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TIME SLIP [Sengoku Jieitai; a.k.a. G.I. Samurai] (1981).

Remember 1980's THE FINAL COUNTDOWN, which had Kirk Douglas and his aircraft carrier wisked back in time to just before the attack on Pearl Harbor? This Japanese action pic takes on a similarly cool sci-fi notion, with a military regiment suddenly transported back to samurai times, and though far from perfect, it's a damned sight ballsier than its American counterpart. On top of that, it also stars that Streetfighter dude himself, Sonny Chiba! While on maneuvers, a couple dozen Japanese soldiers experience a sudden solar eclipse, their wristwatches freeze at the same time, and they soon find themselves stuck in the 16th century thanks to a (cheezily executed) time warp. Luckily, they also haul a boat, a tank and even a helicopter back with them -- because they'll need 'em when they run into a Japanese warlord and his army. Bearded Chiba plays Lieut. Yoshiaka Iba, who decides to change history in hopes it will recreate the time warp. And, of course, there's always time for a little romance with a 1500's babe. After a slow but intriguing first half, the second picks up when Iba uses his hardware to help tip the balance in a feud between warlords -- aiding Kagetora (Isao Natsuki) in a takeover of all Japan. Unfortunately, Iba's idea of "ruling this nation together" doesn't sit well with the power-hungry Kagetora, who decides to pit his army against this Man of the Future. Originally clocking in at 139 minutes, half-an-hour was chopped for its Anglo release, and it's obvious that big hunks are missing. Any character development is kept to a minimum, and mostly feels like an excuse for director Kosei Saito to indulge is some cool action sequences. Hey, no problem with that. Indeed, the last hour is worth the wait, complete with an epic battle that certainly gives the audience what they came for, as this handful of 20th century soldiers are swarmed over by hundred of pissed-off locals, armed with flaming battering rams, throwing stars, and surprisingly savvy military skills. There are plenty of amusing juxtapositions of past and present, such as lines of feudal warriors mowed down with a machine gun. Or how about a sword battle against this ancient backdrop -- only to have an army helicopter dropping a rope ladder to save the day? The fight choreography (courtesy of Chiba) is solid, but those horrible pop tunes almost ruin several scenes. Best of all is Chiba, who puts his intensity to good use as a warrior who, only in the past, discovers his true passion (and goes a tad power-mad in the process).

© 1999 by Steven Puchalski.