The book, and later film, of the James Bond adventure You Only Live Twice was essentially the West’s introdcution to ninja, and a few widely scattered episodes of American television series like Kung-Fu, Baretta and Quincy notwithstanding, the next major step toward the 80s ninja craze was the mega-hit Shogun mini-series. Bond may have fought alongside ninja, but they never donned the iconic black suits and masks, so for millions Shogun was the intro to the classic ninja look. (see our breakdown of a pivotal episode here)
Both the notion of shinobi as commandos using swords against guns, and the ancient ninja being a ‘cult of assassins’ were planted, and about to sprout in every field of popular media.
Somewhere in the middle of these well-fertilized (pun intended) acres grew a burgeoning crop of serious martial artists studying actual ninjutsu — combat, spiritual and lifestyle traditions long removed from their feudal origins and practical applications, now finding new life in somewhat abstract ways in the modern world. But could they escape the often ludicrous imagery of the pop media ninja flourishing around them?
I came across some old book advertisements in a 1981 issue of Black Belt that reminded of this period.
Note this ad for the mass-market paperback edition of Shogun, which sold in the millions both before and after the landmark TV event, is not from the original publisher Delacorte, but from martial arts publishing/distribution house Ohara Publications. This ad ran in Black Belt, Inside Kung-Fu and ilk, aimed at a martial arts community that was about to get drenched in a ninja tidal wave.
The airing of Shogun was followed by the release of Enter the Ninja in theaters, making Sho Kosugi the face of the cinematic ninja movement. But the martial arts explosion that ran concurrently to the entertainment media craze had a face of its own — Stephen K. Hayes.
The same Ohara company was also running this ad for Hayes’ first book, which followed years of his magazine articles preaching the gospel of ninjutsu’s spiritual enlightenment, tactical thinking and practical self-defense. Legit, serious stuff, right?
Once in a while, though, he’d don a black hood, like a movie ninja, bridging the gap between media and martial traditions. The occasional publicity photo shoot in traditional shinobi coture was smart marketing by Hayes and team. Masaaki Hatsumi himself wasn’t above such fare with his profound publishing career in Japan, so why should the student be any different?
Hatsumi, however, could more safely embrace the popular imagery of ninja because the product on movie screens in mid-1960s Japan was dead serious historical fare (that he himself had consulted on-set in some cases). And while the 60s boom in Japan obviously had its pop entertainment aspects, the 80s boom in the West tended more to the exploitive. It became big business — from turtle toons to mail order weapons. There were dilutions in quality — the movies got cheaper and cheesier and ninja-themed magazines more bloodthirsty.
See the difference between 1981 and 1987 below (and tons more at MA-Mags.com).
Hayes donning a mask and hood put him a “NINJA”-emblazoned headband away from the same visual plane as Richard Harrison in Ninja Terminator. When a legit dojo swam in the same visual waters, training in gear that to the rest of the world was movie costuming, there was always the risk of eroded credibility and unflattering PR. If hooding-up was a necessary evil, which some of these folk balanced better than others, there was a price. It couldn’t have been easy maintaining legitimacy in the midst of such widespread exploitation.
I’ll say this, too… Nobody in the martial arts community has to deal with more public misconception and general pop culture baggage than the practitioner of ninjutsu. If you study kung-fu and it comes up in discussion with laymen, you might get a snicker or a crass Bruce Lee impersonation — “Oh, you mean all that ‘hhhwwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!’ stuff?” The same happens with ninjutsu and people are assuming you’re some idiot who hides in the trees wearing black pajamas and a suriken belt buckle. They ask to see your blowgun, or to throw a smoke pellet down and disappear. You’re equated with toon turtles, Power Rangers and video game villains in the minds of a lot of these simps. It has to be a tough road, and I respect the hell out of anyone who puts up with it.
I was never a student of ninjutsu, but being a karateka for a couple of years during my early 80s Junior High days, ninja-mania was unavoidable. I never drew a line in the sand between the martial and movie worlds, finding different levels of entertainment in magazines and books dedicated to both camps. Even if it was the hoods that caught my eye, what I always dug more about the Hayes and Hatsumi articles in Black Belt and Ninja was how different the techniques looked. Punches, kicks, takedowns, ready poses — they were distinct from the long-familiar karate and kung-fu.
Maybe that contrast, the simple fact that there was finally something different on both the big screen and in the dojo circuit, was fuel enough for the ninja boom. It was the 1980s, a decade that craved distinction from any previous — punk, New Wave, Nagel prints, fingerless gloves, parachute pants…
And yes… ninja hoods.
Keith J. Rainville — March, 2014
Tags: Shogun, Stephen K. Hayes, vintage magazines
Medicom has released two new sofubi of Kaiketsu Lion Maru and Tiger Joe, designed by Bear Model.
Not in love with these myself, as they are a bit too detailed and modern in their sculpts. Sofubi are supposed to look like kids toys from the 60s, with soft details and primitive paint jobs. These are actually a bit too skillfully executed for the genre…
Also found some nifty publicity images from KLM and Fuun Lion Maru on tumblr:
A reminder that Vintage Ninja is indeed on tumblr, too — Lucha vs. Ninja: Who Will Win? This is a shared stream from this site and From Parts Unknown, as loaded with cool vintage masked wrestler stuff as it is shinobi. I reblog/repost a lot of related material from others, and revisit some older stuff from the VN archives there too, so it’s worth added us to your feed.
Tags: Lion Maru, sofubi
Think back to the early 80s. Remember how all of a sudden every mail order company had magazine ads for TONS of ninja merch? How were all these vendors able to pounce so quick on a trend and stock so much product in between releases of Kosugi films and Hayes books?
Well, quite a bit of it was recycled inventory (or new casts from mechanical tooling and designs of previously existing items), altered with a fresh coat of matte-black paint and hastily stenciled NINJA logos. Sais, nunchaku, Chinese-style throwing stars stamped with Bruce Lee’s face — all hold-overs from the kung-fu boom of the 70s — now given new life as “ninja gear.” It didn’t stop at kung-fu stuff either, as modern police batons, farming sickles sold in pairs, “Rambo knives” and even wooden boomerangs were hastily shinobi-fied for the new fad’s fervent market.
The same sort of spike in exploitive face-lifting of old weaponry has been happening again this past 18 months or so, although somewhat less apparent to the martial arts world, as the stuff is largely marketed to a more mainstream audience – zombie fans.
Thank goodness we have all these color-coordinated sharp-pointees available so all the WALKING DEAD cosplayers can save us from the apocalypse!
Take the same machetes, cheap copies of special forces daggers, fantasy and pirate blades inspired by hit movie series of the past decade, and anything else littering Chinatown smoke shops and cruddy swap meets, then just cover the steel with gloss black paint, spatter some red for simulated blood, make the handle or wrapping the most garish neon green you can find, and blammo — instant anti-zombie arsenal! At least half-a-dozen companies have ‘zombie fighter’ offshoot inventories of their usual offerings, and thus a thousand knock-off lines.
Skulls, bio-hazard symbols and grunge fonts have replaced the silhouetted ninja and kanji, but the execution is remarkably similar. Anything can and has been zombified – logic-be-damned – from shuriken, tantos and Naruto-knock-off kunai to survival hatchets, pistol crossbows and BB-guns. Can lime green Thor hammers and Captain America shields with skulls all over them be far behind?
(If any of you find a green Cap shield anywhere, I’m soooo a buyer!)
Plenty of samurai and ninja gear has been re-released in green lately, too. Katana were the first big items out there, a proven commodity courtesy of The Walking Dead. The bio-hazard tsuba are rather inspired, too. Then it gets rather silly, seeing as a lot of ninja weapons are close quarters fare, or small projectile weapons designed to carry poisons. Hardly threats to mindlessly chomping cannibals that can only be stopped by a crushed cranium.
Bayonets with laser-pointers, Rambo knives in zombie couture and shuriken that look more like band logos than viable projectiles are probably not going to get you through the Z-outbreak.
Come to think of it, a lot of ninja skills are rendered moot in a word where Romero-model zombies plague the earth. Quiet movement, evasion, survival skills sure, but disguise, illusion, fear and taking advantage of superstitions, mind-games and whatnot… all pretty useless against the shambling hordes. And best trade that blowgun for a suppressed carbine, too.
But again, this stuff isn’t being produced based on logic or originality. They’re using and re-using what they’ve got on hand from previous crazes, regardless of how sound Max Brooks would find it.
Oh… and zombies aren’t real. There’s that… But it doesn’t mean people aren’t willing to stock up on fun toys!
The overly “extreme” Klingon-like close-quarters implements above lack the penetration or crushing power necessary to do the job, and all those barbs and hooks can just get a shambler tangled up on top of you. But dude… they’re like so metal…
On the other hand, narrow stiletto-like swords, tactical spears and elongated trepanning hammers are quite viable in the fictional worlds of Romero and Fulci.
And if a ‘zed’ does get ahold of you, a two-way hatchet/hammer combo or elongated stabbing spike with triangular blade are essential hold-out pieces.
Zombie taget boards are awesome, especially when sold with a pile of cheap-ass throwing knives! The piece on the right is positively sublime, with its inclusion of the robotic monsters from the vintage Republic serial THE PHANTOM CREEPS.
But these take the cake! Life-sized rubber dummies filled with fake blood, and there’s even a SHOCKWAVES-esque Nazi zombie. Hell, I’d throw shuriken at these for fun, neon green or otherwise.
We’re living in future-camp-in-the-making, people, mark my words. Just like the now nostalgic 80s, in 20 or 30 years we’ll look back at all this anti-zombie gear as so dated, so of this period, it’ll be just as kitschy as a ‘ninja’ fingerless glove or Japanese-fusion Nagel print.
I wonder, will someone start a “Vintage Zombie” site at that point?
There’s plenty of exploitive cinematic reference to hone your “Z” skills, too…
Was it really four years ago that I wrote this gushing review of Scott Adkins and Isaac Florentine‘s throwback NINJA?
Ninja was to the more widely known Ninja Assassin what Deep Impact was to Armageddon or Tombstone to Wyatt Earp – a cheaper, more exploitive and ultimately more enjoyable alternative to a bigger property. Ninja Assassin aimed for a mainstream audience, and largely missed. But worse, with its overly-digital post-Matrix aesthetic it also missed the expectations of the frontline genre enthusiasts. In short, it kinda pissed off old guard martial arts movie maniacs, and us ninja geeks.
The one thing I felt super guilty about in my dislike of the more-style-than-substance Ninja Assassin was not showing the proper love for Sho Kosugi‘s return to the screen. I supported the flick when it was in theaters, but have never returned to it, and in reading this site you’d hardly knew it existed. However, that guilt is now blunted somewhat, as Adkins, Florentine and, well… A Kosugi… return in Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear!
Kane Kosugi, that is. All grown up, pretty damned ripped, and looking A LOT like his pop!
As was with the first film, they don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Writer David White (who also scribed the superb Undisputed 2 and 3) spins a soundly-structured revenge plot that takes advantage of Thailand filming locales, weaves in some genuine ninja lore, but mostly gets the hell out of the way so the fights can take over.
We’re reunited with Casey and Namiko, now living happily and rebuilding after the dojo-pocalypse of the first film. Things are looking good. Then he goes and gives her a medallion as a symbol of his commitment.
Seriously, he gives her jewelry.
Giving jewelry to a loved one in a martial arts movie…
GOOD IDEA CASEY, WONDER WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT???
By the chiseled-in-stone laws of the genre, Namiko is immediately killed, launching Casey on the vengeance trail so he can of course eventually slaughter the men responsible, then look down at the pendant, circle of blood now closed and whatnot, and cue the end titles…
And dammit I LOVE these movies and this team for doing this! They don’t hide from the old conventions, they embrace them. This crew is determined to not let the world forget how damn SIMPLE it really is to make a fun martial arts movie.
Casey’s quest for justice begins with some high-kicking rehab at the dojo of old family friend Nakabara (Kosugi), and even though he seems to know a whole lot about the drug cartel responsible for Namiko’s death, shifty couriers are discretely delivering un-marked packages to him, and he has a goatee, Kane’s obviously not the actual villain of this movie, so yeah, bonding time!
Now here’s where Ninja II drops the awesomeness like carpet bombs!
Nakabara knows three things: 1.) Namiko’s wounds are the result of the signature chain weapon of a ninja-gone-bad named Goro. 2.) this same Goro is running drugs out of Burma, a land heavily populated by stuntmen waiting to have their asses kicked, and 3.) some 75-odd-years-ago, Japan’s fabled “Last Ninja” Fujita Seiko trained a squadron of WWII shinobi and unleashed them in the jungle, where they wreaked bladed havoc on the Allies and hid a bunch of arsenals, just like THIS MAP shows!
HOT DAMN! Cue the travel montage…
Casey heads out into the jungle, finds an old cache of leather-and-canvas-era ninja gear and the storming of the requisite enemy compound is on.
Goro is played by Shun Suguta, a veteran character actor of over 100 films, including Ichi the Killer. He knows how to pose and gesture like a deadly lunatic, and is pretty damned great as the master of the barbed manriki chain.
Casey kills a pile of guards, has a brutal fight with Goro’s right hand heavy, then disposes of the villain amidst the light of a burning drug empire. Case closed…
OR IS IT?
It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that Adkins and Kosugi were cast together for a reason, and after a big surprise reveal the final chapter of Shadow of a Tear sees them tear each other apart, trashing room after room, alternating arsenals and exotic flying spin kicks in equal amounts. Absolutely great! One almost nostalgically roots for Kane here, and I swear if he had his rocket-assisted weapon-laden Huffy from Pray for Death, Adkins would have been toast!
Once again, Florentine and friends deliver a hybrid of two distinct eras of martial arts cinemas — weapon-centric ninja combat of the 1980s and the high-kicking spinning and jumping combo-based movie kick-boxing that ruled the 1990s. Both are retro by now, and the heart and soul of each period is retained, and embellished with some modern touches. One modern crutch they NEVER lean on though is the ubiquitous and utterly contemptible shakey-cam. No jittering camera trickery to hide the casting of non-martial artists or overwhelming digital fixes that for many of us have ruined fight scenes in modern action cinema.
The purists (aka haters) out there will complain that either the ninja stuff ruins a perfectly good kick-boxing movie, OR that the kick-boxing ruins a perfectly good ninja film. Obviously I come from the ninja side of things, and if there’s one complaint with Ninja II it’s that it leans a lot more to the 90s side of things than the more 80s-centric first film.
In fact, one could almost edit out the ninja elements entirely and still wind up with a conventional martial revenge film. Perhaps an Undisputed-related script was retro-shinobi-fied here? A bit of a shame, as the idea of the Fujita Seiko legacy, powering up with antique WWII gear, etc. is so damn great I wanted it more at the center of the film.
Historical images of the fabled “Last Koga Ninja”
The reality, however, is that combining the shadowy ninja visuals with the more contemporary unarmed combat makes these movies a whole lot easier to market to worldwide audiences, and as these are genuine indie movies they need each and every sale.
So VN is officially giving Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear 5 (Ninja) Stars. It’s an essential purchase for any ninja movie buff.
It’s really important we all support this movie, too. It does well enough, we’re that much closer to a fourth Undisputed getting funded. By purchasing and spreading the word, you’re not only rewarding the filmmakers who worked their asses off here, you’re checking a YES vote towards old school movie martial arts, towards holding the camera still and letting legit screen fighters and skilled choreographers do their thing. And you’re not letting the 80s ninja craze be forgotten.
Misters Florentine, Adkins and Kosugi… THANK YOU!
Buy Ninja II on Amazon in Bluray or DVD formats.
Available to Netflix streaming subscribers here.
I have such insane love for this press still from REVENGE OF THE NINJA…
Tags: Isaac Florentine, Kane Kosugi, NINJA II: SHADOW OF A TEAR, Scott Adkins
Listen up Universal execs! I know exactly what’s gone wrong with your version of 47 Ronin. It’s not a lousy script, minority backlash, a star past his drawing prime, source material un-relatable to the mainstream, or even competition from the Hobbitses like all the critics have been telling you.
It’s lack of commitment.
Let me ‘splain here, beginning with this startling un-ronin-y photo from a testosterone-amped 90s exploitation western:
What would alarm, or outright offend, more — a movie about the gunfight at the OK Corral wherein they got the costumes, environs, props, speech patterns, hairstyles, etc. 100% legit but then fudged the historical truth to sculpt more of a story they wanted, OR a sci-fi version of the same wherein the OK Corral is on the moon, laser fire is exchanged, Wyatt Earp flies around on a jetpack, the Clanton gang are lizard men AND they too fudged the historical facts to sculpt the story they wanted?
Were critical historians paying more scrutiny to the details of a supposedly more credible film like Spielberg’s Lincoln than they were in the accuracy of the stovepipe hat worn in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and other famous portrayals?
Levels of responsibility, and expectations of such respect for ‘truth,’ are proportional to the heir of legitimacy presented by the filmmaker. This is what allows musicals like Chicago and Robin and the Seven Hoods to be enjoyed in their own context parallel to more serious fare of the same theme like Boardwalk Empire and Mob City.
But no film, from any era, country or status of director presents history as 100% straight. It’d make for a tearfully boring film, and the purpose of said media is to entertain. Historians will tell you that even with the best of intentions, My Darling Clementine, Hour of the Gun, Tombstone and Costner’s Wyatt Earp are Hollywood, not history.
Chushingura has been adapted even more than the OK Corral incident and the lives of its legendary participants, and with the same swinging pendulum of historical accuracies vs. dramatic liberties.
But while an American version of this complex political and cultural tale that ends with the mass suicide of its heroes was ill-advised from the start, (as was mixing a Westerner into the otherwise Japanese cast under the ‘half-breed’ cop-out) the idea of selling a Lord of the Rings-style fantasy epic with feudal Japanese trappings to worldwide audiences was not only noble but financially sound. When it was released, I adored Kadowkawa’s magic and creature-infused post Star Wars version of Satomi Hakkenden known to us as Legend of the Eight Samurai, and it had crazy legs on VHS in multiple languages and markets. So why not unleash something similar now, in a market primed by everything from Crouching Tiger to Game of Thrones?
I won’t climb a soapbox on the soiling of sacred Japanese tales here, nor spout on the yet-another-white-guy-shows-the-native-culture-how-their-warrior-tradition-really-should-be-done bullshit. There are thousands of gallons of venom already spewed across the internet on those subjects. Instead I’ll take somewhat of a 180-degree turn. I think to avoid such criticisms, 47 Ronin should have been MORE fantastic, more over the top, had more of an international cast and not have been set in a straight up Japan but rather a vague “martial world” ala the Hong Kong liquid sword epics.
If Keanu Reeves is your lead, then you’ve already told history to go fuck itself, soooooo… don’t sweat the history, don’t make it look and feel – in general seem — “right.” Instead, make it more surreal. Have the tatoo’d skeleton guy as one of the 47 too, and introduce his pal the chain-weilding emancipated slave from the Ivory Coast, then a Portugeese gun runner straight off the Black Ship and his steam-powered robot show up, followed by an unfrozen caveman or Viking berserker next to a topless Chirstian nun who slays vampires by lactating holy water. Yes, there would be vampires. And tons of other yokai and Japanese mythology. Then Hercules shows up and they all fight reanimated skeleton warriors… and man does that time-travelling Wyatt Earp’s Laser-Colt come in handy!
OK… cool… but MORE PLEASE!
Plenty of nice ground work was laid for historical fantasy, here, too. The “Dutch Island” formed of Western pirate ships where outre gladiatorial games are held was pretty sweet. The gathering of magical swords to give the 47 an edge over superior numbers was also a good notion. The gigantic silver samurai guy (actually closer to what you wanted from The Wolverine) was excellent and the dragon at the end looked absolutely great! It’s the best Japanese dragon FX ever put on screen.
But again, none of it was taken far enough — more pirate-freaks, more magic sword powers, and was the giant samurai just an animated suit of armor? I couldn’t tell, and that’s a flaw in a fantasy epic. And don’t stop at one monster at the end, dammit, go full Magic Serpent and have Keanu transform into a giant toad, big-ass-spider (not to be confused with THE Big Ass Spider) or fiery bat monster for a combined kaiju/martial arts climax.
This scene with 47 RONIN’s FX??? Ho-lee-sh*t!
47 Ronin should have jumped deep deep DEEP into the impossible fantasy. Instead, it sort of just waded in the safe shallow end while keeping enough traditional fixtures intact to make trouble for itself. This lack of commitment allowed the haters, while likely never even seeing it, to accuse the film of fingering both history and chambara cinematic traditions in the bung hole, for the sake of being a big American star vehicle. It was born behind this 8-ball and never recovered.
Being fully submerged in the insane fantasy waters would have gotten 47 Ronin off that hook, and maybe then the audience for this movie wouldn’t be rolling its collective eyes at the idea of friggin’ NEO taking a Tom Cruise-level piss on jidai-geki while looking over their shoulders for the imminent arrival of Bill S. Preston, Esq. in a phone booth.
With added fantasy elements, I have much fewer Keanu issues with the marketing on the right.
BUT, I will say this: Hiroyuki Sanada was great. He’s ALWAYS great, and carried much of the film. Were Sanada the lead, and 47 Ronin a subtitled import ala The Promise (in which he also starred), House of Flying Daggers or Curse of the Golden Flower it might have actually made more money in the States. Certainly would have merited an underground fan base akin to that of Ashura, Dororo, Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, Goemon and the like. If it had a more shameless exploitation vibe like Man with the Iron Fists it might be finding a modest audience. Or if it was a big budget video game instead of film in the first place, it would have Onimusha level visibility.
Instead, it’s a $175 million dollar debacle for a Hollywood studio, and people LOVE to watch those tentpoles fail. 47 Ronin seems to be taking its place as the half-breed Japanese contender to John Carter, and like that film, it deserves a fairer shake and better box office. I mean come on, it’s no Lone Ranger…
Dude? Dude… DUDE!!!
If you’re thinking of going to see this thing, despite the wrongness, despite the shortcomings, know that it’s worth it for Sanada and the dragon on the big screen alone. But hurry up, the clock is ticking on dog…
Abdullah the Butcher wants YOU to see better Hiroyuki ‘Henry’ Sanada fare like ROARING THUNDER, TWILIGHT SAMURAI, RINGU and SUNSHINE, or he’ll stick a fork in your head!
Keith J. Rainville — 12/29/13
Tags: 47 Ronin, Henry Sanada
Posted in Film and TV December 30, 2013 at 3:58 am. 1 comment
So yeah, man did the month of December sneak up on me in the dark with a piano wire…
This was planned as three individual posts, but today is the first day I’ve been able to breathe in three weeks, so here it all is in one big session:
Henshin Ninja Arashi vintage kid’s pop-up book
Understood it’s a rare item, especially in this good a shape, but I just couldn’t swim in the ludicrous waters of pricing the Japanese seller wanted for this, and shipping from Japan is always a total bone. However one of you more affluent readers could put a little eBay search time in and make me a happy, happy camper this Christmas.
These Japanese pop-up books are ambitious as hell with the gimmick graphics. Multiple layers, intricate illustrations. Just awesome…
But let’s face it… none of us are rich, are we? Didn’t think so…
So for the more frugal shopper there’s this Cannon Films Ninja III: The Domination press kit, with some awesomely 80′s art on the cover. These are somewhat common in Hollywood memorabilia shops, or at least they were — that whole thing where you see something all over the place until you need to buy one in December, and whatnot…
I’m going to hold out hope for a truly wealthy and generous Japanese reader though. This plastic promotional advertising bank from the 60′s ninja boom over there NEEDS to be on my mantle!
Described in a Yahoo! Japan auction as “Mitsubishi Color TV Takao ‘DENSHI NINJA’ figure (MANDARAKE HENYA)” — this is a 5″ promotional item from 1968 that would have been in retail stores on top of TV displays. Maybe you got one for the kid if you bought a new TV?
A non-retail toy like this is ludicrously rare, even in Japan. After being listed in the Yahoo! Japan site it made it’s way to our eBay for a week or so for big bucks, then disappeared before the auction ended. Maybe Santa-San scooped it up for me???
On a more domestic front, here’s a great item from our own 80′s boom — a Sho Kosugi knock-off t-shirt!
The sketchy art here is swiped from the ‘iron claws’ poster a lot of us had on our walls back in the day. Unfortunately, vintage t-shirts have a competing market of hipster douchebags looking for ironic wardrobes, so the prices on such fare are just too much. If you spot such a piece on eBay, or in a trust-funded boutique in Williamsburg or Silverlake, and it’s less than $50 I know a stocking that needs stuffing over here. Oh, and size 7xxxxl-mega-gargantua, please.
Well, if these suggestions haven’t inspired you to empty your wallets and throw some ninja crap my way… honestly, don’t sweat it. I’ve probably got enough (read: TOO MUCH!) shinobi swag over here as it is.
I’ll leave you with a final image, a nice Christmas memory of where it all started for me — my haul of Asian World of Martial Arts ninja goods circa 1984. That was a good year, and I still have some of that stuff!
Have a safe and happy holiday everyone!!!
Most sites give you all sorts of gift giving ideas this time of year, but I’m turning the tables and putting it all on YOU!
Here’s something I’d really enjoy as a gift from one of you folks, original TV Guide advertising art of Lee Van Cleef in The Master!
This 18×22″ original was rendered back in mid 1980′s by artist Larry Salk. Crisp, high-contrast illustrations like these would often reproduce better than half-toned photos on the cheaper-than-cheap pulp upon which TV Guide and newspaper TV listing inserts were printed.
Yep, this would look awesome hanging on my wall, so hit this eBay link and make with the $500 somebody.
For the next month we’ll be looking at plenty more cool stuff I’d love to own and you as loyal and grateful readers can all pitch in and play Santa… right? RIGHT?!?!? Anyone…
Tags: Lee Van Cleef, The Master
Two of my favorite kung-fu-based ninja-sploitation flicks are the Taiwan via Hong Kong oddities Deadly Life of a Ninja and Challenge of the Lady Ninja, both featuring the delightful Elsa Yeung.
While Deadly Life features a bizarre pro-wrestling element that will always chime with my DNA, Lady is probably the “better” of the two, if such a term is appropriate.
While a bit less fleshy, it’s perhaps more bat-shit crazy with the outre female “martial arts training” (aka mud wrestling and sexy aerobics) and in particular the weird gimmick villains.
Typical of her films, Elsa is put through the ringer with torturous training, fights against multiple male opponents, and all sorts of wacky kunoichi seduction business.
Here’s the inside of the brochure, with bilingual summaries:
Yeah, I’m thinking that pic is of one of Elsa’s myriad male stunt doubles… from “Igay School.”
I just adore (in all the wrong ways) the fact that Lady is period-set during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, yet makes ZERO attempt at fealty to that era. Modern cars and interiors abound, nevermind the over-the-top 80′s fashions and big hair. Evidently Shanghai had a mall with a Chess King back in the 1940s!
Challenge of the Lady Ninja was a staple of cheap VHS at the tail end of the 80s craze, and has also been released in various formats and countries as Never Kiss A Ninja and the completely misleading Chinese Super Ninjas II. As much as a dig this flick, it’s NO sequel to Five Element Ninjas.
Tags: CHALLENGE OF THE LADY NINJA, Elsa Yeung
(Originally published October 2009)
The 1961 Satomi Kotaro adventure vehichle Kaiju Jaguma no Moshu (aka “Strike of the Jaguma”) is an absolute miracle of bizarre villains and over-the-top costuming. This has become cliche around here, but if the picture above isn’t enough to get you bouncing around the web in a buying frenzy, then you’re on the wrong site.
A gang of thugs is terrorizing local villages, but they aren’t just any hoodlums – their ranks wear ninja gear and masks, their leader is a whip-wielding fiend in an ornate demon get-up, and his number-one heavy is a white gorilla. Possibly a yeti. Or at least a guy in a yeti costume who’s REALLY dedicated to his gimmick and never takes it off. You be the judge…
These Thai press kit stills, contemporary to the film’s release, show the superb range of costuming, even for the un-masked hero. The hour-long film (probably run as a double bill) is a fine example of a frugal “programmer” that while often silly delivers on action and character design in droves. Flicks like this made a lot of kids wide-eyed and happy.
There are a couple of real ‘No f’n way!’ moments in this one – none more jaw-droppingly awesome than Kotaro’s dispatching of the white-gorilla-man-yeti-thing with, naturally, a gorilla-press slam that would make any pro wrestler proud.
For more, read Paghat’s review here, a French review here, and see a few screen caps here.
Tags: Monster vs. Ninja Month, Strike of the Jaguma