definatley real. This is the best karate movie that I have ever seen.

There have been 2 releases of this DVD that can be played in North America. One is a region free DVD and the other is a region 1 DVD put out by Media Blasters. The region free DVD came out in September and sells for $30. The Region 1 Came out in October and sells for under $20. The Media blasters DVD for under $20 has a more accurate translation."