Black Belt

asiafan Post in Action, Japan

Kuro Obi (2007), Japan
trailer, making ofmovieblog

The movie tagline: “Real Fight, Real Karate, Real Japan” just says it all. Nothing to add, and my review is only a variation of the same statement. I waited so much to see this. There is no English subtitled edition yet, but finally they released the DVD in German (with original audio too, check Amazon), so I watched it. The movie lived up to my expections, which were based on the trailer and the fact that the main “actors” are real karate masters of 1st, 5th and 6th dan.

belt1The story takes place in Japan in the 1930’s, the country is about to go to war. A military troop arrives at a dojo where 3 guys practice karate with an old master and they soon engage in a fight. The soldiers want to take over the building but finally they take the karate pupils instead, after they demonstrated their strength. The old master soon dies and leaves the black belt – representing their dojo – behind so that the most worthy of them can get it. But they have a lot to learn before..

Giryu (Akihito Yagi) is very naive and gets hurt soon on the way, while Taikan (Tatsuya Naka) is the opposite. So they take different routes of growth until they find the golden mean in the middle of a fight. The story, the acting, the movie itself could stand on it’s own without any karate show-off, and so we get to see something even more convincing. The scenery is nice, the drama, the characters are well built, the directing is very simple, yet powerful, honest. The music is also worth mentioning, it was composed by Naoki Sato (who won an award for Alway – Sunset on Third Street).

belt2.jpgSo, what’s so special about this movie? There are lots of amazing fight scenes to watch on the screen these days, there are talented and real fighters, there are good movies. This is more. It has talented, real, authentic fighters, who are good actors, amazing fights, a nice movie, a meaningful story, a respectful message and representation of karate – a martial arts style which we rarely see on the big screen this way. Compared to hundreds of movies about flying swordsmen or vengeful kung fu masters, karate – one of the main martial art traditions of Japan – is just not so popular in movies. Maybe that’s because it’s not about showing off, so it doesn’t look that cool. I hardly remember ever being amazed by watching it as much as other styles on film – or in real life. But now I can understand and see the power of karate – thanks to this great movie and its great cast.

belt3Don’t expect any wire-work, any 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 it on the Net, I found several karate forums where people praised the actors for being great masters and also for knowing them as nice, humble persons.

belt4.jpgThe fact that the movie was also advertised in these circles and appeared on the JKA website 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.


About the DVD: It’s good the movie got released in Europe, a German edition is available in shops and from It has that nice, blue picture from the poster as front cover and seeing it’s a DVD9 made me think it’ll have great quality. The picture is average IMO, and the disc starts with a lot of copyright blah-blah and movie ads. There’s one thing to make up for it: the extras. There are more than one hour of making of documentary on the DVD, lots of interviews with the cast, behind the scenes karate practicing with commentary by the actors. It’s really worth it.

(Hungarian review here)

check out what others say: (Tom Mes) (Eddie Cockrell)

Kung Fu Cinema (Mark Pollard)
Seisen Karate blog
Montreal Gasette

Budo Spirit
German review

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