J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Shotokan Man: On DVD Just in Time for Black Friday

Redneck bullies never learn. If a trouble-making martial arts hardnose says he’s “just passing through,” you’ll never run him off with the typical strong-arm stuff.  Instead, tell him to consider settling down. Needless to say, reverse psychology is not the style of the thuggish proprietor of the local Double Death Dojo.  Get ready to rumble Roadhouse style with the DVD release of Bob Clark’s animated feature, Shotokan Man (a.k.a. Dixie Dynamite, trailer here), now available from FilmWorks Entertainment.

Wandering the earth in search of his absconded American serviceman father has taken the taciturn Dirk to many small towns, but never anywhere quite like Westabooga, Alabama.  Thanks to the influence of the Nipponophile Sheriff Fuquay, Westabooga has largely adopted Japanese cuisine and culture, but their necks are still pretty red.  The Japanese raised Amerasian drifter does not feel as comfortable as you might expect, though.  He has issues with his Japanese heritage, particularly his experiences with missing father’s dojo. 

His Zen-like approach to life and martial arts is quite attractive to single mother Rose Stewart, the owner of the Westabooga Sushi Café and on-again-off-again girlfriend of Dewey, Jr., the narcoleptic sheriff’s entitled son and the leader of the Double Death.  It logically follows Dirk is in for a massive beat down at the hands of Dewey’s students, but the backcountry Possum Master will help him recharge his karma, giving the spiritual conventions of kung fu movies a sly chicken fried twist.

Any film that uses the word didgeridoo more than three times earns points for something.  It is Dirk’s instrument of choice and also sometimes a handy club.  We do not hear much of it played throughout the film, but there is a nifty arrangement of “Free Bird” featuring shamisen and electric bass.  The combination of greasy grits-and-gravy southern living married to higher forms of Japanese art and philosophy ought to produce some outrageous gags, but Shotokan never escalates beyond the level of pleasantly amusing.  There is a respect for both traditions, but not a lot of transcendent inspiration.

Still, voice actor George Faughnan has a way of delivering Dirk’s limited dialogue that maximizes the comedic effect.  The renderings of Stewart and her waitress Tula Mae should also appeal to junior high school boys, bringing to mind the ladies of Twin Peaks’ Double R Diner for older hipsters.

Frankly, Clark (not to be confused with the Bob Clark who directed A Christmas Story and Porky’s) and co-writer-associate producer Mimi Gentry are surprisingly forgiving in their portrayal of 1979 Alabama. They eschew cheap shots and score settling, only resorting to cliché with the loutish but unremarkable villain, Dewey, Jr. Genre fans raised on a steady diet of Billy Jack movies will find it agreeable but not essential viewing.  Of course, all the kids are caught up in Shotokan Man fever these days, making it a hot Christmas item.  Recommended for mild chuckles as a stocking stuffer, Shotokan Man is now available on DVD from FilmWorks Entertainment.

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