I got caught up watching a movie on Youtube today, Kuro Obi or “Black Belt” as it was released in the USA. I do not typically approve of watching films on Youtube instead of buying or renting them, because it doesn’t seem to help the artists or industry much. But perhaps enough people will like it that they will sell it digitally on Amazon instead of paying a hundred bucks for a DVD.
Kuro Obi tells a story shortly before World War II. A Japanese Karate master dies without appointing an heir, and his three highest students struggle to figure out what it means to be a black belt in Imperial Japan.
This is a hardcore martial arts movie. The lead actors hold high-level black belts in the martial art they use. There are no wires, no buckets of blood, and it is a Japanese hard style film so the actors have hardened their bodies enough to visibly kick seven colors of crap out of one another. The fight choreographer in me was in awe through most of the movie, not because the moves were super fancy. They weren’t. They were masterful, and that is an entirely different level of praise. The right technique, rightly done, to great effect looks much simpler if you are not a martial artist than guys who spent three months in Kung Fu camp to train for The Matrix. Why? The fifth- and sixth-degree black belts aren’t showing off that they figured out how to punch and kick. They simply do it as quick as you can blink. Some of Chuck Norris’ early films had this as well (there is a sai versus katana disarm and reverse in The Octagon that took place between frames. One frame, the dude is holding a sword, the next, the sword is in the sai’s and pressed against the dude’s own neck.).
There are plenty of technically impressive martial arts movies out there, but Kuro Obi is worth a look because it does its drama as simply as its blocks. One student spends his strength defending a poor farm family against Yakuza slavers (not pirates, but you could still buy and sell children in Imperial Japan, remember). The other joins the army that killed his master through grief, and seeks glory in the system without real compassion. The third student is crippled, but has more heart than the other two put together. Any one of these themes would make a great anime, but Kuro Obi avoids melodrama. The acting is simple, understated, and more real because of it. As much is said by posture and looks as ever comes through in the dialogue (though maybe that is because I am not a Japanese speaker).
And, of course, there is one epic fight between the opposing students at the end that is bone jarring and beautiful in its perfect application of Japanese hard style theory.
The other reason I wanted to do a quick review of this film is that it touches on something I have been talking about. A true warrior, not a fighter but a warrior, has strength to the benefit of those around him. A fighter or a predator has strength to his own benefit. I write Christian fiction and I view God as a warrior.
One last piece of praise for Kuro Obi. There is nothing gratuitous in this film. There is not a minute of wasted screen time. There is not a single move that does not belong in the fight. It is perhaps the most tightly and simply edited movie I have seen in years, but like the fight choreography, it is easy to miss unless you are invested in the industry.
Post Script: I have actually been asked a question or two about God worth replying to so there should be a new video on my Youtube channel Bruce the Monk by tomorrow morning. I don’t preach to hear myself talk, only to answer the questions I am asked, according to command. Check it out!