Fist of the North Star: the Movie [劇場版 世紀末救世主伝説 北斗の拳 Gekijōban Seikimatsu Kyūseishu Densetsu Hokuto no Ken, Fist of the North Star the Movie: Legend of the Century’s End Savior] (1986)
Starring Akira Kamiya, Chikao Ohtsuka, Kenji Utsumi, Toshio Furukawa, Kaneto Shiozawa, Mie Suzuki, Tomiko Suzuki, Yuriko Yamamoto, Junpei Takiguchi
Directed by Toyoo Ashida
I hope you’re ready for the most intense, hyper-masculine orgy of ultra-violence ever made, because I sure as hell am. I haven’t seen this movie since high school, and after watching Expendables 2 I was suddenly in the mood for cocky, musclebound men performing manly feats of impossibility. So I tracked down the DVD and found that Fist of the North Star has aged like a fine wine; its ridiculous violence and ’80s styling making it a savory delight even better than I remembered.
The DVD case proudly advertises Fist of the North Star as “the most violent and action packed animated film of all time,” and my first reaction when I saw the box was disbelief. There has to be something even more over the top. But I really couldn’t think of many examples. Maybe Berserk or Claymore, but even those didn’t seem to fit the bill. Now that I’ve watched the film again, I can say that no, there is nothing I am aware of that has more violence and more machismo concentrated into one package.
Do you like exploding heads? Well, I lost count of how many are in this movie. I was going to make a pathetic GIF to amuse you until I realized that the trailer has a beauty of one already, so check it out. There are at least a couple dozen exploding heads over the course of the film, and if that’s still not enough for you, people’s whole bodies explode from the sheer manliness of their opponents’ punches. You haven’t lived until you see a fat man explode in a pillar of blood rocketing into the air.
Even the plot is the most masculine plot imaginable: some good, old-fashioned revenge. Kenshiro is a master of martial arts, but he gets beat up by his childhood BFF who then steals his girlfriend and leaves him lying face down in his own blood. Then poor Ken’s older brother tosses him off a cliff and dumps an avalanche on him for good measure. But just like Kenny from South Park, our man Ken isn’t going to let something as lame as dying stop him from tracking down the traitorous bastards and getting his woman back.
Ken storms across the post-apocalyptic wasteland like the miraculous lovechild of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Lee. He strides like the Terminator with his hulking muscles and implacable pace tossing out short, terse phrases to assert his greatness, only to burst into high-pitched shrieks of rage while unleashing rapid-fire flurries of punches and kicks against enemies 10 times his size. It’s amazing how they managed to make him seem like an enormous mass of bulging muscle while still being the smallest man in the room.
Along the way, Ken teams up with a guy named Rei whose metrosexual charm could only have been cool in the ’80s. Rei waves his hands around and makes glowing geometrical patterns in the air before dashing at his opponents and slicing them to ribbons with his fingers. His final battle in the movie is a glorious montage of awesome rock music that also could have only been cool in the ’80s. I had to rewind and watch it several more times, never mind that I had already watched that scene more times than I can count.
But as much as I love that scene, the final showdown with Ken and his eldest brother is even more intense, as the two brothers are on such a testosterone high that they literally float into the air and cause earthquakes and tornadoes just by glaring at each other. Dodged punches topple buildings on the other side of town, and by the end of it they are both spurting blood across the screen in massive streams. If Vampire Hunter D‘s climax was too short, Fist of the North Star‘s is just right, savoring the epic clash of manliness and gusto.
It’s not a perfect film, though. The most glaring problem is the obnoxious kid named Bat whose voice was doing a pretty poor job of disguising the fact that he was voiced by a woman. It really wasn’t making his scenes any more entertaining. What might be a bigger problem for most people is that its ending is as unexplained as they come. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say, you won’t know why the hell it happens. But I can chalk that up to the confused abridging of the story that this film, like most anime, is. But this movie has far too much entertaining insanity to let such minor quibbles as plot problems bring it down, and I can’t bring myself to care about its faults.
Fist of the North Star is a true classic of the industry filled with intense action, copious gore, and hilarious absurdity. I can’t believe I forgot about it for so long. Any fan of ultra-violence owes it to themselves to check it out.