Sister Street Fighter (1974) is the first in a series of films by Toei Company launched as a spin-off of the popular Street Fighter franchise starring Sonny Chiba. This first installment follows Li Kōryū (Etsuko Shihomi) as she searches for her brother Lee Long (Hiroshi Myauchi) who has mysteriously disappeared while investigating a drug smuggling operation in Tokyo. It isn’t long before Kōryū comes under attack from Shigetomi Kakuzaki’s (Bin Amatsu) criminal organization. Luckily Kōryū has found allies in Emmy Kawasaki (May Hayakawa) and Sonny Hibachi (Sonny Chiba) of the shorinji kempo school and is able to avenge her brother.
Sister Street Fighter is another de facto “Japan Action Club” picture, reuniting Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, and Hiroshi Miyauchi who frequently worked together. Unlike other films in the “Japan Action Club” cycle, Sister Street Fighter relies more on wires and other special effects during the scenes of martial arts battles. However, Sister Street Fighter features far fewer scenes of blood and gore than the average Sonny Chiba outing of this time.
Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, who had previously helmed the Ginza Butterfly films, was no stranger to female led action spectacles. In a move that is uncharacteristic for its time, Sister Street Fighter does not sexualize its female protagonist. Yamaguchi is more focused on creating a Pop Art inspired tableau, utilizing color gels and psychedelic camera moves. Sister Street Fighter is a film that moves like a rush of adrenaline and looks like a comic book exploded on the screen.
But Sister Street Fighter is still an exploitation film. The budget limitations, though hidden by Yamaguchi’s framing, are still apparent. The film also attempts to capitalize on the success of Enter The Dragon (1973) by re-creating its final showdown. There is also the case of the obligatory rape scene where Kakuzaki has Kōryū’s cousin Remi (Nami Tachibana) assaulted as a means of obtaining cooperation from her father (Harry Kondo). By the standards of the Japanese exploitation film of the seventies this sequence isn’t that brutal, but it is still disturbing.
This X rated little actioner might not be a great movie, but it is still well worth watching. It’s fascinating to see how Toei reshapes the tropes of the “Japan Action Club” style film to fit a female lead. Some dated moments aside, Sister Street Fighter is a lot of escapist fun with the charismatic Etsuko Shihomi leading the way, kicking ass.