10 years after her father was killed and her sister kidnapped, Ayaka Kurenai (Rina Takeda), descendent of the legendary Kurenai Karate-ka Shoujiro, is drawn back into a conflict with the man who killer her father (Tatsuya Naka) in attempt to steal the family’s prized black belt. Ayaka, under a changed name, is working at a movie theatre, when her incredible karate skills in taking down a thief bring her to the attention of Muto (Kazutoshi Yokoyama), who soon realises that she survived an attack on their dojo 10 years prior. Muto has been training her younger sister Natsuki (Hina Tobimatsu), also under an alias, to his own leathal style of karate. Ayaka has no choice but to take him on, along with his henchman Keith (Richard Heselton), rescue her sister, and resist attempts to take the black belt from her.

“Karate Girl” is a martial arts film first and foremost, with the story providing only a loose thread to tie together various set-pieces. The plot is simplistic and predictable and there are a few eye-rollingly questionable moments, such as why characters would be wearing karate gi outdoors; or why they suddenly move to the rooftop for the final confrontation. Muto is a cartoon villain, complete with his own underground lair-cum-dojo where he concocts his nefarious schemes. It is highly likely you will know exactly how the story will end after the introductory five minutes, and one of the central twists seems so obvious it is surprising the characters take so long to realise it. However, the negatives out of the way, the actual karate is incredibly well choreographed, fluid and energetic. Director Yoshikatsu Kimura worked as second-unit director with star Rina Takeda on “High-Kick Girl” (2009) and here again we see him making the best of her skills. The direction, utilising a hand-held style and minimal editing makes these scenes enjoyable and you can see the skill of the performers. These scenes are packed with variety, largely involving large scale fights between the protagonists and a host of villains. There are moments where it is clear no attempt is being made by the foils to fight back or evade being struck, but its still a joy to see the high-kicking, wall-jumping, acrobatic style. Takeda and Hina Tobimatsu, who play Ayaka and Natsuki, are incredibly talented, really selling their kata and fights, helped by a large cast of able stunt performers. We see some behind the scenes training over the credits that shows what effort went in to creating some of these moments.

Your enjoyment of this film will depend on how much you enjoy watching karate. The plot is paper-thin, exisiting solely to set up a central conflict between Ayaka and Muto. However, the action scenes are well shot and entertaining enough to make it worth a watch for fans of martial arts films. Similar to “High-Kick Girl”, but with a slightly higher production value. The film makes some attempt at a message, with the contrast between Ayaka’s belief, passed down by her father, that karate is for protection, and the villain’s advocacy of karate being used to kill. But its hard to kid yourself that this film is more than it sets out to be, an enthusiastic, action-packed karate film with two incredible lead performances. In this regard it absolutely succeeds.

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