Farmer and amateur judo stylist Ueshiba Morihei (Jiro Chiba) has confidence in his abilities as a martial artist. That all changes when, while defending a young boy, he runs afoul of gangsters and their hired hand and karate master Natori Shinbei (Sonny Chiba). Defeated soundly, Ueshiba sets off on a martial journey to train and ultimately defeat the powerful strikes of Natori’s karate. As his skills grow he develops a new style of fighting; Aikido.
Inspired by true events, there is some serious artistic license going on in this picture. While Ueshiba himself appears in the opening of the film, you can expect less of a historical narrative and more of the Toei style martial arts film that the studio was known for in the 70s. Director Shigehiro Ozawa, a veteran of Chiba’s popular Street Fighter series, helms this biopic lionizing the famed martial arts practitioner. Generally serious, the film lacks much of the wackiness of other same-era productions and it serves the story much better in this instance. Jiro Chiba turns in a solid performance as Ueshiba; at first cocky, he earns humility and control when his skills grow. Ideally identifying martial arts with spiritual awakening, his moral and mental growth is just as important as his physical training. Older brother Sonny is actually relegated to a supporting role though his fighting skills and screen presence are undeniably memorable. Delivering his punches and kicks with speed and strength, he’s in fine form when he makes an appearance.
The supporting cast is okay though Ueshiba’s journey is the main crux of the story. Tsunehiko Watase as well as Ryunosuke Kaneda chew uo scenery in their appearances, but ultimately serve as obstacles to be overcome. Etsuko Shihomi makes a welcome, though ultimately unneeded appearance in the final act which just serves to highlight her aptitude for throwing men around to land on rocks or other hard surfaces. Ultimately it is a throwaway role but a good experience I’m sure as director Ozawa would helm the final film in her own Sister Street Fighter series.
Good production, though presumably shot very quick, follow this well paced martial arts film that is highlighted with some very good fight exchanges, good art direction, and some reverence to the story. No fighting bears here. The music is catchy and while not as memorable as so many other film featuring Chiba, it gets the job done while reminding the experienced viewer exactly when and where from which this film came.
Power is Aikido is a very solid and much more restrained biopic, especially considering the talent in from of as well as behind the camera. Jiro Chiba is good as the lead and I always felt he had a hell of a time stepping away from under his brother’s not inconsiderable shadow. While not a film to take as absolute fact, it delivers good Japanese style action, a generally realistic tone, and has the terrific Chiba brothers throughout. You could certainly find worse ways to spend an hour and a half.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Karate Bullfighter, Fearless, Fighter in the Wind, and/or Killing Machine