Halloween Streamin’ Day One! Yellow Fangs (1990)

Halloween Streamin’ Day One! Yellow Fangs (1990)

English Title Yellow Fangs
Japanese Title Rimeinzu: Utsukushiki yuusha-tachi
Kana Title リメインズ 美しき勇者たち
Director Sonny Chiba
Release Date 1990
Distributor Shochiku
Sub Genre Animal Attack

Sonny Chiba, star of The Street Fighter, Golgo 13, Wolf Guy, Kill Bill, etc, etc makes his directorial debut with none other than a film about a rampaging bear!

Based on a ‘true story’, Yellow Fangs follows a group of professional bear hunters in a 1915 Hokkaido on their hunt to put an end to a bear named Red Spots that has been rampaging through the countryside and eating the local women. Hot on their heels is a girl named Yuki, battling against not just the bear that murdered her parents, but the patriarchal group that would deny her of her own vengeance.

The first thing you’ll notice about Yellow Fangs is the sheer amount of talent on screen. Combining the older generation in Bunta Sugawara (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) with then fresh up and comers like Hiroyuki Sanada (Ringu, Wolverine) Yellow Fangs has an air of importance around it that almost betrays the trappings of the ‘animal attacks’ sub genre.

Employing the full weight of his company, J.A.C (Japan Action Club), for which this film served as its 20th anniversary celebration, Sonny Chiba clearly put everything he had behind Yellow Fangs, not just in technical expertise but in calling in favours from the likes of legendary director Kinji Fukasaku. It isn’t quite The Revenant, but the film is frankly beautiful. From shot composition, costuming, lighting, to set design the film just looks fantastic which grants the film a scale that the plot almost doesn’t deserve.

Yellow Fangs Bear

While verging on melodramatic the performances are equally impressive, which if you’re familiar Chiba as an actor certainly comes as no surprise. Sugawara and Sanada are always impressive performers, but for being so late in the former’s career and this early in the latter’s Chiba really brings the best out of both actors. The real star of the show however is the character of Yuki played by Mika Muramatsu.  Being set in 1915 gender roles drive the narrative of the film as Yuki battles against the village patriarchs for the right to get her own revenge against the bear that killed her family. Over the course of the movie she goes from simpering victim to every bit the image of a Hayao Miyazaki heroine, in both thematics and costume.

It’s unfortunate then that the plot revolves around an antagonist that is frankly so inconsequential. The ‘ferocious’ Red Spots just isn’t that frightening. While we see the bear attempt his best slasher movie moments, without seeing the characters put up much of a fight against him until the ending, it’s a threat that’s hard to take seriously. How much could it really take for a group of professional bear hunters to fell the beast? They have traps, and plenty of guns, it’s just almost impossible to believe that this is a thread worth evacuation an entire village for.

As with some of the Jaws sequels, Red Spots is portrayed as almost human in its motivations and malice. It’s a creature that will murder anything it sees, yet only has the appetite for women, resulting in a particularly humorous finale which sees Yuki stripped down to a bear skin bikini and Sanada’s Eiji draped in a kimono to lure the bear. The most absurd of these moments however occurs in the first ten minutes of the film in which the hunters are terrified to discover that Red Spots walked all the way home backwards to mask his footprints. No, seriously, that’s something that happens.

Similarly the portrayal of the bear also suffers. While the distance shots are clearly that of a real bear, the close-ups are quite undeniably a man in a suit. It’s an admirable attempt to be sure, but there’s just something seriously funny about a man in a bear suit crushing a villager’s head. Far less comical however is a scene in which the real bear violently tackles Yuki’s dog Maru to the ground while appearing to bite his leg. The shot is so worrying that every shot following the scene featuring Maru I couldn’t help but think back to that scene and wonder if it was the dog’s last. It’s an incredibly reckless endangerment of the animal’s life that comes across as especially sadistic considering the lengths the film’s protagonists go through to keep the dog safe in service of the story, but apparently not in real life.

Sonny Chiba sunk almost his entire fortune in to this directorial debut, a decision that would almost ruin him financially due to the films’ box office failure. And really, it’s quite a shame, because as ambition goes Yellow Fangs is incredibly impressive from a technical standpoint. Aside from the beautiful landscapes and remarkable cinematography there’s a sense of scale and directorial proficiency to the film that the subject matter almost doesn’t deserve. For as mishandled as the McGuffin of Red Spots is, the film manages to tell an engaging story in the maturation of Yuki that could have been quite special had it been the central focus of the movie.

Yellow Fangs is currently available to stream with Prime on Amazon Video.

Relevant Links

Save

Save

Save

Save

Previous Resident Evil 5 HD Review
Next Halloween Streamin' Day Two! God's Left Hand, Devil's Right Hand (2006)

About author

Craig Hatch
Craig Hatch 39 posts

Horror Japan is Craig Hatch, a Brit currently living in Tokyo, Japan. Horror Japan is a project that aims to review and collate media from all aspects of Japanese horror culture.

View all posts by this author →

Editor review

Rating
3/5

3

Average
3
Summary

Aside from the beautiful landscapes and remarkable cinematography there’s a sense of scale and directorial proficiency to the film that the subject matter almost doesn’t deserve. For as mishandled as the McGuffin of Red Spots is, the film manages to tell an engaging story in the maturation of Yuki that could have been quite special had it been the central focus of the movie.